In Greek mythology, Narcissus was a very good looking person who couldn't see the beauty of other people and rejected every woman who declared love towards him. Narcissus saw his reflection on the river, and fell in love with himself. It became an obsession and couldn’t stop staring at himself on the lake, so he starved to death and ended up falling and drowning in the river.
As a fictional story, it’s fascinating. But when we think about the recent study that shows young generations take about four selfies per day (1,460 per year), and a 200% increase in floods due to climate change and textile pollution, it makes us wonder when the myth became a legend, and if the obsession with ourselves will end up drowning us.
In today’s political fashion climate, we have two major phenomena happening. On one hand, we have a huge scientific, technological, and humanitarian development towards sustainable fashion. From recycled fibers, to locally sourced materials, fashion companies are showing with actions and numbers, that they are committed to reduce their environmental impact year after year.
On the other hand, narcissism prevails in our self-absorbed society. (New York Times). Social media filters, huge increases in makeup consumption and plastic surgery, are taking us to a place where we are so focused on how we look, that we end up buying so much stuff to obtain a certain look, we just polluted an entire lake for decades to come.
Fast Fashion vs. Sustainable Fashion
Global apparel consumption is projected to rise by 63 percent by 2030, from 62 million tons to 102 million tons, according to research by the Boston Consulting Group. There’s a variety of reasons why consumption keeps growing. From easier ways to shop online to more discounts and affordable clothing, overall, we are buying more clothes than we were twenty years ago.
Now, the claim that the fashion industry as a whole is moving towards a sustainable path is true. There are efforts to use recycled fibers, source locally, and pay for carbon offsets. But what happens when the fashion industry moves in this direction, and consumers are still overspending, over consuming, and shopping in irrational quantities? The textile waste, the carbon emissions throughout the production process, and the accelerated fashion cycles are encouraged by consumers buying more clothes than they need.
Let’s untangle the mindset that is blocking our path towards sustainable fashion and the baby steps we can take to be a more informed, and responsible consumer.
Narcissism versus climate change
When sustainable fashion is becoming less optional and more imperative, the whole narrative about how we perceive clothing must change.
Our arguments between caring about sustainable fashion and wanting more and better clothing are fighting against each other.
There is no way of making significant environmental improvements in the fashion world if we don’t evaluate our shopping decisions and think of what we think may be worth improving.
Fashion as our culture
In the United States, shopping has a profound cultural meaning. Going shopping is much more than purchasing objects that we want or need.
Going shopping is an action that reflects our social, financial, and political views. Buying locally is rewarded with praise as customers are supporting the local economies. Consuming a particular beer can be seen as something too woke. Purchasing clothes is a hobby, a band-aid after a mental breakdown, a reward for working hard, a trophy for earning enough money and being able to afford a designer item, and a way to celebrate our authentic selves when we try something in the fitting room, and we like what we see in the mirror. When we get a new job, we think of what clothes we should wear and if we have enough of these garments. Purchasing clothes financially impacts our lives, but it’s also social, political, and emotional.
Buying clothes is a celebration. We are trying things that look great on our bodies and picturing in the mirror how we would look, or where we would go with those clothes as soon as we step out of the fitting room. This is the power that fashion has in our lives.
It is often assumed that our ancestors invented clothes (or some material to cover their bodies) with the intention of being protected from the weather. But this is not true. Early civilizations wanted clothes, some jewelry, and sometimes even paint that later became what we know as makeup for symbolism. This symbolism may be associated with being part of a tribe or having a particular hierarchy among social groups.
Time passed, and our surroundings and clothing evolved, but still, the reasons why we wear clothes haven’t changed much from those of our predecessors. Because almost any shirt can cover our torso, but there are reasons why we choose a specific shirt of a particular color under a certain price. There is a thought process behind purchasing a bag with a logo, a shoe with a red sole, and sunglasses with someone’s last name. Fashion is a tool of communication that we use every single day when we wake up. We may not verbalize out loud our intentions with the clothes we are choosing. Still, there is a logic and purpose that happens every morning when we wake up.
So, we want to transition to a sustainable fashion lifestyle. It’s not as easy as replacing synthetics for organics or getting a recycling bin in our backyard. There is a cultural transition that needs to happen, which involves taking several actions.
We need to let go of the idea that more clothes are always better than fewer clothes. We can rethink how we can use, reuse, recreate, and repurpose our clothes to keep having fun with them and enjoying ourselves.
We need to stay away from the temptations of buying discounted items that we don’t need, and sometimes we don’t even want. Fashion businesses have carefully crafted strategies to make you fall into the rabbit hole of buying stuff you don’t need. Show up to the stores knowing what you are looking for, and stay with that focus.
Fashion and narcissism
Marketing campaigns advertise fashion products as a treat to ourselves, a little something that would make us feel more empowered, more beautiful, or more attractive. This is an ongoing message that has prevailed throughout several decades. Fashion trends might have changed from the 1980s to the 2020s, but the message of self-love through buying clothes has not gone away.
As climate change concerns were raised and a need to address overconsumption and textile waste became a bigger problem, the word “sustainable” had to be squeezed into this narrative. Somehow, advertisers need to consider caring for the world while also caring about ourselves. But our behaviors had been established, and we got used to spoiling ourselves with affordable, fast fashion and cheap accessories.
The challenge fashion advertisers face is: how are we going to persuade people to believe sustainable fashion is a way to love ourselves and is a better way of loving ourselves than buying clothing that pollutes the environment?
If fashion advertises itself as a way to fill out voids, it makes perfect sense that this industry generates billions of dollars in revenue every year. In a country like the United States, where major depression is the most common mental disorder, consumers are in much need of validation on social media, in their workplace, within their social circle, and within themselves.
This makes us wonder a couple of questions: Do we love planet Earth more than we love ourselves? Are we overconsuming clothes from a place of self-love or a place of emptiness? How do we want to clean the planet when there is a lot of pending cleaning to do within ourselves? Is everyone a narcissist?
The Middle Point
It’s very challenging to change habits we’ve had for a very long time. It is almost unrealistic to believe everyone will transition to a sustainable lifestyle in the near future because that is what is best for the world.
But we can measure our progress with specific goals that we can track throughout the year. For instance, we can limit ourselves to buying X number of clothes in the next three months. Or we can make sure that we are fixing broken zippers before replacing the item with a new one.
These steps will only open room for more opportunities towards sustainability that you will be tempted to discover along the way.
Is everyone a narcissist?
Yes. No. Maybe.
But in fashion and in politics, instead of focusing on labels, it’s better to think of solutions to move forward.