There are plenty of articles surrounding fast fashion’s impact on the environment – and, even our mental health. We know the fashion industry is considered to be one of the biggest polluters, causing detrimental impact to the environment. We also know staring at trend after trend on fast fashion websites displaying thousands of options can lead to a must-buy-always mentality that negatively impacts our sense of happiness and mental health. But, what about our mental health’s impact on fast fashion?! I’m going to let you in on a little secret in today’s post – something that shouldn’t be secretive or shameful, but that is still disregarded in the conversation of fast fashion consumption: sometimes buying on fast fashion websites is very much a coping mechanism when it comes to struggling with your mental health. Sometimes, heck, it even helps you through a bad mental health patch. But that’s shameful to admit, because your coping mechanism is single-handedly also destroying the planet.
Let’s break it down into a simple message: buying clothes feels good. Buying clothes got me through many a stressful day at university. I’d absentmindedly scroll websites such as Asos and Nasty Gal (luckily avoiding the worst criminals of Pretty Little Thing and Missguided, not having ever fallen prey to those fast fashion top dogs) and with the click of a checkout button, my mood would be instantly lifted. Then, once the clothes arrived, trying on new outfit combinations and making myself feel myself again after weeks of slobbing in essay-writing joggers, I’d actually feel pretty damn relieved and happy. It genuinely did really give me a sense of distraction and a much-needed respite from everything that wasn’t making me feel mentally at my best.
Now, this was never and is ever the most healthy of coping mechanisms. Unhealthy for the planet, and unhealthy for your bank account. But, just as overindulging on food or becoming addicted to the Instagram scroll can be coping mechanisms, so is purchasing fast fashion. And just as learning to practice mindfulness or exercising to release stress can be ways to get you through the overwhelming difficulty that a bad mental health patch might be, so too doing your own YouTube-style clothing haul purely for your own gratification can help you through challenging mental times.
It’s definitely always good to work on building healthier coping strategies from default mechanisms – and I’m a massive advocate on that. Work on yourself to be better for the environment; there needs to be an understanding that this fast fashion compulsion isn’t just something we can instantly stop. But there continues to be a nature of shaming and ‘calling out’ of both brands and individuals that contribute to the fast fashion business. There’s an irony surrounding eco-blogging, whereby bloggers promote the slow fashion approach and preach how all our spending habits should be, whilst also co-habiting a space of buy-new culture by advertising their expensive, gifted, vegan luxury items only a handful of people will be able to invest in anyway. The chief executive of H&M spoke out in the tailend of 2019 about the social impact this blame culture may have, and all reporting labelled him as a billionaire with no shred of conscious utterly out of touch with society and only out for his own pocket. This may be very well true, but this continual preaching, double-standard blame culture that’s being created surrounding fast fashion consumption does nothing to help those of us that are really trying their best to be better for the environment, tackling our own demons in the process.
I’m not condoning the unhealthy habit of compensating for your mental health by buying into the fast fashion culture. In fact, I urge us all to try, try, try to do our very best to combat climate change by combatting our consumerism, amongst other unhealthy human traits. But I think the very essence of what this post is trying to say is that I’m imploring we’re kinder to ourselves and others in the process, and that we share a very human understanding that sometimes we can and will slip up. We might go and order clothes we don’t need but only want. We may purchase that dress just because we saw it for five seconds on an Instagrammer. But we’re also humans with complex mental health and we’re just that: only human. Shift the blame culture to a more understanding culture, and we might be able to work together a little easier to combat the drastic effects our shared habits are having on the environment.
And just to end, I’ve managed to nearly all but combat my coping mechanism of buying from fast fashion websites to literally get me through my degree still sane. This is because now I’m feeling much better mentally, I’m able to think straighter about what I was doing, and resist the urge to hit that checkout button. Here are some things I’ve found useful to do:
- When you get the urge to shop, head to local charity shops or scout out vintage stores or kilo sales. All of these clothes would be going to waste if we didn’t reuse them and donate to charities in turn, and this is a much kinder system for the planet all-round.
- Alternatively, if the shopping urge is hitting you hard, the other thing that’s really helped me is heading straight to my wardrobe, pulling out what I already own, and re-working my clothes into new outfit combinations. You instantly pull yourself out of your own thoughts, it’s a welcomed distraction, and it’s a new way to get you through any rough moments.
- Avoid all contact with fast fashion websites late at night. When you’re tired, you don’t have the mental strength to stop the scroll and stop the purchasing. You lose all sense of objectivity. Put your phone down and go. to. bed!