How Much Are You Wearing + Promoting Better Products Or Just Promoting Consumption?

Apparently, the average woman’s outfit costs $1321.28. According to this infographic by Digital Surgeons, that is the amount of money many of us walk around in every day (I’m thinking 1321 one dollar bills would make for a fascinating dress, but that may be the fact that I’m entering the World Of Wearable Art spilling into other areas of my life).

One of the big barriers to making more ethical fashion choices that we often hear about is cost. It’s too expensive. As someone who has a grand total of $50 on her bank account right now, I feel ya. I do. And yet if this is the average amount we spend on a single outfit, it seems we have more to work with than we might think. That’s quite a lot of potential to vote for a better world. I wanted to experiment with what this might mean in an eco/ethical outfit.

Obviously not everyone spends that much (I for one don’t), and I don’t mean to say that it’s necessary to do so to buy ethically. But it is interesting to think about how much you’re wearing (right now, maybe?) and what positive change you could be part of with that.

Ethical outfit

  1. Venus Triangle Necklace by Mettle Fair Trade
    $89. Made from recycled bomb shells.
  2. Scarab Trench Coat by Reformation
    $248. Made from deadstock materials.
  3. The Silk Rounded Collar by Everlane
    $80. Made in ethical working conditions.
  4. Sunday Tote by Angela Roi
    $148. Vegan, made in ethical working conditions and part of profits are donated to charity.
  5. Maddy Black Hemp Shoes by Beyond Skin
    $124. Vegan, PVC free, made in ethical working conditions.
  6. Aster Jumper by Sezane
    $151. Made in ethical working conditions with high focus on quality.
  7. Aimee Shorts by Who Made Your Pants
    $20. Made in the UK from deadstock fabric, providing jobs to female refugees.
  8. Atelier Skirt by People Tree
    $208. Handwoven Fair Trade cotton.

Total = $1068 (all prices in US dollars, because I assume that was what was used in the infographic)

But here’s the thing…

As it so often does, thinking and writing about this topic has brought up some other issues and questions. In particular, where do you draw the line between promoting better products and plain old promoting consumption?

As in, does this pretty picture I put together for us all to enjoy (loving the colour scheme, if I do say so myself) leave us feeling inspired to make better choices, confident that eco/ethical fashion is just as stylish as any other kind of clothing? Or does it just feed that desire for new and for more? Does it in fact contribute to (what I believe to be) the biggest issue – namely that we are consuming far too much, and for all the wrong reasons?

This is one of the reasons I’ve avoided doing product-focused posts until now – in a world that teaches that buying is the solution to all of life’s problems, we don’t really need another shopping list slapped up on the internet. But if we don’t push these better products, talk about them, let people know that it is possible, fun and pretty damn sexy to do better, then how can we expect them to do so?

If we shut up and lie low, the businesses doing the damage certainly won’t be following suit. That’s for sure. Their voices will become the only ones that are heard. Better brands need help to become well-known, and people need to feel that buying an ethical piece of clothing doesn’t need to involve hours of hunting around and stacks of research.

I notice undertones of these questions in a lot of people’s work, and I’m glad. We are asking questions of others and ourselves. In Rebecca’s If You Need It series (the name says it all, really). In Jess’ hesitant and oh-so-dry recommendation (please never lose the oh-so-dry) for Sezane. In Patagonia’s Black Friday celebration of what we already own. When a company starts saying, “Buy our stuff. But not too much! And only if you need it!”, people are starting to think.

So I ask you, my lovely readers – in this space here, how do you feel about product recommendations? Brands being highlighted that are doing things differently? Is this useful, or is it more stuff in a world that already has too much?

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31 thoughts on “How Much Are You Wearing + Promoting Better Products Or Just Promoting Consumption?

  1. I think there’s still room for product recommendations because there’s some things that I just wouldn’t want to – or simply can’t – buy at a thrift or consignment shop. For instance, I’ve found ethical (environmentally or socially conscious companies) socks, underwear and bathing suits.. but I have no idea where to find bras (especially with underwire)! There are always going to be things that people buy new, and the internet is kind of a vast wasteland that can be difficult to dig through in order to find the gems.

    What I’m interested in, however, are not the pretty pieces of clothing but how these companies stand out from fast fashion manufacturers and how they came to their philosophies. I don’t need another pinterest or inspiration board full of beautiful items. I want information so I can make the best decisions for myself.

    I also find that those mood board type posts are also really limiting – there’s a ton of sartorial inspiration that cannot be found on the internet such as art, old books, or nature… and tons of items that aren’t cataloged on various online shopping directories because they’re out in thrift stores. Maybe part of the problem is that we spent too much time on the computer drawing from “inspiration (read: likely product recommendations) from others rather then exploring the world and understanding our unique needs.

    Thought provoking post as always, Emma. Sorry for the jumbly response.

    • Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Jane! I do feel like product recommendations make eco/ethical fashion a lot easier for people who are new to the idea. Like you said, there are always going to be things people want to buy new, and making that as simple as possible is pretty important in making it more mainstream. But that needs to be balanced with other, more ‘behavioural’ changes like thinking about why we buy in the amounts that we do.

      I really like your point about wanting to know about the philosophies behind companies / how to make your own decisions rather than being given a shopping list of pretty pieces. I’ll definitely bear that in mind in future posts!
      And I definitely agree that sartorial inspiration comes from everywhere, not just static pictures of products.

  2. Ethically made, environmentally friendly bras with underwire! Ugh, I’ve been looking for nearly 15 years. I can find ethically made, organic cotton bras, but none with underwire or ethically made bras (but not in normal bras sizes, just small, medium and large ala American Apparel), but I can’t find a single company that produces a bra that meets all those requirements, standard sizing, ethically made, organically/environmentally sourced. It’s like they think because I’m a little granola in some of my fashion/lifestyle choices, that I’m totally granola in all of my choices. The thinking is that woman who want the first two criteria don’t want the third because underwire is “unhealthy”.

      • Crazy, two of the three brands this Belgian company supplies are ones that I already wear. Nice to know they meet basic ethical standards. I also know they are excellent quality, that these can last quite awhile despite some abuse.

        Soft cup bralettes or American Apparels three sized underwires (small, medium, large with know regards to cup size) are so easy to find. And, I am one of those women who definitely needs the structure of an underwire.

        I personally don’t think it’s because of manufacturing difficulty. I’ve contacted companies, like Blue Canoe, that make excellent, high quality organic cotton or bamboo clothes and undies. Each has responded via email or directed me towards a standards page on their website stating that they they won’t make underwire bras because they’re “unhealthy” and “promote” breast cancer, etc.

          • To my knowledge (limited, admittedly), there are no established cancer risks associated with wearing underwear that wouldn’t apply to any bra tight enough to hold up “the girls” (and even then, they seem to be more a result of correlation than causation; from what I’m reading, the trials failed to isolate women who had other risk factors for BC at play). For my part, I already have a difficult time buying bras (I have to buy from specialty bra shops to fit my small rib cage + not-as-small cup size); to the extent that I have found bras without underwire, they have fit me poorly, supported me inadequately, and created an unpleasing (flattened) shape. If you can recommend a brand that can overcome those pitfalls, I’m happy to consider it. I don’t love underwire for underwire’s sake, except that, when properly-sized, I DO find it more comfortable, better-fitting, and more flattering to my shape than bras without.

            I could be wrong. Maybe there are amazing bras out there that fit, flatter (“lift and separate”) and don’t restrict lymphatic flow, and are ethically and/or sustainably produced – without underwire. And maybe I’m missing something on the breast cancer front. I gave up commercial deodorants about 20 months ago due to the concerns about trapped toxins and aluminum, so I’m open to persuasive facts.

    • Ethical bras with underwire have evaded me too, and I’ve come to the conclusion that I buy high quality ‘normal’ bras (especially looking at straps and the piece between the cups) and hand wash them to keep them in good nick for as long as possible.

      “they think because I’m a little granola in some of my fashion/lifestyle choices, that I’m totally granola in all of my choices” – preach! There does seem to be a lot of floaty softcup ‘bralettes’ going on, and it just isn’t realistic for many women. I wonder whether that’s because it’s more difficult to manufacture structured underwired bras.

  3. Emma as someone who is new to making better choices I would very much like product recommendations, I don’t think these necessarily would inspire more consumption but certainly a better consumption. At the moment I don’t have go-to brands that are a better choice, I sure would appreciate being helped to find some good brands and ways to find the info myself.

    • Thanks for letting me know, Rose! I remember how difficult it was to know where to turn when I first became interested in other ways of looking at clothing, so I can see that product recommendations would be useful in that way.
      “Ways to find the info myself” – that sounds like a good thing to bear in mind, rather than putting together neat little shopping lists that don’t apply to anyone but myself.

  4. This is a topic I have thought a lot about! It’s such a multidimensional issue. I wrote on my blog a while back about blogs driving consumption, even when the blog posts are well intentioned – like even if your aim as a blogger is to show people how their choices could be more mindful or thoughtful or ethical or environmentally friendly, just the mere act of writing about a particular purchasable item might result in people buying it even though they didn’t need it. The qualitative effects of that are also ambiguous – the purchase might not have been necessary, but there are situations in which it might still have a positive effect (e.g. if it directly benefits a disadvantaged group, like if you buy a dress from a small dress-making cooperation in Ghana, and the profits go directly back to the women manufacturing the dresses and allow them to expand their cooperation and become more financially independent) or it might have no effect (e.g. I bought a shirt recently from Steven Alan, made in the US and excellent quality and will hopefully last for many years, but the Steven Alan company is pretty successful and my purchase isn’t going to contribute towards, say, a change in the quality of life for any disadvantaged people).

    So it’s really a double-edged sword, in my opinion. If someone genuinely needs to buy a particular product, a recommendation to guide them towards making a more constructive or responsible choice, but a recommendation can also lead people to buy things they never needed, and the ethical/environmental aspect of it can serve as a convenient excuse for more consumption. And as I said, sometimes that extra consumption can be directly beneficial (i.e. people with disposable income contributing to people who need that economic boost), but frequently it isn’t (like my Steven Alan shirt). In the context of a culture that mercilessly encourages consumption, I’ve made the personal choice to not write about my own purchases and to not make recommendations – that Sezane recommendation was definitely an anomaly and I’d still be tempted to delete it at a later date, depending on my changing whims, haha. I still think that recommendations have an important place in the discussion, and ultimately it’s the responsibility of the individual to assess whether they truly need something or whether they’re just buying something for the sake of buying it. I just happen to get the feeling that a lot of people out there aren’t particularly good at critically assessing their own thoughts and behaviours, so I think there will always be people who will at some level want to consume more mindfully, but who are still very easily influenced into making purchases they don’t need. Seriously, the number of blogs I’ve seen in which people have written about culling their wardrobe down to the bare essentials and only making very infrequent, high quality purchases, all in an effort to be more ethical and moderate in their consumption, but then in the next post show off their haul from Zara… I mean, I don’t want to judge, but I am sometimes both disheartened and somewhat amused by the lack of self-awareness that people (myself included, on many occasions, I’m sure) have of their thoughts and behaviours!

    • I was hoping to get your thoughts on this, Jess :) That post on blogs driving consumption was one of the first I read of yours and it definitely made me question the role of product recommendations on blogs.

      It is such a multidimensional issue, and I think also a balancing act. The reality is most people won’t spend an hour hunting for an ethical pair of jeans when H&M is 5 minutes away, so making better buying an easy thing to do is so important in getting more people on board. But then like you say, the last thing I want to be a part of is promoting extra unnecessary consumption (especially if it doesn’t benefit a disadvantaged group)
      I guess the main issue I have with this is that it’s very easy to simply replace WHAT is being consumed (“It’s organic cotton” type scenario) without looking at any of the other parts of the consumption process (such as how much is being consumed, why, what happens to it after you’re done with it, etc.). I feel like your blog for instance looks at a different angle – often the WHY, and this is far less talked about and just as necessary (if not more so).
      But like I said, a balancing act.

      • I think it is just really, really challenging for people to get their heads around the idea of not getting what they want – the idea that maybe, in a lot of consumption situations, the most ethical course of action might be to not consume at all. If seeking out information on ethical alternatives feels too demanding for a lot of people, there is no way on Earth that they’re going to consider radically changing their entire approach to consumption. And people can be seriously interested in these topics and still be very averse to doing the research needed to make their decisions – I’ve seen people get deeply involved in these conversations and then turn around and ask on a forum “So, I want to buy something from [insert huge international high street fashion brand], does anyone know whether they produce their clothes ethically or not?” which I found kind of amazing, because there are endless reports and commentary pieces and assessments on the ethical policies of that brand and its parent company, if only you bother to Google “[brand name] ethics” and do some reading.

        For the most part, people seem to want information handed to them, and they seem to be relatively averse to going and seeking it themselves, never mind evaluating it critically for themselves, which I guess is where recommendations can have both a positive and negative effect: people are easily influenced when information is made freely available as in a recommendation, so that might guide them to buying more responsibly or to buying things they don’t need. People’s tendency to be influenced and their unwillingness to think critically is a fundamental hurdle here, so I guess all we can do really is try to keep increasing people’s awareness of the issues and of how things aren’t black and white.

  5. When you blog- you have absolutely no control on how people may choose to interpret what you say. Everyone sees the world through their own filter. I think the brand recommendations are useful – otherwise the world will become one giant PRIMARK…

    • Hi Sarah, you’re right that you can’t control how people might react to what you have to say. One person might take a product recommendation as an interesting story about a piece of clothing, another person might use it to justify continuing to buy at the same rate, and someone else might just like the photos.

      That’s probably going to be heavily dependent on their personality / buying behaviour / state of mind, but the type of info they consume and the way this is put together (choice of words etc.) will likely play into this too. Of course it is everyone’s choice what they read / watch / listen to and I have no control over this, but I do aim to be a part of the positive info out there.
      This is making me think that it’s important to work on the buying behaviour / state of mind and have the product recommendations compliment this rather than replace it.

      Thanks for your comment :)

  6. Hi Emma!

    I’m really enjoying your blog, and love what you did with your mom’s closet! She looks fantastic, and so do you. I tend to agree with ALL of the prior posters:
    (1) I value the opinions of actual consumers more than the write-ups of the sellers (boutique or manufacturer). So when someone who’s opinion I value says: “this is ethical/this is sustainable/this is also really effective/beautiful/well-made”? I love it. I may not rush out to buy it, but I will keep it in mind for when I am ready to shop. Which leads me to:
    (2) Sarah’s right – you can’t control what others will do. You can’t be responsible for their actions. But
    (3) So is Jess: you CAN make sure that if you ARE touting a purchasable item that you feel good about someone buying – to support the brand. to support the policy.

    I’ve begun to move away from blog recommendations that include disposable fashion recommendations, except to maybe check in on the trendy colors or shapes (generally, rather than specifically). But when design so heavily recycles from prior eras (those jeans in the trench pic, above, SCREAM 1987), you’re not going to tell me you couldn’t find something similar, somewhere second-hand (at 35, I’m not buying them; I wore them the first go-round…). But I love blogs that help me discover shops that are trying to get it right, and I love the reminder that fabulous (and often really well-made, if pre-mid-90s) items come from second-hand stores. And the glorious thing about shopping second-hand is that you can discover something fantastic, that isn’t cookie-cutter, and which is always sustainable, no matter the brand.

    • Thanks for your lovely comment, Rebecca!
      “I may not rush out to buy it, but I will keep it in mind for when I am ready to shop.” this is really how I hope people use recommendations – as tips for when / if they need something, rather than feeling incomplete or inferior if they don’t have whatever is being recommended. I do think that’s where a lot of our buying comes from – feeling less than good enough and being told that buying something will change that.

      I like your emphasis on second hand shopping! You’re so right that with the cyclical nature of fashion means that can be a great way to go. I’m actually planning on doing some this afternoon :P

  7. As for promoting consumption, in this case, I think it depends on what the person’s habits already are. I’ve actually been looking for a tote bag, so I clicked on the one you linked, and now I’m considering purchasing another from that brand. However, if I weren’t looking for any of the items you pictured, I wouldn’t have followed any of the links. My habits are already to buy only (mostly) what I need; for someone who bought more impulsively it might be different.

    I don’t think this post, or anything you would link on your blog would encourage consumption the way a regular style blog would, because you’re not focused on just the aesthetic or trend factor of the product. That attitude doesn’t give a product the same aspirational quality that makes people want to consume just for the sake of owning something pretty.

    I for one am glad you made the post, because it introduced me to some new places to buy attractive and ethically made items when it’s *so* hard to find those kinds of sellers. But, product recommendations aren’t why I’m interested in sustainable fashion, so while seeing them occasionally is fun and sometimes useful, I’d much rather hear why someone thinks a piece of clothing is worth my money than just being told it is. As long as it’s infrequent, and comes with something to think about beyond just the piece of clothing itself, I don’t think recommending clothes or places to buy them is harmful.

    • I think you’re right that how someone interprets recommendations depends quite a lot on the attitude that person already has towards shopping.
      It might then be a question of having other posts with ideas / tips on how to change that attitude, complimented with the occasional “Hey guys, these brands are pretty cool!” type post. That way I can hopefully encourage people to look at both how much / why they’re buying and give ideas for how to do better.

      And I definitely agree that going beyond the piece of clothing makes for far more interesting reading. Personally I find straight outfit posts quite flat, they always seem to leave me wanting more.

      Thanks Caer :)

  8. I agree wholeheartedly with Caer and Rebecca. To illustrate: my own instinctive response to this post was to click on two of the wonderful pictures to check out prices etc. So definitely a ‘risk’ there. But since I have made the conscious choice recently to plan my buying and do it more mindfully, I will just ignore the impulse desire to buy pretty stuff, and more likely evaluate the brand and website in its entirety and then decide whether or not to bookmark it in my special folder (fair fashion webshops). So that if, in the future, I need something e.g. a handbag I can go back to see if anything this brand offers aligns perfectly with my needs and values. In which case I might buy it. Hopefully I will by then have enough resources so I don’t lose my patience and end up rushing to H&M after all!
    I would venture out and say your readers are all in a different place right now, with different needs, and if ‘This kind choice’ can actually provide a broad range of information to enable such a choice, then you’re definitely ‘on the good side’!

    • Hi Liesbeth,
      Building up a list of shops is a great way of making it easy to know where to turn to when you do need something, and that’s something I want to help people with (and be helped with, I get recommendations from you guys as well!).

      I think you’re so right that different readers are at different stages of changing their attitudes towards shopping, and so recommendations might be useful to include in the mix. After all, looking at why we buy so much and thinking about how to change that is great, but at some point we will need to buy something new, so making that a positive thing is important too.

    • Thanks for those links, they are very interesting!
      “Goldsmith’s book advises us to buy organic, buy seasonal, buy local, buy sustainable, buy recycled. But it says nothing about buying less.” I think simply replacing what is being bought rather than how much is being bought is a very real problem. (It’s actually something I’ve written an essay on for University)
      The other thing those articles bring up is that this approach tends to only be viable for a certain part of society – people who have the money to pay the extra that organic, local etc costs. And so environmentally friendly easily becomes associated with being rich, when in fact the best thing to do (buy less) doesn’t cost anything.

  9. A bit late to the party, this is indeed a very interesting question to ask oneself, both as a blogger and as a reader. I agree with most of the comments above and won’t repeat what has been said – one additional piece of reflection might be to consider the blog’s editorial line as a whole.

    Apart from the occasional reader who happens to stumble on your product recommendation post and never comes back, chances are, most of your readers actually read all (or most of) your posts. I think the concept of a post presenting a brand or a product can be considered within the rest of the posts. The example Jess gave about a blogger paring down their wardrobe and then showing off a haul from Zara shows that: maybe her “paring down” posts have less impact on concious shoppers because readers know she has purchased new high street stuff afterwards. On the contrary, if your product recommendation post comes with a context of other posts emphasizing other ways to consume ethically, or simply promote the idea to consume less in the first place, it might give a bit more context and thought to the product posts.

    Second, I think the way you present brands/products can be adapted to the editorial line of your blog. If your aim is to help people find lesser known brands who produce their clothing in an eco-friendly and/or ethical way, maybe you can present your posts with that aim in mind – as other commenters suggested, with more information on the brand, why you think it is ethical, where readers can find more information etc. Another type of post that can be interesting (at least to me) is a personal review/opinion as a consumer if you are using some of their products. In the middle of advertisement and sponsored blogs, it is difficult to find an objective, reliable opinion. It can be a resource for the reader, for the day they need to purchase something. Of course, you can’t control the fact that some of them may purchase something based on your post, but I think if the information is presented in a certain way, the probability of readers buying unnecessary items as a result can be lower.

    Another idea would be to include product/brand recommendations in a wider type of posts that recommends ethical/eco-friendly ideas, e.g. sewing our own clothes, presenting platforms to exchange/sell things etc. That way, it would follow your editorial line to help people consume more mindfully, and presenting a brand or product wouldn’t be the sole focus of this type of post, but one of the many ethical recommendations/ideas. I know I value this type of post a lot as a reader, because after 3 years of simplification, I feel I’m arriving at the maximum I can do alone, with the time and energy I have available for this. But if someone else makes the extra research and posts the resulting recommendations, it might help me get a bit further. For example I just discovered a few Dead Fleurette/Project 333 inspired minimalist blogs in French (which I never found before, weirdly), and they recommend some services (to sell, donate, buy second hand) that I can actually use in France, easily, as well as brands made in France (which is an important criteria for me as I want to help promoting my country’s economy).

    Anyway that was the late piece of thought on the discussion :)

    • Hi Kali, I really like your point about considering a blogs editorial line as a whole. You’re absolutely right that recommendations need to be viewed within the wider “narrative” of a blog, and this is something I hadn’t considered that much before when thinking about this issue.

      I think it is important to see posts relating to and informing each other, rather than being stand alone pieces of writing. So it should be possible to put together a blog that looks at better brands as one part of the puzzle, but also includes other things such as the ones you mentioned (which are great, by the way, and things I’ll try and include in future posts) and thus doesn’t promote just changing what we buy, but also how much and why.

      I think reviews are great too, and personally always appreciate when they are done after owning something for a while, as opposed to straight away. It’s far more useful and interesting to hear about how an item has held up over time, rather than “I got this today and it looks great”.

      Thanks for all your insightful thoughts :)

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