What Exactly is ‘Conscious Consumption’?
By: Linh Do
The Sustainable Fashion Forum recently published an article titled “Why is There (Still) No Industry Recognized Definition of Benchmark for Sustainable Fashion?” The post detailed the nuanced layers that make it challenging to quantify industry standards.
While there is progress in creating general “good practices”, there is no one solution that fits all. The term itself is often deemed an oxymoron and weaponized by fashion marketers to promote consumption. So, if there’s no such thing as sustainable fashion, what is there?
To quote one of my favorite designers, Amelie Picard, “there is no truth, but there is choice.”
Debates on sustainable practices
Let’s take leather as an example—there have been debates about whether plant-based leathers or traditional leathers have a lesser impact on our environment.
On one hand, plant-based leathers are vegan but often require petroleum-based additives. While traditional leathers are criticized for animal slaughter, some brands source their hides from the discards of local meat industries.
Second-hand stores might not be as sustainable as you think
Another example is the second-hand market’s status as a more sustainable space. While second-hand shops provide an alternative to fast fashion, they can also be used to justify more consumption as a place to discard old pieces for newer ones.
Reports from second-hand markets show that they are being inundated with more fast fashion pieces than ever before.
Capitalism is about choice, but marketing sustainability has clouded many companies’ transparency. After all, how much time do consumers have to evaluate business processes, statistics, and practices for every brand they shop from?
What is conscious consumption? And how can you practice it?
While neither businesses nor consumers can be perfect, we can all try to be more conscious.
Conscious consumption means being thoughtful and intentional in our choices. It doesn’t mean never buying anything again, but it does mean deciding to be enough in a system that tries to sell you otherwise. Most importantly, conscious consumption helps remind us of our own agency and power.
As a consumer, I’ve begun to shy away from brands that loudly advertise their sustainability status without transparently describing their efforts to mitigate waste. Without explicitly acknowledging the imperfect nature of fashion sustainability, brands might as well be greenwashing.
We all have things we’ll still need (and want) to buy, but it’s important to ask ourselves if we are buying something because we truly need it or love it, and avoid the risk of becoming a fashion zombie.