One Consumer's Journey To Consciousness
Story of a Mall Rat
I grew up in mall country. I could be in one of five shopping malls within twenty minutes each with their share of name brand-stores, chains, department stores, and food courts.
Ever seen the movie Mall Rats? Yup, I was one of those rats. I trolled the hallways of my local mall with friends and spent what little money I had on Auntie Anne’s pretzels, Claire’s jewelry, Bath & Body Works perfumes, and Abercrombie t-shirts.
Conscious consumerism was not even a flicker of a thought in my prepubescent, fluorescent-light addled head.
I attribute my awakening to three phenomena: my time studying abroad, my family’s middle-class status, and my love of food. Bear with me, for although the journey is fraught with shallow consumer-driven thoughtlessness, I could not have achieved my conscious consumer status without it.
I studied abroad in two different European cities: London and Madrid.
London was a dream. Fancy shops, high teas, tights, piercings, rebellious fashion… I blew through half of my spending money for the whole trip buying clothes that would help me blend in.
Most of my clothes from London lasted less than the four-month semester. I even wore the soles off one pair of shoes that I bought at the beginning of my trip.
In Spain, I was more thoughtful. The clothes I brought with me were "basics" that could be dressed up or down depending on the day. Still, I bought hundreds of dollars worth of clothes. With one notable difference. This time the clothes lasted longer than three months. To this day, I still have a pair of Spanish leather boots.
My interest in quality over quantity began with my European escapades. I had to be selective in the clothes I bought if I wanted them all to fit in one suitcase. It was a challenge that pleased my inner artist. I focused on accumulating timeless designs, classic colors (mainly black and white), and clothes that could weather heavy use and abuse.
As I got older, my investment in quality began to be tempered with the thought of, “Can I afford this?” Buying clothes became a game. I would try to find the highest-quality clothing for the cheapest price.
Now, my love of food underwent a similar transformation during this time. I started to focus on quality rather than quantity.
I live in a state that highly values local, organic produce, meat, eggs... as well as clothes, coffee, lotion, spirits, beer, etc. I started to trace the origins of everything I owned, and it was then I realized how harmful clothing manufacturing was to the environment.
“We are only as blind as we want to be.” Maya Angelou
My eyes were open. I could no longer buy cheap, name-brand clothes with a clear conscience.
Resources are resources no matter if they go into feeding the population, clothing them, or providing them with fuel. The shift to being a conscious consumer may not happen naturally for some of you, but I urge you to try.
Begin with your values. It is through examining our values that we start the journey from unconscious to conscious. Through self-awareness, we start to take responsibility for our choices and make more informed choices for our future.
Conscious Consumer Tricks of the Trade
Millennials are much more likely than their parents to research products before they buy them. However, digging through the propaganda that marketing companies weave around a product can be difficult even with thorough research.
Here a few ideas of where to look when researching sustainable, ethical, environmentally-friendly companies. When Unconventional Nomad was founded, we researched each of the following to ensure that we were making ethical, sustainable decisions across the board.
The fashion industry is notoriously wasteful. Nearly 20% of the world’s wastewater is produced by the fashion industry. Not only that, but the average consumer buys 60% more clothing than a consumer 15 years ago, AND they keep that clothing for half the amount of time!
Look into your favorite company’s policy around waste and see what measures they are taking to lessen their impact on the world.
At Unconventional Nomad, we use slow fashion practices. This means that we make products to meet demand, and we account for waste when paying for our fabric. Our packaging is all compostable and made from recycled materials.
Where do our clothes come from? When researching fabric for Unconventional Nomad, it seemed that almost all of it originated in Asia. Nearly 40% of the clothing sold in the United States is produced in China. It can be hard to know for certain if the product you are purchasing from a foreign country is sustainable without visiting that country yourself.
Unconventional Nomad is partnered with Kendor Textiles. They source their materials from overseas, but Kendor does regular checks on the conditions of the farms to ensure the stability of the environment and to assure harmful chemicals are not being used in any part of the process.
What makes bamboo a unique resource for textiles is its quick growth, natural antibacterial properties, and its ability to rebuild damaged soil. If well-regulated, bamboo and other sustainable wood sources could be the future of sustainable textiles. Our shirts contain 66% rayon from bamboo.
FAIR LABOR & WAGES
Ever wonder why a sustainable, locally-sourced piece of clothing costs more? Not only are the materials more durable, but they are pieced together by hand, and those hands are fairly compensated.
At Unconventional Nomad, we believe in researching our partners thoroughly so that we can be sure our final product is ethically-sourced. Our packaging, labels, and drawstring bag are all made locally. Our fabric is made by Kendor Textiles in Canada. Our shirts are sewn in the USA.
This is an area that most people wouldn’t associate with consumerism, but I feel it’s key to reading between the lines at a company.
Marketing campaigns are the public face of the company. Do they inundate your inbox with useless, flashy emails of little substance? To me, this invasive form of marketing is verging on unethical. It blinds you, distracts you and tricks you into buying something, like a street magician who performs flashy stunts while their accomplice sneaks through the crowd robbing wallets.
Pay attention to WHY you are buying something, and if it is based on cheap marketing tricks, you may want to take a closer peek into the company who would exploit their consumers in that way.
Above all, a conscious clothing company is all about transparency, and why not? When you have nothing to hide, transparency is easy.
More and more people are beginning to look at the who, what, why and where. Companies that have worked hard to build a sustainable and ethical business want people to know the work that went into it.
Note: This one works both ways. If you cannot find any information about the company’s sources, chances are they don’t want you to know.
There is a shift happening in our world from materialism to minimalism. In the words of the minimalist designer, Brian Gardner, “I’ve learned that minimalism is not about what you own, but why you own it.”
Do all the objects in your life have a purpose?
While it may seem ridiculous, sitting down and looking at the accumulations of stuff can make you realize that many of these objects do not truly spark any joy.
When you think about your stuff from this lens, you begin the crucial inner journey to conscious consumerism. From here, add in the genius of organizing consultant Marie Kondo, “The question of what you own is actually the question of how you want to live your life,” and realize that you can manifest the life you want through your stuff.
If your home and possessions reflect who you are, what is the message they are sending?
If a stranger were to see your possessions lined up on the side of the road, what conclusions would they come to about the person who owned them?
Although the journey may seem daunting, the real value of being a conscious consumer is harmony between your material life and your inner spiritual life. For me, the journey to conscious consumer began with over-consumption, was filtered by economic limitations, and eventually sprung into existence alongside my farm-to-table obsession.
In the beginning, it may feel like a sacrifice to reduce the amount of stuff in your life. But the result of that sacrifice is that you create space for more significant and meaningful objects that you truly value. That is the true motivation behind the conscious consumer.