What is sustainable-consumption?

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Ever heard of sustainable consumption? It may sound like a recent response to the current environmental awareness movement that has been emerging over the past few years but the term has actually been around since 1994. The Oslo Symposium on Sustainable Consumption defines it as "the use of services and related products which respond to basic needs and bring a better quality of life while minimising the use of natural resources and toxic materials as well as emissions of waste and pollutants over the life cycle of the service or product so as not to jeopardise the needs of future generations”. Granted that’s a bit of a mouthful but sustainable-consumption is basically a self-explanatory term; “sustainable” essentially being a maintenance of growth or resources, and “consumption” being the action of using up a resource. Sounds like a bit of a juxtaposition when you break it down but it is probably the most important thing we should consider when making a purchase and also the exact opposite of what most retailers are telling us we should be doing.

Ever heard of fast-fashion? Also fairly self-explanatory, principally the opposite of sustainable-consumption and unfortunately a very dangerous direction that we are being goaded into. However, if you’ve never heard the term fast-fashion before it is defined as: “Inexpensive clothing produced rapidly by mass-market retailers in response to the latest trends”. The definition is quite inflammatory in itself but, to break it down even further there are a few words in there that consumers should be taking into account before making a purchase: “inexpensive”, “rapidly”, “mass-market” and “response”.

“Inexpensive” often translates as unfair, as the garment is likely from a developing country where the employees are not being paid enough and are working unreasonably long hours. The low price also encourages shoppers to buy more which in turn uses up more resources; be it cotton, carbon or water for example. There will also undoubtedly be more packaging which usually equals more plastic, and we all know the dangers of plastic pollution.

“Rapidly” is just a fancy word for fast and fast in terms of consumerism is something we should be paying attention to. We live in a world where it’s possible to order an item online and it arrives the next day, sometimes even the same day, and this is undoubtedly exceedingly convenient but it also encourages consumers to buy more and again, uses up more resources. The antidote to this is “slow-fashion”, another buzz word that defines the movement of designing, creating and buying items that will last and it, in turn, encourages extremely positive steps in the production process such as slower schedules, fairer wages, lower carbon footprints, and less waste.

“Mass-market” is, again, easy to break down. It is consumerism on the biggest scale, it is impersonal and it is the opposite of exclusive, unique and special. It is a £1 bikini from Missguided that thousands of other people will own and which has since become a symbol of society’s throw away fashion culture. The ethics of this garment have come under scrutiny from fast-fashion critics and environmentalists in social media and newspapers but the creator of the online store has defended the decision to market such a low priced item. Indeed the publicity was welcomed by the brand who promote a rapid-fashion ethos, which is a notch above fast-fashion.

“Response” is one thing that consumers and retailers can control. The fashion industry is currently an undeniably fast moving one with new collections emerging every season, that’s four times a year, every year. Retailers have a choice and a responsibility to change this, governments have a choice and an opportunity to change this, whether they do or not is another matter. But how consumers respond is directly controllable, trying to buy more second hand clothing effectively combats fast-fashion while also (if bought from a charity shop) helping those in need. Challenging yourself to go 30 days without buying anything new, boycotting certain brands who are promoting fast-fashion, going through your wardrobe and re-working clothes you don’t wear, or spending a little more on a sustainable alternative are all responses consumers can implement to help combat the negative effects of fast-fashion. This change in consumer behaviour is not something retailers want from buyers and they work extremely hard to market, advertise, influence and ultimately persuade customers to keep buying their products.

So what does Vintage Child do to promote sustainable consumption? Our bags are, of course, built to last and our leather ages beautifully over time so the more you use it the better it will get. We also offer a lifetime repair warranty on all our products to insure they last a lifetime.

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