Thoughts on Consumerism

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Have you read Zoe’s post today?  In it she explores what she consumes and why she does so.  Did you know she furnished her one bedroom flat for £130?  A sobering thought when I know that my mobile phone bill will cost more than that this year.

She shares her thought process and her magic questions and then expands on the subjects these relate to.  Her questions are:

Could I/we do without buying it?
Could I make it?
If the answer to the above is No:
Could I get it second-hand?
If the answer is still No she buys the item new but its the best quality she can afford so that it should last the longest and therefore not need to be replaced so soon.

I’ve taken the seamless pledge to try to live a more economical and ecological lifestyle. 

I have to admit that my birthday presents this year were all new and I’m deeply grateful for them for two reasons.  One is that I would never have bought the items myself (well, apart from the Minoru pattern and Burda book!).  My beautiful i-Pad is 16GB and a Wi-Fi only model but would have still cost the best part of £400.  Something I would never have justified buying for myself even though I know it will get used every day and something that I will find truly useful.  However I could, and have happily, lived my life without it.

Zoe discusses ‘New’ as a new concept.  And broadly speaking I agree.  The biggest area that I feel does end up in the ‘buying new but the best quality’ area is technology.  So this includes computers (desk, laptop and yes, tablet). 

I can appreciate that people choose not have a mobile phone however I chose to initially for convenience and now with a young son, for safety and peace of mind. 

I can also appreciate that people choose not to have a television and in all honesty it is the one piece of technology in our home that I really wouldn’t worry about if it blew up tonight. 

The computer and now tablet that gives me access to the interwebs and an online community that has given me so much, however does fall into a different camp.  So much of my life is now organised or conducted via some form of computer.  Whether it be research, shopping, banking, blogging (or as Karen beautifully put it, writing an (open) letter), working, recreation, planning anything from days out, holidays, parties…  It’s amazing considering when I was born computers were virtually un-heard of in the home and now my nearly two-year old instinctively uses the tablet.  If I’m honest, I wouldn’t have pursued sewing in the same way if it wasn’t for the information and support that is out there in the online community, and for that we need technology.

I do agree whole heartedly with what Zoe has to say about advertising:

“It was the advertising executives that constantly pedalled the idea than brand-spanking-new products would make you a happier, better person, and reflect your social standing as higher than those around you.”

As Zoe points out, it seems all to common now that happiness or fulfilment is sought through owning the most stuff, or the newest stuff, or the best grade stuff.  And that’s all it is, stuff.  Have you seen this quote before:

“Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful” — William Morris

I think that this fits in with Zoe’s ethos.  Just because it’s there and we’re told we need it, doesn’t mean that we do.  It’s the quality v quantity argument.  The antidote to Primark in my opinion.  I would much rather have a single item of clothing that has taken me hours to make out of fabric that is of a good quality than dozens that disintegrate after a few goes through the washing machine.  Perhaps the financial cost is the same in the long run too (I have my doubts about the ecological and human costs I’m afraid)?

In this way, the marketing applied by such big corporations such as Apple continues to push the ‘new is better, new makes you best’ mind-set.  I know and appreciate that technology advances but I’m not going to be getting rid of my i-Pad 2 just because an i-Pad 3 comes along (and it’s already imminent!).  Same as my ‘classic’ i-Pod is actually a classic ie not a new-one-in-the-classic-styling.  I couldn’t tell you how old it is now (at least 8 years old – ancient in technological terms) but it still does the job I wanted it to do, and does so beautifully.  It stores my music electronically and lets me carry it in something only a little bigger than a cassette (remember those?!).  And its got loads of capacity left as it was the best my husband, who it belonged to originally, could afford at that time.

The whole want/need equation is a tricky one for all of us I think.  We all probably have a particular area where the want and need is particularly blurry.  For me (and maybe some of you) this is sewing patterns.  If I look at my list (stored on my phone…) there are enough patterns there to keep me sewing for the next year at least, but I know that if Colette for instance come out with a new pattern, or Sewaholic for that matter, the chances are I’m going to want it.  Even if I don’t buy it immediately it’ll still be a want.  And I can’t justify it as a need as I have other patterns I can use and adapt.  My only mitigation is this: the vast majority of my patterns are from small independent designers such as Colette or Sewaholic, or are second-hand, pre-loved Etsy and eBay finds. 

So whilst these small independent designers do need to advertise they do so in what appears to me to be with the consent of the community they are appealing to.  As Zoe discusses, a lot of modern advertising plays on our fears and insecurities and I will hand on heart say that has never been the case with the independent (or even the big four) pattern companies. 

For one they are not appealing to a main-stream audience but also what they are selling is a tool that enables us to take control of what we wear and how we project ourselves to the world.  It’s not a whole sale solution, but a stepping stone to help us find our own answer – whether that be through fabric, fit, adaptation…  The complete antithesis of the ‘Very’ adverts that Zoe describes.  OK, a bit of ruching may be a good way of distracting the eye and it may be part of the decision-making process when buying a pattern but when has a pattern ever told you that ‘the ruched waist band will hide a multitude of sins’!?!  I can understand why Zoe nearly spat her coffee out.  All I can say is I’m glad I haven’t seen it.  I’m sorry to say that I bet it works though…

Please, if you get a chance, go and read Zoe’s post.  It’s thought-provoking and touches on some of the areas that I have certainly become more aware of since sewing my own clothes as a direct result.

Thank you for sticking with me if you’ve got this far through such a long and wordy post – hopefully I’ll have a finished Beignet to show you tomorrow and of course my birthday giveaway winners!

5 thoughts on “Thoughts on Consumerism

  1. Another interesting post on this topic. As I commented on Zoe’s blog, since taking up sewing I have found myself thinking much more about whether I need to buy clothes or not. And those I make myself are much more loved and valued much higher to me than any of the generic items availiable from the high street. My makes are the result of hours of careful work, and therefore are likely to be treasured for as long as they can be. I think sewing and crafting go hand in hand with the fight against consumerism, which is all too widespread these days. Years ago things were built to last….now even computers are disposable, meant to be tossed aside when the new version comes along a year or two later. It’s pretty shocking to be honest, and so I am always glad to see people turning away from this kind of culture.

    1. You managed to put much more succinctley my over riding feelings in your comment Kat than I managed in over a thousand words! Its amazing how the simple act of making your own clothes makes you look at the world so much more carefully isn’t it!

  2. Some good thougths. I haven’t read Zoe’s post, but I try to have a similar attitude. Mass consumerism bothers me a lot – maybe it’s just because I hate going to the mall, or perhaps because being wasteful is unsettling. In either case, I think it is healthy to take a step back and be considerate when spending money on anything.

  3. A lot is being said these days about a topic I’ve been thinking about on a personal level. When I was younger I had the opportunity to live and work in some pretty remote areas of the planet. It always blew my mind how people who had so little in terms of material wealth could be so generous and so genuinely happy. Coming back to North American consumer society after those experiences was a shock but soon I reverted back into my old ways and the consumerist ways of this society at large. Since getting into sewing and knitting I’ve began thinking about these issues again and I’m at the point where thinking about it is no longer enough. That’s the reason why I’m taking the Seamless Pledge and why I’m carrying those same values to my consumption habits outside of clothes and fabric. Why not live like that in general? In my opinion, that old saying “less is more” is bang on.

  4. A great post and the ideas in this and zoes post are ones we should question ourselves about on a daily basis. I agree that sewing helps us to step back and begin to take some kind of responsability for the ways we consume clothes and not just buy things empty-headedly. However we should probably question our consumption of fabric too…..I just wrote about this on my blog but have no words of wisdom, just questions!

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