WOMEN'S LIVES: Slave to fashion or slave for fashion

"Need it/Want it" workshop in the Change Makers series examines consumerism

Agatha Masterson

Reporter:

Agatha Masterson

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editorial@donegaldemocrat.com

WOMEN'S LIVES:   Slave to fashion or slave for fashion

Need It Want It is a workshop in the Change Makers series of free community workshops which examines consumerism and the growth of clothing products for purchase not only in Ireland but across the global markets.

Need It Want It, delivered by Julie Griffiths, examines the marketing strategies and images used to promote products with the message that if you buy this product modelled by these celebrities you too can look like this and have this lifestyle. This is contrasted with the video used in the session depicting the life-threatening conditions which women and children have to work in to produce the items which we demand to be available for purchase.

What is this need in me to want, to have the latest trends and the most up-to-date appliances? With the application of an exercise where the questions asked probed our unconscious obsession with purchasing (buying and consuming), the individuals in the group had to think about the answers carefully and personally. Even examining small value items bought - especially those specifically targeted towards women who are continually bombarded with advertisements in relation to beauty products, from shampoos to anti-wrinkle creams and makeup - the automatic and unconscious habit of I want rather than I need becomes apparent.

The power of purchasing and consumerism is mapped on a timeline showing the increase in consumer activity from post war through to the present day. The advent of fast fashion, neoliberal economics, the availability of credit, the credit card and increase of purchasing outlets, have led to a burgeoning activity in spending in the later part of the 20th century.

So how can we counter this savage beast of consumerism, how can we make conscious decisions about what we want to buy and examine do we actually need it? There are some celebrity advocates promoting the rule of thumb that if you buy an item of clothing, then at the very least wear it 30 times. Lots of clothing which are the result of “panic buys” or “oh, I will fit into it one day buys” could be given to the local charity shop. Clothes have become so cheap and affordable, someone suggested that it made economic sense to buy new clothes rather than having them laundered. Mad thought, but this is where we are heading if we do not halt the unconscious purchasing and don’t give a second thought to who makes my clothes.

On examining how much workers are actually paid, it was startling to find out that out of all of the components in the manufacture of clothing, from the buying of the raw materials through the making, marketing and distribution, the retailer receives the largest portion and in most cases the worker in the factory receives the least. The worst industrial accident in Bangladesh’s history offers an uncomfortable glimpse into the fast-growing garment industry there, and the treatment of its workers. The majority of workers are women and children, and it takes an examination of our own buying habits to link the availability of cheap clothing to the inhumane and unsafe conditions which the workers have to endure. Are these facts enough to disturb the relentless purchasing of cheap clothing, which is evident in the overstocked, underpriced copies of what we perceive to be fashion in many retail outlets seven days per week? When do we get the message to stop and consider do we actually need so many clothes and other products?


Change Makers asks us to look at how we make decisions about purchasing goods, become more aware of the effects on a global scale, and take an action to counter this. What will your action be?
For more information on the Change Makers project contact 0749362218 or email joleen@inishowen.ie, also check out Fashion Revolution at www. fashionrevolution.org