This past week, we celebrated Thanksgiving and — the almost more highly anticipated — Black Friday: a uniquely American tradition that exemplifies the prominence of consumerist habits in this country. In a subdued act of rebellion, some companies have stopped hosting Black Friday sales or have even closed on Black Friday to make a statement. With increasing awareness of the environmental and social impacts of this tradition, it seems we are creeping, albeit at a slow pace, towards change. Now more than ever, youth are taking charge of their future, and with that responsibility, we have the opportunity to shift the trajectory of capitalism. However, it is up to us to decide; will we continue on our unsustainable route to certain death, or will we work to secure a healthy future for our children?
Over the years, consumers have moved away from buying basic, high-quality clothing, to buying more “fast fashion” pieces from companies whose goals are to stay on top of fashion trends. Fast fashion has significant impacts on society and the environment, and in relation to consumerism, it perpetuates a vicious cycle of greed and waste.
There are two main problems with fast fashion. Currently, fashion is one of the industries that causes the most pollution. And, unlike Black Friday, fast fashion is not uniquely American. With corporate giants such as Zara and H&M available globally, large scale production is a great contributor to climate change. According to Business Insider, the fashion industry contributes ten percent of humanity’s carbon emissions. What’s more, instead of being reused or repurposed, each year, 85 percent of all textiles end up in the dump. Though awareness of climate change is increasing rapidly, fast fashion is rarely held accountable.
The second issue pertaining to fast fashion is the violation of human rights that frequently occurs. Because of the sheer demand of this type of production, corporations look to cut corners whenever possible by cutting pay and having poor working conditions. As more of our garments are being made overseas, we, as consumers, are turning a blind eye to the mistreatment that is becoming the norm. Garment workers are some of the lowest paid in the world, and large corporations already have sufficient wealth, power, and privilege, yet we still let them take advantage of people who aren’t able to fight back.
Aside from the negative environmental implications of buying from corporations, the capitalist society we currently live in is creating income inequality unlike we have ever seen. According to the New York Times, “The 26 richest people in the world have as much wealth as the poorest 3.8 billion people.” Greed, as well as the mass accumulation of power in the hands of corporations, has led us to believe that more truly is better. This, coupled with the intrusion of media into every aspect of life, has created a culture of valuing material possessions above the well being of our communities.
However, some brands are giving us hope that there is a solution to our obsession with material goods. Store closures on Black Friday and the rise in minimalism through the popularity of Marie Kondo shows that people are interested in changing their ways. We are realizing that when it comes to the future of our planet and our consumerism, the line between our demise and prosperity is a thin one.
If we want to save the planet, it is time to make serious changes. As great as it is that some businesses are taking action, history shows that we should not wait around for corporations to save us. For the time being, intentional and thoughtful consumerism is a great way to make an impact.
Moving into the shopping frenzy that is the holiday season, make an effort to monitor your consumer footprint. Try buying from sustainable brands and second-hand stores, which are often cheaper anyway. If that isn’t easily accessible for whatever reason, consider swapping clothes with friends. Finding the action that suits you best is the key to getting involved in the fight against climate change. It is essential that we change the way we spend our money — call it the capitalist revolution.