Conscious Consuming


I’ve been thinking about this opinion piece, Fast Fashion Chains Are Growing, So Give Up On Being A Conscious Shopper? by Elizabeth Cline (of Overdressed fame) since reading it a few weeks ago. The part that really got me upset, a little angry, and analyzing my own behavior is:

Fast fashion is part of a wider ideological degradation, whereby we think of ourselves and identify in every way as “consumers,” to the point that we use consumption as our primary form of protest, by consuming “responsibly.” The problem with conscious consumption as the end all and be all of resistance is that it is a symptom of our over-identification with the marketplace and, more importantly, it indicates just how much we’ve lost site of the fact that social change happens primarily OUTSIDE of the marketplace, in the realm of government, law, policy, and activism.


The thing that bothered me is that she’s saying people are not smart or caring enough to make good choices on their own, and the government has to be involved. Huff! Puff! Then I said to myself, “Eh! She’s probably right! Isn’t that why WWII rationing had to exactly be a government, law, policy, and activist endeavor? The majority of people would not have done it on their own good conscience.

Depressing! Does that mean with our spend, spend, spend to support the economy as our patriotic duty and governmental officials in the pockets of big biz American mindset there is a slim chance of government, law, and policy reforms happening? I don’t know.

The other part that got under my skin is the “using consumption as our primary form of protest” business. I do use my consumption habits as my primary form of resistance to the aspects of our culture I find abhorrent. The whole “vote with your dollars” philosophy. I feel like it’s the only power I have, but hate to think of myself as “over-identified with the marketplace” — but perhaps it’s true. I mean I am logging every. single. clothing. toiletry. and. tea. purchase.

I’d love to hear what you think — I’m just raising questions here…

image:  Interesting stuff.


  1. I’m not convinced – what else talks nowadays but money, so that seems to be the only way to make your voice heard! And the pedant in me is sceptical about an ‘author’ who can’t spell and gets her expressions wrong….. :s

  2. This may be a bit of a ramble as it’s late here but your post hits upon a topic I’m particularly interested in.

    I would distinguish between (1) ‘sustainable consumption’ as a way to greenwash an economic theory founded on continued consumption for the purpose of continued growth and (2) ‘conscious consumption’ as part of a productive citizen’s life (productive in the humane & social sense rather than as an economic unit). The first is locked into the idea that the market can fix everything whereas the second acknowledges that whilst in some areas we need to resort to the market, we also need to remove it from the areas of life where it isn’t needed to prosper (and where, quite frankly, it has no business being).

    I have exactly the same problem with the gift economy, which has been exulted by some sustainability activists in the UK, as it brings a different type of marketplace into spheres where it doesn’t belong. I have absolutely no problem with gifts; if anything, I think there isn’t enough generosity in the world but I hate turning it into a quid-pro-quo marketplace scenario.

    Mr M and I are big advocates of the Great Book Reciprocity, or simply a dymanic of giving not to receive but in the knowledge that it generates a community in which others will also extend themselves, not on a bilateral basis but in a spontaneous way that balances out in the great scheme of things. This approach is of course much more feasible when we are productive citizens (growers, makers, cooks but also carers, mentors, elders) rather than consumers and disposers of stuff, as the former allows for both direct barter and gifts that encourage reciprocity on a wider scale.

    Sorry, I said it would be a bit of a ramble.

    PS – As I’m rooted in the European tradition, I’m not adverse to a little market regulation 😉

    PPS – Is logging purchases indicative of being shackled to the marketplace or just part of pragmatic approach to proper housekeeping, which includes making, growing and, yes, a little buying?

    1. Much food for though here — thank you!

      I’m thinking about the “alternative economies” that go on in my circle and am relating to your comments. My coworker brought in apples from his parent’s friends orchard for me because he knows I’m an apple fanatic. I then went and baked a birthday cake for my other coworker which included the apples. Another coworker came for cake and gave us some of her ceramics that just came out of the kiln. I had spotted her the $5 to contribute to the gift for our coworker — I knew I wouldn’t get it back 🙂

      Your PPS is making much sense to me, too. I think consumer is such a dirty word these days (amongst certain people!) that I’ve become completely over-sensitive to it — and this project is only making it more on the surface of things! I am so aware of what I consume — and like you said — produce — to be fair 🙂

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