Redefining Retail Therapy
Now that Boxing Day sales have been and gone, shoppers have been patiently waiting for January to spend their Christmas money and start the year with some steals. There’s nothing like that rush of excitement buying something new that you know you’re going to love. But when does shopping for that serotonin rush get problematic? Making purchases from an emotional standpoint is a dangerous cycle to get in. We end up believing material objects can improve our mental state when in actual fact we need to spend more time working on ourselves and bettering our lives by doing things like reading, spending time with those we love, seeing new places and learning new things.
We want to celebrate treating and looking after ourselves, and we can’t lie… we do love shopping, but climate anxiety leaves us with little choice but to think a little more about what we are spending our money on and why. If not, we run the risk of mindlessly contributing to waste, as retail therapy often causes us to consume things we don’t really need.
To help us understand how we can redefine retail therapy and adapt it to suit our current climate, we spoke to two eco-conscious influencers, Molly Elizabeth (@ladymollyelizabeth) and Kayt Mendies (@citythrifter) about their thoughts on emotional shopping and purchasing with intention.
What does retail therapy mean to you?
Growing up my mum has always been the sort of person to only buy something when she needed to buy it, whereas my dad likes retail therapy. So I had two figures that were very dissimilar in how they used retail and spent their money. Luckily I ended up following my mums footsteps when it comes to shopping.
I have a lot of health issues and became really sick a couple of years ago. Whenever I would get really sick and was in bed for weeks on end, I would just want to buy something. I had all the online shopping open on my laptop, so I thought ‘I’ll buy a new dress’ or, ‘I’ll buy a new skirt’, but because I was so ill I never wore them, so I very quickly learnt that was a waste of my money. I would much rather spend money on really delicious food ingredients and nice furniture for my flat, rather than more clothes and more make up that I don’t really need.
I associated retail therapy with treating yourself or a pick me up, or buying something for a new occasion. When I was younger there was any excuse for it, whether its a Friday night out or a bad day at work, it was a pick me up or reward.
What situations do you associate with retail therapy?
Retail therapy has been something you do to make yourself feel better, not something you do as a celebration. When you’re down or in a depressive episode and you want to lift yourself up, so you log onto the internet and see what you can buy to make yourself feel better. Shopping isn’t going to fix you, real therapy will, but shopping won’t in the long term.
The term ‘self care’ is thrown around a lot and is linked to improving your mood, which in my eyes is wrong because I think it should be more about investing in yourself and reading, training, learning or seeing something new. Theres so many other things you can do that don’t cost anything or have a knock on affect that you could do instead, even if it’s just taking yourself out for a walk.
We couldn’t agree more that shopping is a temporary fix to real problems and emotions, and the proper way to make ourselves feel better comes from life experiences, learning and seeing more, rather than buying and having more.
How do you think capitalism plays a part in retail therapy?
What doesn’t capitalism do?! We are always encouraged by fast fashion companies social media to spend money, things like ‘oh halloween’s over, so sad, buy some christmas jumpers to bring on the festive cheer’. It sounds like a good idea and it sounds exciting so we are encouraged to do it, but all it really is pointless spending because you’re never actually going to wear that Christmas jumper more than once. I didn’t post anything about Halloween being over, or it being Christmas because I don’t want to encourage over consumption, you have to be careful to what you say online. Even if you think you’re not an influencer or no one will listen, someone might and it’s not worth it.
It's a mixture of marketing, social media, brands, influencers and the nightmare of all the greenwashing that’s going on at the moment. Greenwashing is a complete minefield because people who are trying to change their ways and make a difference might genuinely think they are doing right by buying a dress from H&M made from recycled bottles.
I don’t think of myself as an influencer but I think influencers need to start taking responsibility of what they promote, but they just get money hungry. I get a ridiculous amount of emails offering me free gifts in exchange for promotion but I don’t accept because I know I won’t wear it or I don’t truly believe in the cause. No matter how small your followers are it is still important. Some of the try and make a difference by supporting a sustainable brand but the next minute you see them doing a Primark haul, they need to make more of an effort and do their homework because people will follow their example.
What are your views on the idea that with every purchase we contribute to a wider cause?
A lot of people do need fast fashion so, when we talk about consuming fast fashion it’s not about cutting it out completely because that’s too extreme and people don’t listen to extremes. I think if you’re genuinely going to wear something until it breaks, you should buy it if you cannot find or afford sustainable alternatives. The problem is the people who can afford to buy sustainable options but instead they spend £500 on Shein when they could have spent that money on 2 or 3 pieces from a good quality ethical brand. If influencers did a haul from sustainable brands rather than Shein etc, that would have a much better impact on the environment. Sadly, people don’t care, if it’s easy, cheap and convenient they aren’t going to change.
I think it is really important that we do think about how our purchases contribute or a wider chain of supply and demand because we are opening up this conversation. Even someone like me who buys everything second hand, I still end up buying things and not wearing them because things are so cheap it is easy to do, but I end up taking them to a charity shop and then buying a load more, so it’s a double-edged sword. But if we aren’t buying from fast fashion brands then they won’t make the garments. Already a lot of fashion brands have reduced their production from four collections a year to two which is really good, a gradual step in the right direction.
Whilst big cooperations have a lot of responsibility to make changes that would have a profound impact on the sustainability world, as much as we may not want to accept it, we do have a personal responsibility to try and do more to protect our earth. Even taking the time to think a little more if something is a want or a need is a step in the right direction.
How can we ensure we are purchasing items with the right intentions?
I now view retail therapy as a celebration and reward. I reward myself with something I have wanted for a while and I know I am going to use. Retail therapy has been made to seem like an act of selfcare, but I think the main part of self care is what you are buying. Is that thing going to be an asset to your life? The buying it is not the self care, rather it’s what you buy and how that item will improve your life. If you treat the process of buying something as self care you’re going to want to do it a hell of a lot more and buy things you won't really use. Remember actual therapy will help you not retail therpay with pointless purchases.
Think about things you already wear and love and consider similar things you could purchase, but equally don’t buy something if you have something really similar already. Think about the quality, how long is the item going to last. The long-term use and how many wears you are going to get out of it. Think about the materials of your clothes, for example, polyester is one of the worst fabrics as it takes so much energy to produce and so many years to biodegrade. A lot of vintage polyester clothes are in mint condition because they are so easily preserved. People need to do their homework and figure out what materials they should be looking out for, it’s not about just going into a shop and picking something you like, consider the wider implications of the material used to make the garment.
If people can’t be bothered to research what is and isn’t sustainable themselves, they should make sure they are following influencers who are doing the research and can do it for them. I follow someone called @redirectory, she’s is like a sustainable yellow pages with all the sustainable brands you could think of. Influencers like this make it so easy for people to make more informed decisions when shopping.
Even though life is fast paced and we hardly get a chance to slow down, we need to make an active effort to find the same to research about what we are wearing and the long term effects of our purchases. As Kayt said, there is so much out there which is both positive and negative, but if we use social media to our advantage it can be a really useful resource in enabling us to easily access sustainable brands and info. Shameless self promo, but our app is designed to make it as easy as possible to access sustainable and ethically sourced clothes.
Can you think of any times when retail therapy is justified and needed?
People need to understand that retail therapy is buying things you don’t need to make yourself feel better in the short term, and it leads to overconsumption. You’re buying clothes you’re not going to wear or things you probably won’t use, and it’s an unnecessary waste of clothing that someone else could have bought and got good use out of. The more you do it the worse it gets. Doing the odd bit of retail therapy isn’t great and it might hurt your bank account, but it's not going to hugely hurt the environment. The problem is when you do it frequently and you are not aware of your carbon footprint. You might say, ‘this one purchase won’t hurt’ but if you do that everyweek it adds up. Stop blaming the consumer. Obviously, the more people that buy from fast fashion the more demand increases, yes, but companies need to take more responsibility as well to tackle the root cause, or people won’t be encouraged to make much needed changes to their shopping habits.
I don’t think impulse purchases can be justified in the current climate, I think they just need to stop. You can get that feeling that you are looking for somewhere else, like getting out of the house and going for a walk. We don’t need anything new, we really don’t. I think people over lockdown have realised how much they have got and shopping their own wardrobes more. I think recycling and upcycling needs to be the future as it can help us get the newness fix. I also suggest clothes swap shops or buying clothes that can be made into something new or be repurposed.
I don’t know about you, but this conversation has inspired me to think about 2022 as the year to begin being a mindful shopper, open conversations and encourage others to join the slow fashion journey. A huge thank you from team Whering to Kayt and Molly for shedding their light on the repercussions of emotional spending, be sure to follow them on Instagram for your sustainable fashion fix.