The Conundrum of Capitalism and the Conscious Consumer

As an avid shopaholic myself, I am in a constant back and forth between feeding my addictive shopping personality, trying to slow down my consumption patterns, and being aware that placing the burden of slowing down capitalist growth on the consumer is just a fallacy fed to us by big corporations seeking to take the blame off themselves. Now that is a LOT to be going on in one’s mind while pondering whether or not yet another shopping spree is needed. All of this being said, I believe making steps towards being a more mindful consumer can help you be more aware of the world around you and help you become more invested in the clothing (or whatever products feed your respective shopping addiction) that fills your closet. One of the ways in which we can all begin this journey towards being more conscientious shoppers is by paying attention to the environmental impact of the brands we buy from, the political endorsements of our favorite brands and designers, or whether or not some of the proceeds of our purchases go towards movements we are passionate about. One part of a larger equation towards everyone doing what they can to urge the big guys (politicians, corporations, powerful institutions…) to respond to social justice issues (such as urging for divestment, abolishing the police, or responding to environmental degradation) is putting your money where your mouth is.

Sustainability has been a buzzword surrounding conscious shopping for years now, but in the wake of last summer’s BLM protests and now the ensuing conflict in Palestine, we are at an all-time high of brands trying to win the race to the top of “ally-ship” (not to mention being in the midst of Pride month). Shopping consciously is, of course, a great way to shift your mindset towards being more socially aware. Still, it also runs the risk of providing people with a cop-out from doing the hard work of fundamental social change (ah capitalism, we love the way it works…” Buy this T-Shirt and SAVE the world!”).

Conscious consumerism was popularized back in the 1970s (see Anderson and Cunningham’s The Socially Conscious Consumer published in 1972) with the overall goal of weeding out businesses that aren’t adhering to consumer demands for products with overall positive social, economic, and environmental impacts. In other words, conscious consumers seek to “vote” with their money by only investing in corporations that prove ethical, thereby urging corporations to “do better” by supporting businesses that are doing better and boycotting those failing to do so. Unfortunately, however, this still feeds the cogs of the capitalist machine and does little for making substantial steps towards a more equitable world in which we see true resource/wealth redistribution, degrowth to divert the climate crisis, labor rights, etc. Not to mention,” conscious” brands tend to be more expensive and largely inaccessible to everyone but the top wealth bracket in the world.

In an effort not to come off as pessimistic (as I have no doubt I am), I would like to take a moment to highlight the ways in which being a conscious shopper is beneficial to social change. Socialist antics aside, conscious consumption is objectively better for the world’s issues in the 21st century. Most importantly: it slows us down. Rapid growth is the number one thing propelling us into the climate crisis, and the fashion industry is right up there as one of the industries with the most considerable environmental impact. Simply taking the time to slow down and think about the clothing you buy before making an impulse purchase is a step in the right direction. Secondly, conscientious shopping does precisely what it sounds like: it makes us conscientious (a.k.a someone wishing to do what is right). If we have more people in the world trying to do what is right in regards to where they put their money, this will inevitably seep into other actions and overall make us all a bit more empathetic.

Lil Nas X in UGG’s Pride Campaign 2021
Courtesy of UGG

As we enter Pride Month, we are all too aware of the over-saturation of rainbows that will be springing up in every storefront, commercial, and social media campaign. Yet ironically, there is often very little blatant endorsement of LGBTQ+ rights from these corporations so adamantly slapping rainbows on all of their latest merchandise for June (God forbid the word “gay” actually appears on a t-shirt). As a proud member of the Alphabet Mafia, this rainbow-washing truly irks me. Corporations are more than happy to co-opt the Pride flag 1/12 months of the year and then stay silent the next 11 months. Take Victoria’s Secret, for example, as they proudly throw rainbows on every gaudy sweatsuit they can get their hands on yet refuse to consider trans models as potential Angels. As much as these politically correct campaigns vex the consumer, the ever-present nature of advertising in a world that revolves around marketing has the potential to normalize queer rights in the mainstream and reach a base of people that otherwise would have no exposure to queer people. So while the co-optation of Pride month by corporations may feel like it’s undermining the work of queer activists that spearheaded these social changes years before, I can put up with it knowing it may be helping some young person questioning their sexuality in rural Idaho. In a world that revolves around marketing, the co-optation of social justice movements is an unfortunate reality of fighting for social justice. Unfortunately, it is all a part of capitalism’s mastermind plan to keep us caught in the cycle of consumption. So as we prepare ourselves for the onslaught of rainbows that the rest of Pride month has in store for us, it’s essential that we see past the rainbow illusion and only support brands that actively endorse LGBTQ+ rights. 

I have a plethora of brands to help you put your money where your mouth is regarding supporting social change and fighting human rights abuses, those of which I will divulge below. In regards to current global events surrounding the 100-year-old ongoing Israel-Palestine conflict, there is no better time than now to support Palestinian designers or brands donating proceeds to those that have suffered at the hands of the human rights abuses currently being endured in Palestine. As we are currently also in the midst of Pride, I have also included several brands that resist rainbow-washing and follow through with their endorsements of queer rights. So, the moment you have all been waiting for is here (the opportunity to indulge your clothing addiction). Pull out your wallets and get ready to make a socially conscious decision in regards to the next piece you add to your capsule wardrobe:

Palestinian brands and designers to support:

  1. Meera Adnan Label
  2. Faissal El-Malak
  3. Trashy Clothing
  4. Reemami
  5. Anat International
  6. Nöl Collective
  7. Hazar Jawabra
Wood House Army FW18 NuClear Collection
Courtesy of Wood House Army

Queer brands and designers to support:

  1. Official Rebrand
  2. Chromat
  3. No Sesso
  4. Patrick Church
  5. Woodhouse Army
  6. Coco and Breezy Eyewear  
  7. Phlemuns
  8. Sheila Rashid 
  9. 8 Palms

Shopping is an essential aspect of the world we live in, even for those who aren’t self-identified shopaholics. So, while one consumer’s money isn’t going to solve all the issues in the world, it can lead to being more socially engaged overall. Fashion is one of the largest industries propelling us into the inevitable climate crisis as well as a major perpetrator of human rights abuses against garment workers, making it a prime industry to begin your journey towards conscious consumption. Not to mention, having a capsule wardrobe you’ve put the time and money into curating makes putting together an outfit that much more special. Although I am constantly battling my internal conflict between indulging an unsatiated urge to hop on all the latest clothing trends with my simultaneous fuck-the-system anti-capitalist mindset (fueled by my communist father — who has his own fashion addiction, might I add), I think it is important to recognize the value in conscious consuming while also being aware of its limits. By ingraining such social consciousness into the daily fabric of life, even down to the clothing we buy, we can all become more aware of the world around us and be better equipped to make it better.

Cover Photo: Faissal El-Malak SS18 Echoic Memory Collection; Courtesy of Faissal El-Malak