Sustainable living wasn’t a choice growing up, so please don’t condemn my little luxuries nowFebruary 26, 2020
When I was growing up, I wore the same school blazer from year seven up until year nine, and my family didn’t have the privilege of going on holiday every summer.
Now that I am an adult, these things that were once so out of reach have become more affordable through the rise of fast fashion and cheap last minute flights.
For people from working class families like mine, saying no to these temptations can be near impossible.
Yet as the climate crisis worsens, consumerism is being condemned, and consumers themselves are being asked to make some huge changes to their buying habits, and rightly so.
While I am by no means in support of the fast fashion industry, and understand the problems associated with consistent flying, I must admit it feels unfair that people who can finally afford these treats, potentially for the first time in their lives, feel pressured into giving them up.
We all have a responsibility to be more mindful in our everyday lives, but it is irresponsible to place the same expectations on lower-income individuals and families than those who have revelled in these supposedly easily-sacrificed activities for so long.
Upcycling, charity-shopping and missing out on holidays were things I was accustomed to as a child. Instead of doing it out of fear for the climate, my family did it out of necessity. When I finally could afford holidays and new outfits myself, I was ravenous. Each weekly pay day came with a trip to the Arndale and I didn’t hesitate to book a few cheap city breaks.
Eventually, I learned the error of my ways and gave up on fast fashion. By not buying anything for three months from July to October last year and taking part in Oxfam’s Second-Hand September, I have made a massive change in my fast-fashion purchasing habits. I shopped in charity shops and vintage shops, and Depop was always my first port of call.
Since the end of my pre-loved-only stint, I’ve managed to buy a mere three items of fast fashion, but giving up those small, seemingly forgettable indulgences is something that takes a lot of unlearning.
Being climate conscious and from a working class background is challenging, not least because a lot of the more climate-friendly alternatives come with a higher price point. You want to get a train to Amsterdam? Expect to pay the same for a one way journey as you would for a return flight.
If you want to talk about clothing, in some cases you would be able to buy multiple new outfits for the price of one sustainably, ethically made skirt.
For someone on a budget, giving up such buying habits also means giving up on new clothes entirely, and sometimes the Depop market doesn’t cut it – especially when it comes to size inclusivity.
The prime minister recently said: ‘As a country, as a society, as a planet and as a species, we must act now.’ It was surprisingly refreshing to hear, but it begs the question: why is most of the responsibility still being placed on individuals?
One report found that just 100 companies have been responsible for 71 per cent of global emissions since 1998.
It is ridiculous to expect one thing from consumers and another (see: absolutely nothing) from the major corporations that are leading the charge, against all our efforts, in continuously progressing the extent of the climate crisis.
In the UK, 20 per cent of the population are in poverty. Employee wages have stagnated since 2010 and the average UK annual salary is £29,400.
For many people, changing their shopping habits will be a huge challenge, or not feasible at all.
So, while I agree that, yes – as a country, as a society, as a planet and as a species, we do need to act now, we must do so with empathy, rather than shaming someone for flying for the first time in years and taking the few new outfits they could afford along with them.