Consume, Choices & Economy - The Story Behind Any Label

This is about the rumor that consumption makes us happy. Is it reality? And how do advertisement, marketing, PR and media influence us in our choices of consumption?

In the True Cost Movie it says:

"Advertising is making us buy more and more and more and in the end it made everyone just poorer."

Besides seeing all the harm suffered by people in the supply chain of fast fashion, this phrase is what personally touched me most when I watched “True Cost”. Working in political PR, I was one of the people who made people belive that consumption was a good thing. I was using advertisement, media and events to directly target people with the aim of shifting their mind towards a decision for consumption.

Having been born into this capitalistic world, I also was a consuming factor. Already within my studies I worked in the economic sector as an intern with the goal of making people buy more and to achieve a bigger, better, greater revenue by increasing peoples’ consumption.  Looking back, I am shocked about how much impact I had on peoples’ thoughts and consumer behavior in an intern position, just entering the working world.

Is it just a rumor that consumption makes us happy?

It was during my studies in Dublin, that for the first time I was confronted with the question "Do you know who made your clothes?". This question is what made me want to know about who made my clothes and how my clothes were made. What I found out in the course of my research shocked me: Modern slavery, water pollution and toxic chemicals seemed to be the norm in the fashion industry. I was searching for NGOs, donations, solutions - but nothing I found seemed to provide an adequate solution of the problem. I got to know Fashion Revolution, I joined the team in 2014 and started to build up social media awareness with the Hashtag #Whomademyclothes with them. But awareness wasn’t enough to answer my question:

Why did no one around me seem to value the production of the clothes we love?

So I hitchhiked from Istanbul to India. I wanted to meet the people who make my clothes, I wanted to learn from them directly, I wanted to see how people actually make clothes and how THEY value them and anything they make it of. On my trip I tried to couchsurf whenever it was possible, trying to be as close to local people as possible, willing to learn everything I wasn’t able to find out in Germany. I hoped to get a look at everything that happens behind a label, fashion labels mainly.

With this blog I wanted to give you the opportunity to hear the story of your clothes from the people being involved in the process, instead of hearing it from marketing companies.

During this trip, instead of spending money, I payed with a lot of time, sharing, learning and respecting different people. I was traveling with my neighbor Max. He already was more aware of his consumption and helped me to be more aware of mine, too. Having nothing but one backpack, Max told me everyday to sort something out, that I did not neccessarily need. I noticed that my choice of consumption and my thoughts about what I really needed changed very quickly. Reducing my possessions, living as with as little as possible was probably the most satisfying time of my life. 

The way I perceived beauty started to change. A ride in a taxi, which would be seen as something nice, good or desirable in the consumer’s world, meant nothing, while a ride with a nice person, wanting to help, in exchange for a conversation about whatever the person was interested in, meant everything. A night in a hostel was uncomfortable, while a night under the stars, in front of majestic mountains (being unsure whether to fear or to respect them), meant absolutley everything!

I felt rich without consumption. I felt rich because of my identy, my ability to walk, talk, smile, improvise…Anything I took, payed at least with a smile, a story or my work. Many people I met were extremly poor. They didn‘t chose to have less. And yet: Especially because nothing in their lives was self-evident, their life was so much fuller of moments of graditute. It is like not having a car, but appreciating car rides when they happen. Or if someone in the village is able to bring home more food than expected, its a feast! If somone has a great business idea, but no work-experience and no resources, others join the idea and work it out together. The point is:

In the absence of self-evident demands one is much more focused on the moment. When nothing is expected, everything is perceived as luxurious.

Having the the luxury of understanding my surrounding - nature and life - made me find an incredibly strong peace within myself.

I came back to Europe and didn't want to let go of the peace that I found in this simplified way of life. So I sold most of my furniture and I cleaned out my closet in order to feel free enough despite staying in one set place now. I didn't throw out anything - instead, I sold the things sometimes for a smile and a coffee. I gave stuff away to friends and people on the street, being happy that my old things were gaining a greater and a new value in the hands of others. It was a lot of work, not consuming, but giving away. It felt so much harder in a consumption-driven surrounding like Germany than it had felt during my travels. Yet, it still felt so good to me - not a single moment I had the feeling like I was losing something. I just let go. But I was explaining myself constantly. I argued against advertising and everything other media seemed to tell everyone around me. That was hard and I blamed Europe as a place for destroying my happiness and forcing me in any aspect of life back into consumption.

After a while, I went shopping for the first time again with a friend, trying to like it again. I really tried. But it didn't seem to work for me anymore in the same way it had before. I wasn’t able to value anything I saw in a shop. Everything had a price tag and nothing else was visible to me. But this number could not possibly represent the work and the lives I had seen during my journey. Moreover I felt no satisfaction giving the money to the cashier and receiving the product. Or at least, the last part of receiving the product created a joy that lasted no longer than a week.

Then I met Ofek from Israel, who had fought in the Gaza stripe. His aim now was to pay back to nature, people, especially Muslims, the ones he fought against in so many confusing ways. He couchsurfed in my place in Berlin and became an inspiring friend. He showed me that you don't need a simple surrounding, to live simply. It was hard for me to believe, so he invited me to join his way of travelling Europe. We travelled to Barcelona together for three days, spending 5€ in total on food; sleeping and eating outside. We were showering at the beaches and drank the water from the fountains and bathroom tabs in restaurants. We basically lived on the streets. And it was awesome!

This was a crazy kind of satisfaction, fear and happiness, I felt back then. It clearly opened my eyes, that I can‘t be as satisfied by things I buy, as I can by the excitement of making, getting, earning them; being afraid and surprised how friendly, great and stunning nature, animals and humans can be - even in the middle of a fancy European city, that I had walked through in high heels during my last visit.

Ofek made a clear point: You don’t need to leave to live a simple life. You do not need the bravery of going far away, going somewhere you don’t know. You don’t need to be like other people. You decide your life. You decide your consumption, your respect, the way you walk and act in every moment. And then, everything is possible: You can do absolutely everything you want to. But it is about bravery acknowledging your own will against the one of others.

All about minimalizing in the mind

After financial crisis 2008 there are some Americans, you can watch waking up out of this American bubble of consumerism. Netflix shows their documentary “Minimalism”.

Americans have this thing of coming together in groups and speaking about their problems. As a German I often find that a little bit strange. But regardless my opinion on that I wondered, why do they need help of others? Why are they so lost? And what is their problem?

What they actually do is to show how brainwashed they are by advertising. It seems many Americans believe advertising. They belive in what they have been promised by it. They trust a brand and the promisses they make and the value they create with it. They belive they are beautiful, successfull, great, fine people by consuming as advertising tells them. Finding out that everything you belived in is a fake bubble, nothing but nonsense and lies to take more money from you, must be hard.

The documentary points out: All of us are influenced by something in our everyday actions. 

Why is that dangerous? Because we lose our own will, when consumerism is in a constant race for our attention. The easiest offer for us replaces our conscious choice. - It is not the other way around.

A question, which kept returning in the exams at my Media Management University: What is the difference between Propaganda and Advertising? I always had to memorize the answer word by word out of the books, because in my point of view, there is actually no difference. In Germany we went from Hitler to advertising. I learned in my university of media studies that our generation used “Mein Kampf” from Adolf Hitler for the clever thinking in Marketing, claiming this is not as bad as Hitler was, if you use it for economy.

Propaganda is kind of brainwash. Marketing and Advertising just emotional attachment. - Which one is worse?

Money has become the language to communicate with our surroundings. It simply replaces your interactions with others to get a certain product. You can have everything, if you pay for it. Money translates value into a price. At the same time production is geographically based in a different place than consumerism - and advertising allows making up everything that happens in between. That is were the value is created for the customer. It can be absolutley be based on lies. It can be made up and created however it comes in helpful. What we see in the end is a product and a price. The feeling we left with is how much money we spend. Something we spend, we lose, we give. Believing that we are better with more money than with less money. What if we advertise the truth? ...a little bit like the True Cost movie did...

Capitalism reduces the aspects in the value-chain to one single number, a price. It is naive to think, that this number is always right. With ongoing globalized markets and efficient economy systems, value turned into a determined number. We don’t translate the real value into its monetary value, we decide a number and pressure production into the supply-chain to fit to this number. Then we lie about the true value to the customer with the price.

I just love George Orwells phrase, it just fits this whole theme perfectly:

In the Minimalist documentary they also talk about the fashion industry. They use the same pictures as in the True Cost Movie, speaking about economy and consumption. How we grew from four-, to fiftytwo seasons a year. Our clothes travelled to more countries, than most of us will ever see. It is the fastest most globalized industry with an enormous advertising potential, making us believe we are behind in society, if we do not consume more and more quickly. The fashion industry bears an overload on everything: on information, on clothes, on depending jobs, shops, chemicals, trash, donations, mono-cultures, environmental issues, etc..

All this is summed up in one economic factor: A number on a price tag.

Since 2014 (three years now), I have been engaged with the Fashion Revolution campaign taking care of the Social Media Channels. Today, in 2017, I can finally see behavior change. Not only private people, but also companies become more and more aware of the problems with the fashion production and the essential question #Whomademyclothes?. The topic of fair fashion is finally growing out of its niche. See the impact of the Fashion Revolution Week.

I meet more and more people who say things like: "I am tired of this internet full of things. For every problem I do not have, there is already a solution. And this really makes me want nothing anymore."

The problem is, that we get bored. Everything is available at any time. Nothing is special anymore, it is the general case -> The value decreases.

The guardian lately explained it very well: We do not know what we consume. If we knew what we consume and how hard it is to produce these goods - then we may start valuing it again.

The DIY plattform DaWanda tries prove something like this, by advertising the joy of “Doing It Yourself”- DIY. And also on the other side: people are willing to pay more for handmade stuff, when they can see and get to know the people who make it.

Maybe this is why so many people go travelling without money lateley. You have to do something for what you consume and get satisfaction out of your actions. You simply remember what you live for, what you really need and what you really want.

People who deal with economic behavior, trends and strategies will do well, if they are able to understand this movement of slowing down. Too many people proved already that higher, faster, better became too simple - and that this trend is simply old-fashioned now. The new movement clearly has a complex task with slowing-down in this fast and flexible surrounding. It is not the easier choice, but is seems like the bettter one. However you define better: It is better for you and your surrounding (whatever that might be: humans, animals, nature…). Mostly slowing down is about stopping. Stoping habits, esepcially things “we just do” without having an awareness about it. We are standing still against the storm. It is extremely hard if you live in a fast moving society that tells you “buy this, do that, be more happy, more sporty, more healthy, more concious, more natural”. But I promise: It will be worth to stop in any aspect of life! It is for you, your surrounding, enviroment, humans, markets and sense in life.

Stop and make a Choice

It has to be said, not to mix up awareess with trying to do good, for example by buying organic fabrics. A lot of people may think consuming “the better choice” helps. But infact if H&M uses organic cotton, it is still you, continuing to consume excessively, not making choices.

If your one desire is to have a full closet, then you are still not in the need to support fast fashion. VinoKilo presented this very well in their fashion show January 2017 in Berlin, as the New Yorker Designer Doyel Joshi came up with an alternative slow runway with vintage clothes in front of a black plastik wall. It was a wall of trash bags, that fell in the end of the show, showing tons of clothes behind it. Clothes in wonderful, high-quality, never worn quality, dead-stock, untouched, for up to fifty years.

VinoKilo is my favourite Start-Up I work with at the moment: What we do, is to take old clothes and turn it into a lifestyle. How? With fun and joy! Fashion needs the big stage, creativity, glamour. But this can be found in a lot of creative ways with Second-Hand, upcycling, recycling, sharing, swapping. Remember, the rest is marketing.

Here is my advise, as I live again in Berlin, as a consumer in a consuming world. Minimalising does not mean taking away. It is more like focusing. It’s spending differently or not at all. You will invest more into time, people, nature, actual life, rather than caring about all that stuff we are supposed to do or to have. Minimalism is about not listening to adverstising and what others say. It is about your choice and feeling with something. If you really value something, then keep it.

But ask yourself "Why do I think that I need it?" - You will be surprised how often you will find out that the only source of your opinions is actually advertising and the thought of "everybody does so".  

Start with your closet - most of us have clothes in the closet we don’t really need, nor value. Put everything away that you haven't worn in a year. You also can store it first if you are not sure, but take it away from your everyday usage and just try to live with less. Ease yourself from your consumtion.  

And please don't waste it! Waste is not going away, we live with it on this one planet and everything is circular. Think about something you can do with all your stuff. At the free download section of Fashion Revolution you can find #Haulternatives. That gives you ideas to sell, swap, upcycle, recycle or give your clothes away as presents, maybe this inspires you. It actually is fun to go new directions in life!

How did it end for me?

Today, I am proud working in PR, eventhough I still wish that one day we won't need it anymore. However, right now, working against all these empty words and messages that steal our time, our money, our courage, self-esteem and in some way our happiness, I feel it is important to work in the field of media management. It is a clean up with information. I really don‘t make a lot of money, because I work with people who spend less. But I also spend so little, so that it works for me. What bugs me about it is that lots of people see the value of their work in their payment - that would mean my work really has no high value. But then again: We reached 355k people this year in April. 355k people engaging on social m edia with all the messages we create as Fashion Revolution, plus the fact that I stand behind everything I said and worked for. It is filled with sense.