How to Use Psychology to Shop More Sustainably

WRITTEN BY Tyffaine Akkouche

November 19, 2023

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How to Use Psychology to Shop More Sustainably

Tyffaine Akkouche

19 Nov, 2023

On a day-to-day basis, consumers are consistently tricked and convinced into buying new clothes by the fast fashion industry.

We are bombarded with ads, subliminal messages, smart algorithms and even sensory manipulation (think delicious scents seeping from Prada stores) in order for consumers to think that buying that new and totally unnecessary jacket was actually your own idea. However, psychology is not just a tool for brain-washing, a general rule in the field is anything that can be learnt, can also be unlearnt.

The following tips are ways we can use psychology to help us make more sustainable and ethical decisions when interacting with the fashion industry…

1. Solidify your belief system

This is perhaps one of the most important tips, as your belief system is what you will fall back on when facing the temptation of the instant gratification fast fashion can bring. Having a strong set of values and principles will help guide you throughout the decisions you make.

So, how can you solidify your moral compass? Education is the key. Continuously educating yourself on how fast fashion is impacting the world around you will help you have a base to fall back on when contemplating whether that cute cardigan from Zara is maybe worth it just this once.
Education can look like watching a documentary (The True Cost is a must watch) or taking a look at the Fashion Transparency Index which is a document detailing exactly how sustainable your favourite brands are.

One study found that the more aware and concerned a consumer was about animal welfare, workers rights and environmental impacts, the more likely they were to shop more sustainably than their lesser-educated counterparts. So read up!

2. Change the way you shop

Sometimes the best way to change unwanted behaviour is not to focus on doing one thing less, but instead to focus on doing another thing more.
So what does this mean? For me, this meant I learnt to fall in love with second hand shopping. Which was not that hard once I found out how delicious the thrill of finding a gorgeous and not-bank-breaking piece could be.

Make a day of it with your friends, grab your favourite beverage and create a charity shop crawl (like a bar crawl but with more clothes and less throwing up). You can also use second-hand clothing apps like Vinted and Depop for those late-night browsing urges. And for those special occasions and one off events, renting clothes is my go-to as I can get the exact dress I want without stressing about it rotting in my wardrobe after.

Second-hand shopping allows you to shop to your heart’s content, without the guilt attached.
By creating these new shopping habits and associating them with positive emotions and memories, in no time at all you’ll find the need and desire to shop first-hand will fly out the window as quickly as Zara employees change out the stock.

3. Alter and customise clothing

Since you’ve now changed your shopping habits and are buying a lot more second-hand, you might find not all pieces you find actually fit you the way you want. Your best friend in this situation is to alter the clothes so they fit perfectly.

There are a few ways to go about this, you can either bring it to your local tailor, or to be even more cost effective, learn the basics for sewing. You can take a class at your local community centre, teach yourself with our generation’s greatest teacher – youtube, or just find the nearest granny to learn from.

A study in Finland explored what aspects of clothing created high emotional attachment between the wearer and pieces they had owned for a long time. They found that the top ranked factors were functionality, quality of material, whether it was handmade or made specifically for them and if it evoked special memories. Interestingly enough, the lowest ranked factor was that it was made by a famous designer.

This demonstrates perfectly how important it is to form emotional attachment to clothing, the more care, effort and emotion is put behind perfecting it, the more likely you will want to keep wearing it. Filling your wardrobe with special pieces that you can’t wait to wear as it brings back special memories, or fits your body in a way that makes your self-esteem soar, is exactly how you can use psychology to stop over-consumption.

The nature of fast fashion is the antithesis of this type of attachment to clothing, with it being based on trends rather than meaningful and lasting relationships with our clothes.

These psychology tips are designed to create long-lasting changes and so the results may not be immediate but rather slow and gradual. These tips will help you take a step back from the quick dopamine hits fast fashion provides but, it is also okay to slip up, it does not undo all the progress you have made in becoming a more sustainable individual.


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