Fashion & Image Online Course student, Hannah Tappin, investigates how the pandemic’s acceleration of sustainable fashion initiatives is closely interconnected to improved mental wellbeing amongst consumers.
The events of the last year have taught us the importance of maintaining good health and wellbeing, both mentally and physically. In doing so, the pandemic exposed the fragility of human life and more broadly, the planet. With life as we knew it on pause, we were tasked to appreciate the value of living more mindfully, consciously and sourcing purchases locally. This drove us to redirect our focus to three core, interlinked pillars; the health of our minds, bodies and the world around us.
Fashion’s imminent agenda of becoming circular has been at the forefront of industry’s agenda and in the minds of forward-thinking eco-conscious consumers for some time. With the industry in flux between righting its wrongs and modernising the infrastructure, conscious consumerism and the precedence of sustainable fashion has finally risen to the very top of the agenda. The greater collective benefits of sustainable fashion are often preached in efforts to convert sceptics reluctant to adopt sustainable fashion. However, the huge subsequent benefits to individual mental health are often overlooked, but should be acknowledged nonetheless.
The fashion industry’s historic culture of breeding poor mental wellbeing
Prior to the pandemic, the unobtainable and unethical expectations of the fast-paced industry had been causing extreme stress, anxiety, burnout and financial pressures for both employees and consumers alike. The constant emphasis on invention, trends and new experiences left many people feeling exhausted and fatigued. Not only draining people’s mental energy, the effect on the planet was colossal. It was – and in many cases continues to be – breeding catastrophic amounts of waste and damaging the the planet by posing environmental hazards. The pressure on both humans and the landscape Pressure in turn stifles the feeling of creativity, which undermines the whole point of the industry in the first place, to foster inspiration, expression and freedom.
The culture of fashion has somehow evolved into expectations of 24 hour-availability, endless events schedules, narrowed beauty standards and a demand for newness at ground-breaking speed. Psychology specialist at the London College of Fashion, Dr Carolyn Mair, summarised the industry’s expectations perfectly ‘ It’s very difficult for people to maintain that level of energy and the lifestyle and the creativity’.
Our profound relationships with what we buy, consume and create
Paradoxically, the imminent threat of death posed by the pandemic has somewhat helped us to reset and rebalance our relationships with nature, work, ourselves and our families. Perhaps a silver lining resulting from the virus is that it has forced us to slow our pace of life, be present in nature and be more considerate of our choices. Essentially, freeing time for mindful habits and subsequently sustainable consumption of fashion. Making considerate choices about fashion has been empirically supported to boost your wellbeing. Circulating around the idea you are purchasing quality items, not bought in haste when in a turbulent, impulsive emotional state, but ones with a story and worth behind them.
“Essentially, sustainably-driven conscious consumption can improve your health, mood, career and planetary impact collectively.”
Purchasing with Purpose
Thankfully many consumers are moving to a new way of purchasing. Rather than buy based on impulse, consumers are interested to know why brands are selling a product. What is the narrative behind it? It can be extremely psychologically fulfilling to purchase a fashion item that its own authentic brand story i.e. driven by social justice, passion and community. It boosts our sense of belonging, combined with knowing that our choices have positive impact which can boost our sense of feeling in control. This helps regulate our emotions, improves our self-esteem and motivates us to seek stronger connections. Author of Slow, Brooke McAlary reaffirms this point, ‘When we choose to slow down, even just
a little each day, we give ourselves the opportunity to connect and be present, and to really pay attention’. Reiterating it further, she states ‘It’s in paying attention that life reveals so many of its little treasures, that we’d otherwise be too busy to notice’.
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Circular fashion can lead to a cyclical promotion of positive well-being …
The vast benefits of mindfulness, meditation and the slow food movement have been praised and acknowledged for years, so why has fashion taken so long to adopt a similar approach? Detailed within an APA feature report, mindfulness studies have found reduced rates of rumination, (Chambers et al 2008), stress reductions and improved emotional regulation (Farv et al,2010). More critically, to the benefit of the fashion industry, it has also been shown to improve cognitive flexibility (Seigel, 2007) and focus (Moore & Malinowski,2009). This suggests that if fashion professionals and consumers adopt a mindful lifestyle and a sustainable approach to fashion, the benefits to individual wellbeing extend further to improved performance in the workplace.
Therefore, not only does the convergence of sustainable consumption, mindful living and fashion have great implications for improving personal mental wellbeing but also improving collective work efficiency. Similarly, to the circularity of the fashion loop, improved mental wellbeing from choosing slow fashion and mindful living can lead to improvements in mental performance, decreased stress and yield better results. Creating an endless, circular positive cycle in fashion for both people and the planet, opposed to a historic cycle of waste and excess. Essentially, sustainably-driven conscious consumption can improve your health, mood, career and planetary impact collectively.
By Hannah Tappin, Fashion & Image Online Course