You know the scenario. After a long day at work, you're walking to the train station when you see a large red and white sign in the window of H&M (or maybe Forever 21) that reads "Buy One T, Get One free." Immediately your heart flutters as your brain release pleasurable endorphins at the promise of bargain shopping, aka "Retail Therapy."
You step into the store where you're surrounded by racks of clothing. The plastic hanger snags your sweater as you make a mad rush to the clearance rack. A rainbow assortment of T's in blue, green, red, purple and yellow invite you to consume them and so you purchase two and receive the other two for free. While you're browsing around, you also buy a pair of skinny jeans, a bundle of colorful hair ties and a silk blouse. At the end of your shopping excursion, you've spent less than $100, and you're thrilled with your mini retail binge.
While bargain shopping is often believed to be a harmless pastime that doesn't drain your bank account, is there a downside to this bargain buying? You might not realize it, but shopping that comes with a minimal price tag for us often comes with a hefty cost for the factory workers who make these inexpensive items. Some of these workers earn less than $1.00 per hour, which is hardly a living wage.
Recently, the site, Lenny, posted an article about Being a Socially Responsible Shopper and offered some words of advice about how to shop mindfully, which included purchasing recycled wears and shopping locally. The author also recommended buying less by purchasing items we can wear longer and suggested this is a cure for those of us afflicted with the "fast fashion" bug.
The Fast Fashion illness is like consuming high-fructose corn syrups. Quick and cheap, this form of shopping comes with some immediate happiness as we often feel like we've "gotten away" with something by scoring such a deal.
Yet a recent Atlantic article supports Dunham's advice about buying better by purchasing less. Instead of shopping until you drop, spend until it hurts. This might mean saving up for the most expensive sweater that you desire instead of blowing $100 on five items. Research shows that when we pay in cash and spend more on one item, we're less likely to overshop.
Boutique owner, Elizabeth Charles, echoes this sentiment. Charles, who owns an upscale boutique of the same name in the Pacific Heights neighborhood of San Francisco, encourages her customers to purchase one or two particular items. Charles is also a mindful consumer. When I met her, she was carrying a second-hand YSL bag from the current collection, which she purchased at a second-hand store.
Charles, who's been in the fashion business for over ten years, says, "Mindless shopping is like eating junk food. It feels good at the moment, but in the long run, we often regret these frivolous purchases."
Katie, a former "fast fashion" junkie, agrees with Charles's advice. "I used to shop weekly at bargain stores. I probably spent between $100-150 each week on cheap fashion," says Katie. Like a food addict who feels a high after a binge, Katie felt similar after she went shopping. "I used to become overly excited by a sale." Eventually, when her credit card debt reached an uncomfortable limit, Katie realized she had become addicted to bargains.
Now, she's determined to join the "Slow Fashion Movement," which means treating shopping the way she treats other indulgences in her life. Before making a purchase, she asks herself how she's feeling. Is she stressed? Is she sad?
Katie says she used to shop to ward off depressing feelings, but now she tries to save her money for items that are well curated, sustainably made and won't fall apart after a few wears. She encourages her friends to shop mindfully, too and tells them that even if they no longer purchase ten t-shirts for under $30.00, saving this money might mean that they can one day afford the most expensive items that they have always wanted.