Buyers Guilt: Are You Really Worth It?
You’ve heard of buyers remorse? Get ready for buyers guilt! It’s the same, but then different.
Buy less. Choose well. Make it last. When Vivienne Westwood says it, it seems so easy. Yet, when practiced in a world where billions upon billions are invested in convincing you to buy those cute corduroy overalls, ‘easy’ gets converted into a one-click, buy now, pay later deal. Viv’s words are better for the environment, getting new corduroy overalls is better for my wardrobe. That there’s not going to be any wardrobe after disaster has struck and we’ve all drowned to death… well, that’s a problem for later. Right now I need to get those cute corduroy overalls. Because I’m worth it.
Look at me being a good girl
Buyers remorse concerns itself over your latest purchase which, in hindsight, might’ve not been the best way to spend your money. Buyers guilt concerns itself with berating every (imagined) purchase you want to make because you (should) know better. While remorse can provide a lesson in better investments, guilt provides you with a meta-description of why what you want is bad. While buyers remorse is linked to a bad purchase, buyers guilt is linked to a bad purchaser. At best it can make you make more conscious decisions. At worst it can cause a full-on meltdown in the cornflakes aisle. In between it just annoys everyone around you when you, for the so-manieth time, wonder aloud whether you should or should not buy it. You should. Or maybe not…
Once initiated with Viv’s philosophy there’s no turning back. Although her words could be taken with a grain of salt (at the end of the day she’s still an advocate of her fashion emperium that presses you to make that ‘lesser buy’ in her stores), it’s not just ye almighty’s words that should turn you into an accountable consumer. It’s a whole sh*tstorm of life threatening situations stimulated by (over)consumption that should convince any self-respected hoarder to reconsider their claim of worth through (new) objects. Or, at least, to make this claim through objects that are #sustainable #vegan #lookatmebeingagoodgirl. That is, until an add pops up and you’re suddenly sharing your bank details with & Other Stories. It’s true, I’ve got the moral backbone of a chocolate eclair.
Because I’m worth it
Buyers guilt is a result of cognitive dissonance. As Fashion Revolution explains: cognitive dissonance is the discomfort (or guilt) you experience when you know you shouldn’t support the fast fashion industry, but you still buy those corduroy overalls from & Other Stories because they are cute. (Worse! They look even cuter on you!). Basically: your actions don’t match your values.This can cause stress, physical discomfort and the thrilling sensation of impending doom. Even though & Other Stories isn’t listed as a fast fashion chain, it is owned by H&M. Which means they’re the same thing aka you’re living a lie if you deny the direct relation between your new & Other Stories corduroy overalls and ‘supporting’ fast fashion chains. I’ve got the moral backbone of a chocolate eclair that’s fallen off the table and is now slowly melting; no matter how hard you try, the carpet will forever be stained.
But at least I look cute. And I deserve to look cute. Better yet: I’m worth it! But that’s the problem. As Rebecca Breuer writes in her dissertation Beyond Identity: The Three Ecologies of Dress (2015): “Since we are worth it the urgency to think about related issues, such as whether the people that produce our clothes and cosmetics, the generations to come and our environment are of equal worth, seems to diminish or at least becomes bearable.” A billion dollar industry has told us it’s reasonable to compare our worth with that of others. And it should be no surprise that we tend to tilt the scales in our favour. Because who knows if they are worth it? Who are they anyway? They aren’t the star of the show! It’s all about you (or a version of you that could be you if you buy the things advertised).
So, knowing better and doing better doesn’t necessarily correlate; I gleefully wave my bank pass, sacrifice some sleep and any sense of self-worth (because, hey, I can always buy that) for something that tickles my fancy. Which brings us back to buyers guilt, where I don’t regret buying cute corduroy overalls from & Other Stories but still feel guilty about them because I (should) know better. The only way to resolve this is, obviously, to return the overalls. However, according to this article from Medium, “84% of returned garments end up in a landfill or incinerator”. So returning them isn’t the better choice and actually “doubles the environmental cost”. In an attempt to make me feel better, I read & Other Stories’ Values & Sustainability policy. Which sounds very promising. But what can you buy from promising?
To look at it differently: consumers vote with their money, but the power – the billions – are in the hands of businesses. So is it fair to one-on-one deflect the harm done by manufacturers onto consumers? I don’t think so. Even though I (should) know better. However, to drown the consumer in guilt won’t resolve the problem. Guilt doesn’t work because it doesn’t provide you with options; and that most of these options are out of the hands of consumers anyway, adds to this sense of unsolvable guilt – where no choice seems to matter. But every choice matters. Even those you make after a bad decision. To quote civil rights activist Dolores Huerta: “Every moment is an organising opportunity, every person a potential activist, every minute a chance to change the world”.
What’s your next move?
We can’t all pay the same price. This doesn’t mean that we, as consumers, shouldn’t be hold accountable for the things we buy, but that our accountability only goes so far. Although I think it’s healthy to experience guilt, guilt alone paralyses possibilities. Acting on guilt doesn’t change the situation, it only acknowledges that the situation is bad. But we already (should) know that. When we buy something from a fast fashion chain, the next move is still up to us; for instance ensuring that your latest purchase won’t join its 84% returned friends. Therewith, we need to tackle the matter of ‘worth’. So perhaps, instead of advertising it as something that ping pong’s between person and product (closet and landfill), ‘worth’ should be taken out of the billion-dollar-equation to underline that existence is not up for sale.