It's Time for Real Talk on Conscious Consumerism
For some, “conscious consumerism” is an oxymoron. Many argue that one cannot be conscious if one is a consumer; one that is ultimately contributing to the global, unsustainable demand of the fashion industry.
This argument was on our mind as we attended “Real Talk on Conscious Consumerism,” a panel hosted by Alden Wicker, founder and editor-in-chief of EcoCult, a blog dedicated to sustainable fashion, living and travel. Guest panelists included Summer Rayne Oakes, sustainable fashion activist, model and writer, and Nicole Rycroft founder and executive director of Canopy, a nonprofit that aims to save endangered rainforests by working with and advising the biggest players in the publishing and fashion industries.
“As pure as we try to live our lives, we all live with contradictions by being part of society today,” said Nicole, after the panel kick-started with the simple question: “What is something you do every day that is unsustainable?” An ice-breaker of sorts for a room full of serious audience members, spanning the cozy retail floor at Good Goods Market in Soho, all eagerly collected to learn more from the lineup of sustainability influencers.
Nicole Rycroft, a self-proclaimed “professional tree-hugger” leads Canopy, most famously known for “greening” the Harry Potter series, and more recently, taking on the fashion industry. Plant-based fibers including rayon, viscose and modal cause 150 million trees to disappear from endangered forests each year. Canopy is working to change that.
“We are working on next-generation solutions,” said Nicole. “We ask ourselves 'how can we diversify the fiber basket so that not so much of our fashion depends on tree-made fibers?'” Canopy has recently worked with global brands Zara and the Gap to help save natural resources.
Summer Rayne Oakes is also an activist, most recently known for her plant-filled home that went viral- she lives among 670 (and counting!) plants in Brooklyn, New York. She has become a model, both literally and figuratively, for sustainable living.
So, how can we be more conscious consumers?
VOTE WITH YOUR DOLLAR
“We all spend money. By doing so we are essentially voting every day by where we spend,” said Nicole. She continued to describe how brands must respond to consumers if consumers stop buying. They will feel it where it hurts: their wallet.
USE YOUR VOICE
Alden, who served as moderator, stressed how important it is to comment on the social efforts of your favorite brand(s). Her friend, a former employee at a large fashion brand in the corporate social responsibility department, said: “Whenever a consumer applauded social enterprise actions, the message circulated the entire company.” “They are eager to bolster their sustainability efforts and share that it is well-received,” said Alden.
A consumer can also help by supporting a charity, like Canopy, that is doing the work on the ground. Ultimately, policies work with implementation help from activists working alongside fashion brands and suppliers all around the world.
“People often say to me ‘I love your lifestyle, how do I get that?’ and I just say- It’s just about making small changes every day...then you wake up, and that’s your life,” said Summer.
Both Nicole and Alden agreed wholeheartedly- it is about starting small and not being intimidated by all of the questions and possibilities. Start with one issue you want to focus on, maybe including less fast fashion brands in your wardrobe, and learn how to achieve that one step at a time.
It was a shared sentiment amongst the entire panel that perfection is the rival of progress. Trying to make right purchasing decisions can be intimidating and overwhelming, causing a sort of “burnout” as Alden described it. “You end up banning 99% brands,” said Alden.
“...But then you are just naked,” laughed Nicole. “I leave the guilt at the door. If I don’t do well one day, I pick it back up the next.”
“Sometimes I look at the challenges and they seem so vast and so expansive. I wish we [as consumers] had the ability to organize better and harness that power,” said Summer, who frequently organizes meet-ups with her Instagram followers and stressed the significance of going out and meeting one another who share similar values.
“If we can inspire others to move with us, and make a change, that’s part of the magic of it,” added Nicole.
As one moves along their “journey,” as Alden referred to the evolution of one's consumer behavior, you can add more activism to the repertoire and continue to build a better lifestyle.
“When people ask me what they can do,” Summer said with a smile, “I respond with well...what are you capable of?“