We’re no strangers to discounts here in Singapore. From Christmas and Chinese New Year to Black Friday of Cyber Monday, there’s never a long wait until the next sales frenzy.
And that time of the year has arrived again. A myriad of commercial bargains are launching in stores now in prep for the Christmas season, with fast-fashion retailers counting down the industry’s last chance in the calendar year to make the most out of our hard-earned cash and year end bonuses.
You’ve likely already started to experience it: your inbox pinging with newsletter after newsletter from fashion, beauty or lifestyle brands reminding you about the amazing discounts they have up for grabs.
Adrenaline hit! Add to basket. Time to spend! Or is it?
Discounts can be tempting, for sure. What’s more, the festive spirit at the end of the year puts us in the mood to shop. But what if, this year, we stop and think before we binge on deals and consume more consciously instead? We're deep diving into why we love a bargain (hint: there's real psychology behind it!), the impact of our impulse purchases and how we can choose to consume more conscious this silly season.
In Singapore, we like to shop.
Let’s face it — shopping is almost second nature to Singaporeans and it’s made easy for us. With heartland malls not more than 20 minutes away from our homes, schools or offices, a chance for some retail therapy is always close by. Now made even more simple with the convenience of online shopping, at any given moment we’re just clicks away from owning new clothes thanks to the likes of Taobao, Shopee and Zalora.
What’s more, former online blogshops have transformed over the years into omni-channelled homegrown fashion labels well-loved by Singaporean women. Having developed a long-standing relationship with their suppliers overseas, these brands are able to produce a wide range of clothes at a fast rate with shorter lead times.
An increasing number of sellers are grasping at this lucrative business of “self-manufactured” imported clothes from China and Thailand, desperate to not miss out on their share of the pie. Also constantly competing for our attention on the daily are global fast-fashion retailers like ZARA, Uniqlo, Mango and ASOS. Given all that, it's no wonder it's one of our favourite past times!
Why do we love a bargain?
Singaporeans love a deal; and we’re brazenly proud of it; but there's actually science behind the feeling we get when we discover a great bargain. Australian stylist Kirsty Milligan explains that dopamine is released when we’re considering shopping, causing our senses to be overstimulated. However, when we see the price tag of an article of clothing we want to buy, a different part of our brain kicks in. The prefrontal cortex associated with decision-making processes the pain of spending, but if the pleasure of purchase outweighs the pain of purchase, then our new item wins.
Retail therapy - literally! A great bargain has the power to sway us emotionally. The In her new book, Fashionopolis: The Price of Fast-Fashion & The Future of Clothes, Dana Thomas likens the thrill of shopping “like a sex shop, or a Vegas Casino...you feel like you’ve won.”
Now, despite there being no study related to the average price of clothing that Singaporeans buy, it’s evident that we procure new clothes as fast as disposing them. We barely think twice before binning our clothes because we simply don’t have to confront our waste.
Regardless of where our clothes end up - whether shipped off-shore by donation centres, or incinerated in our waste plants in Pulau Semakau - once we throw away items we also throw away our responsibility for them. To combat our ‘out of sight, out of mind’ mentality, Channel News Asia released a documentary series in 2017 that traced Singaporeans’ textile disposal to overseas locations like Medan, Indonesia, to shed light on how much textile waste is actually “recycled.”
We need to start talking about it
There isn’t much information on the internet that provides us with the amount of clothes we’re trashing. Neither is there any accessible information on what is being done to the clothes we have discarded. Why are we not stopping in our tracks and questioning our purchases?
Case in point, the aforementioned 18-minute documentary rounds up the problem by highlighting how secondhand clothes in Singapore are well received by the residents of Medan. On one hand, it addresses the problem that Singaporeans buy too many clothes through the visual depiction of piles of clothing laid out on the streets. But on the other hand, this shows us that it is not our responsibility. We excuse ourselves by justifying that importing second hand clothing from Singapore is a lucrative business for neighbouring countries, and that we are donating our unwanted clothes to people in need.
Only a handful of shoppers in Singapore care about where their clothes are made, and who they are made by (recently highlighted by DBS’s conscious fashion survey!) Local influencer-run fashion brands don’t do much to address sustainability either, which is likely also a result of consumers not demanding more knowledge of where their clothes come from. Are we as consumers merely just succumbing to flashy marketing strategies or relatable women empowerment stories? Or are we just feeding into our craving for retail therapy and using clothes as a form of self-validation?
Much like other issues that are being discussed in Singapore right now, we shouldn't be satisfied with the status quo. London-based poet Wilson Oryema describes the fashion hangover as ‘the after effect of careless consumption’ in his interview with Clare Press in her podcast ‘Wardrobe Crisis’.
Mindless consumption? We need to stop
Dilys Williams, Director of Centre of Sustainable Fashion at University of the Arts London draws a contrast between the way fashion was consumed then and now.
“The original, pre-industrial definition of fashion was to make things together - a collective that is convivial, social process we use to communicate with each other,” Williams explains. “The current definition is the production, marketing and consumption of clothes — an industrialised system for making money.”
It is said that we’re now more exposed to advertisements in one year than people did 50 years ago throughout their whole lifetime. In the face of constant prompts to buy new clothes (Instagram’s sponsored posts, anyone?), we need to start recognising that we do not need new things to validate ourselves. We have to make an active shift in our mindsets to find empowerment in detaching ourselves from comments or compliments from people regarding our clothes.
“They can empower us, imbue us with sensuality. They can reveal our respect, or our disregard, for convention,” describes Thomas. But our clothes do not make us, despite how it is believed that clothes are a reflection of how people view us and how we see ourselves.
“The habit of wearing clothes once and then chucking them away may seem indefensible but when you begin to explore the reasoning behind it, a portrait of social pressure, psychological drivers and hormonal rewards emerges,” writes Sophie Benson in her article ‘One & Done: Why Do People Ditch Their Clothes After Just One Wear?’
Benson goes on to point out that “understanding isn’t a free pass to carry on being wasteful but it should prompt us to look beyond the individual to the wider causes and potential solutions.”
Repeat after us: Clothes are not disposables! We should be seeing them through the last leg of their journey. If you don’t love them anymore, make sure you take on the responsibility to give them a new lease of life. Make sure they are not incinerated and that the resources and materials they were made with don't go to waste.
So how to stop yourself overbuying this festive season? Ask yourself these questions before checking out:
Share this one with your friends!
Direct your love for fashion elsewhere – start by appreciating fashion as art, as culture, as heritage, and as craft – not commodities to be owned. Appreciate fashion by committing to buying less and more mindfully. The truth is, you really don't need that many clothes.
Other conscious consumption tips
Try organising a themed clothes swap at your next Christmas party. Swap out the Sephora gift boxes for homemade candles. Ask your friends and family for specific gifts they want and find secondhand alternatives to them. Or even better, gift them an experience, like The Fashion Pulpit’s eGift cards.
There are a dozen and more ways to consume more mindfully than giving in to that temporary gratification we get from scoring a deal. Voting with our dollar is literally one of the most powerful things we can do as consumers. Let’s rethink our clothing purchases and recognise that it has an actual ripple effect on fashion retailers and their strategic decision making. I know what I will be doing this Christmas, I hope you do too!