Monday, March 21, 2016

Consumerism & Why I Avoid Primark

*Irrelevant photo in the hope of catching your eye to make you read this post*


Not sure you knew, but the exact name of my degree at University is called Business and Retail Management. I didn't choose it because I had an unsatiated thirst for retail knowledge, it was more of a case of narrowing my options down to something I thought I would enjoy. Having done this degree for 4 years, 1 of them being a placement year, I'm trying to conclude what I've learned and gained from choosing this path. Generally it's been great - my course involved a great variety of classes; anything from employment law, to marketing, to accounting. I feel like I've come out prepared for the business world, in theory at least. 

This might be obvious, but a lot of things in my course teach us how to thrive on consumerism, and in fact encourage it, because at the end of the day it's business, and one's gotta make a living, right? In terms of physical selling, for example, I've learned how to exploit human primary senses (smell, hearing, visual etc.), I've also learned the psychology behind different pricing, colours and what areas in the shop are best for various types of products. Retailers spend more time trying to understand the customer than anything else. Every single thing you see in-store and online is carefully calculated and your responses are analysed for future planning. While it all makes perfect sense, and in fact is probably genius (ever heard stories of retailers predicting customer pregnancies before the mother even knows herself?!) However, as my degree progressed, there were times I found myself thinking that we are all just marionettes doing exactly what the big retailers want. I purposely stopped buying 3 for the price of 2 deals, and had to literally fight off mental urges to respond to visual stimuli of which I knew the exact theory and context behind. 

My placement year at House of Fraser in many ways opened my eyes. Firstly, I realized that I will never ever work in a physical retail store again, and secondly it helped me see all what I'd learned in person. I would say that my one year work experience gave me the equivalent of the three years of studying I'd done at University, so it was definitely something I'm very grateful for. I actually quite liked my job - I was a brand manager of a prominent label and I was often asked to carry out important tasks, I was also Voice of the Team at my floor (similar as a class representative in school), was in a manager training programme and many other things. However, the reason I liked it was because I knew it had an expiration date (ie. when I return to Uni for my final year), so I simply grasped every opportunity I could get my hands on and really make the most of my time there. 

During that year I was really able to see how consumerism works first hand. I regularly made changes to my department in order to drive demand, and it almost felt like magic when items I had highlighted in careful  visual merchandising were suddenly more popular than before. I was SO happy when women would buy 5 things instead of the 1 thing they came for (as it meant I was closer to my daily target). I was sometimes asked to be the personal shopper for a day, if the actual personal shopper had called in sick - this was actually a very daunting task, but something I was apparently good at, so I did it. I measured my success at personal shopping in how much money the client spent. My first ever experience was actually a man of age 50-60, about to go on a holiday. As someone who knows absolutely nothing about senior mens fashion, I felt clueless and scared, but the client spent about £700 based on my suggestions. Insane, right? 

The biggest change throughout my degree was the change I saw in myself. Having student loans meant being surprised by sudden influxes of "big money" in my account, and then feeling like you're freaking wolf of wall street  every now and then. Add awesome student discounts and a fashion blog (basically the ultimate excuse to constantly buy new crap) and you have one shopping obsessed girl. Living in a new country and generally being more of an introvert, I found myself searching for instant gratification by scoring down the newest ASOS boots and coats. I made a big deal about always checking the "new in" sections on ASOS - I was literally scared of letting something amazing slip by, as they usually have about 150-250 new items daily. When I started my placement year it meant that I was earning my own money and I had an amazing 20% staff discount (even on top of other discounts in the store), which meant I started treating myself to better designers and more frequent shopping, and worse of all, constantly justifying it. "If not now, when?!", I would say about my discount. Surely I had to take the opportunity while I still had it and seeing clothes on a daily basis didn't help! I would say that this was my biggest low-point as a consumer, because I was coming home with new clothes from work almost on a weekly basis, on top of my occasional ASOS deliveries and gifts from blogging. 

Then something happened. I can't quite put a finger on it, I would say it was just a combination of things, which is still happening. After 4 years of on-and-off veganism I finally set my foot down and became more mindful about things in general. Choosing not to buy animal-tested cosmetics, leather, fur, wool, silk, pearls (all not vegan) instantly means being more careful while shopping. I saw The True Cost documentary (watch it!!!), and I did University projects that required me to research supply chains relationships and look at the ethics behind them. Slowly my perspective changed. I would feel sorry for girls coming home with 10 big shopping bags, barely able to stand. I would walk into shops and all I would see are big question marks in my head... "Yes it's all lovely and pretty, but do I really NEED this?". I feel especially cringed out when I see haul or beauty videos on YouTube and girls are like "I just HAD to have this" or "I loved it so much, I bought it in every color". I mean, GIIIIIRL what are you gonna do with all that stuff?! Please watch this video on materialism by one of my favorite YouTubers, Erin Janus (she is such a well spoken person, I love all her videos). 

As a society we have fallen victim to this need of instant gratification, and everything is disposable and replaceable. We like something we see - no problem, we acquire it. Problem solved. You lose something - no problem, buy another one. Most purchases seem to come from a want, rather than a need. It's like we are constantly rewarding ourselves for doing some work. We tell ourselves that if we work hard, anything can be acquired. We live for items, not experiences or memories. Spend our whole lives working hard, to have money to buy things we don't need to impress people we don't like...or however the saying goes. Yes, I'm speaking in very general terms - luckily not everyone has this mindset, but I feel like in general it is becoming a trend in society and I felt it first hand with my own experience. I often cringe when I think about how much money I've spent on items in the last year or whatever. Now I'm losing even more time trying to sell it all on Depop. Speaking of Depop, please help a girl out, I'm moving in the summer and I'm drowning in my stuff.

You probably wonder what Primark has to do with this (assuming you read the title). Well, this is certainly not an attack against Primark. The store is great in many ways, especially in that it enables less wealthy families access to trendy clothing for almost no money, which is a great thing. It does not mean that you need to plan Primark shopping day trips, spend £200 and come home with 8 bags full of Primark clothing. Primark to me is the epitome of instant gratification and replaceable clothing. There is a reason that cute Prada knockoff dress is retailing at £8.00 in Primark. Someone in the company has to make profit from this dress though, and if they sell it for that cheap it certainly comes at an expense. Obviously it will be the retailer (Primark), not the supplier (clothing manufacturers in Bangladesh, for example) who keep the big bucks from this £8 dress. That is a very simple explanation of things you certainly already knew. So why do we not care more? Please bare with me but: the more we buy, the more financially powerful these shops become, which means they achieve greater power over their suppliers. This means that now Primark (and everyone else with similar business models!!! sorry to sound like I'm bullying Primark only - that's not fair!) can go to Bangladesh factories and pay them even less money. They will say "either you accept our new terms of payment or we will find another factory to supply us". And you know how this goes - workers get paid less and less, they sustain work place injuries, child labour is often involved, suicide is frequent too... I honestly don't mean to be patronizing, I just really want to get my message across guys, so please don't take it personally. 

I've been thinking about this stuff so much over the last year, I really can't tell you guys how often it's on my mind. Completely boycotting these shops is not THE answer. If we all boycott Primark and co., these factory workers will lose their much needed jobs. The majority of them lack education, but possess skill, and they are definitely capable of doing these jobs. From my research at University, the overwhelming majority of them are there by choice (although their reasons being no better alternative, it's still a choice, as opposed to slavery), because they need the jobs to support their families and they are willing to commit to it. I just really think we need to get on a different mindset about this disposable fashion idea we are so actively contributing to. Buy in smaller quantities, buy what you NEED, buy "made in Britain", buy from local artists, buy second hand or vintage. Buying used clothes is also amazing for the environment. There are so many clothes *out there* in the world - try to slow down this environmentally irresponsible production of new clothing, and instead have a browse on Depop or Ebay. 

These days I rarely buy anything when I go out to town. Yet, somehow I still manage to acquire a decent amount of clothing through online shopping, which is my one true interest in terms of career*, but I am still trying to improve on a daily basis. After being sucked into materialism for so many years, it can definitely take time to adjust. Please do not think that by writing this post, I'm implying that I'm Miss Perfect, and I have finished my materialistic journey. I still shop more than I would like to, and feel myself getting distracted (and affected emotionally) by things I don't need. It's difficult when you're in the blogging world and you are a young, impressionable woman. It is so easy to get influenced by others and seek self worth in acquiring the items you see on your favorite people on Instagram. The first step is to understand where your clothing comes from and appreciating every single thing you buy. You do not need to constantly "treat" yourself. 

I hope this post may also explain why I've been lacking outfit posts lately. I'm still very much interested in fashion, and in fact I have quite a few outfits coming up, but it's not the primary message I want to spread with my blog. I want to inspire people in their styling choices, but I do not want to make people buy things they didn't know they wanted. I'm still finding myself and figuring out how I want to do things. Please do not judge my choices, just be aware that I'm only human and I'm learning every day.

If there's one thing to take away from this post... Do not let your possessions own you. They are only items. Focus on experiences, creating memories and building relationships. 

* Yes, I'm really interested in e-commerce, and hope to get a job in this field. I do not think all retail is bad - after all people have basic needs, and I want to provide for those needs without any tricks or cheeky theories behind them. 

PS. Hope you're impressed by my ability to literally write a 2000+ word article in about an hour at 1AM... better go #treatyoself2016!!! Just kidding. 

10 comments:

  1. Ooo, man loti interesanti bija so lasit! Lika padomat :)

    Elizabete

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    1. Paldies, Elizabete! Tas ir galvenais, ko gribēju arī panākt ar šo rakstu :)

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  2. Bija ļoti interesanti lasīt šo ierakstu. It kā es par šo problēmu zinu, bet izvēlos to ignorēt, jo tā vienkārši ir vieglāk. Es domāju, ka tieši tā arī ir viena no galvenajām sabiedrības problēmām, ka cilvēki kaut kur savā prātā apzinās patieso situāciju, bet nepievērš viņai uzmanību. Šī visa izlasīšana mani tiešām ir iedvesmojusi padomāt par lietām savā garderobē, vai man to visu tiešām vajag utt. Noteikti viens no labākajiem tava bloga ierakstiem. :)

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    1. Liels paldies! :) Jā, pilnībā piekrītu - dažreiz tā ir vieglāk, dzīvot nedomājot par sekām.

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  3. Great article! Well written, tells exactly what I am thinking as fashion designer. I hope that the "trends" in future are going to be more sustainable and long living. I love searching on Pinterest for diy and pictures of different ways to match your already existing wardrobe

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    1. I definitely think that is the case for the future! :)

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  4. Hi Kristiana,

    I've been an on and off again reader of your blog. I think the frequency and occasions on which I'd come here to see your posts was a function not only of the tone/topic of your content (duh! haha) but also of where I was - intellectually, emotionally.

    I've never left a comment - I tend to selfishly absorb information and then do nothing with it other than use it for my own purposes - but today I couldn't not say anything.

    Thank you for a beautiful article that captures a lot of the grey areas of this consumerist culture, of this world that runs on our wants rather than our needs.

    About a year and a half ago I discovered my yoga practice, and am also slowly walking down a math of mindfulness. This first started affecting my relationships (with myself and others), then the way I ate, and now slowly, it is also affecting how I shop.

    Now I tend to hit farmers markets, second hand shops and buy as local and unprocessed as I can wherever I am.

    Hope your move this summer goes well, and I wish you all the best :)

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    1. Thank you for your kind comment, Vanessa! I also rarely comment on people's blogs, unless I actually have something to say :) I'm happy to hear about your yoga practice, that's actually something I really want to get into (but haven't yet properly dived into).

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