Last night’s second annual Neal’s Yard lecture saw social science, psychology and economics bring new perspectives to LCF’s continuing search for creative solutions to the issue of sustainability.

Take one leading authority on social and economic history, a psychiatrist specialising in behavioural addiction and an insightful audience and you can play privy to some very profound solutions to our fast fashion consumer culture.

‘Rethinking how we think and the wider implication of our decisions and actions’ was the underlying thought for the lecture. With this in mind, psychiatrist and neuroscience researcher Dr. Henrietta Bowden-Jones took to the floor and discussed impulse buying.

While we don’t all have shopping addictions, most of us have been guilty of impulsive purchases at points of stress and sadness. Apparently 70% of people suffering with Compulsive Buying Disorder reported feelings of depression prior to its onset and 41% noted anxiety disorder.

A facepalm is the standard response on getting those metallic animal-print leggings home but do we ever question why we really bought them in the first place? Sometimes the garment just looked good on the mannequin but in such a stressful modern age, sometimes we’re looking for little highs wherever we can.

Bowden-Jones uses cognitive behavioural therapy – the rewiring of thinking and behavioural habits – as treatment for compulsive spending. Stimulus control such as cutting up credit cards and shopping under supervision may bring tears to the eyes or seem a little extreme, but finding more meaningful ways to pass our time and deal with difficult feelings is something we could all consider.

“If you find things that are really good for you mentally, that are really positive for your life, the lives of those around you and are constructive intellectually or emotionally, then that’s the best way to get out of a situation that is a compulsive addiction…” Henrietta Bowden-Jones

Of course there is the issue of inflated supply as well as demand. Professor Avner Offer from the University of Oxford explained increasing affluence and innovation has undermined our self-control. Yes the wealth of shops and convenience of the Internet may satisfy our needs for instant gratification but do they make us happy in the long run?

Apparently not, the ‘Paradox of Happiness’, shows we may be earning more money but overall happiness remains stagnant. Not only does the abundance of cheap, fast fashion mean we have become desensitised to the highs of shopping (once ‘retail therapy’) but we’ve become disconnected from the joys of fashion itself. As a member of the audience said: “women aren’t being made to feel special”. Heavily influenced by marketing and advertising, our impulse purchases lack individuality, self-expression and quality, leading to unfulfillment in the long-term.

“How can we best use our purchasing power? How can we get the most psyche satisfaction out of our purchasing power? Succumbing to impulse is self-defeating.” – Avner Offer

“I like the idea of using fashion to empower women. In terms of self-confidence, there are a number of women who are currently finding fashion an obstacle rather than a pleasure and not necessarily a mode of self-expression but almost something that’s imposed upon them.” – Henrietta Bowden-Jones

The global and environmental impact of fast fashion must be considered but there are also personal benefits to slowing consumption. This creates great marketing and branding opportunities for slow fashion: “craft over mass-production”, quality over quantity and individuality over ubiquity. Dr Offer argued:

“Fashion in itself is a short-term phenomenon and what this means is that radical change is possible…This is one area where consciousness forming can have quite a powerful influence and there is scope for creativity of various kinds, not only the creativity that goes into the garment but also the creativity that goes into the culture”.

Professor Frances Corner questioned whether the democratisation of fashion has also led to its casualisation and is there some way we can reconsider how we dress. While Caryn Franklin, co-founder of the diversity campaign All Walks Beyond the Catwalk, picked up on the tailoring potential of slow fashion and the body-confidence it can provide:

“Could fashion effectively provide an answer where it’s introducing empathy for the end user who isn’t model shaped, who’s individual and who needs to be catered for in a much more thoughtful way than is currently happening in fashion?”

As the fast fashion juggernaut continues to spin, it was empowering to hear so many insightful ideas as to how we can reconsider our individual shopping habits. But perhaps we lost sight of why such action was necessary. Sustainability is bigger than the fashion industry. It’s about humanity, the environment, the future and as one audience member said:

“It’s about people thinking as citizens and not as consumers.”

The post Neal’s Yard Annual Lecture 2014: Fresh Thinking for a Sustainable Future appeared first on LCF News.