Is the Problem Really Too Big?
There has been a bit of discussion around on social media geared toward the idea that being a conscious consumer of fashion is a ‘first world’ issue and one that should not necessarily be the subject of news reporting. While yes, on the surface there are issues that are more urgent and shocking. War, terror, refugee crisis, and the continual issues associated with global food security are all very real concerns. Concerns that create an instant emotional reaction inside of all of us. However, many of us at an individual level, while caring deeply about these issues, feel powerless to influence them. The ‘every day’ person (this is going to be a huge but I believe apt generalisation here) does not have the time or resources available to them to stop war, feed the poor, and house the homeless. They likely have the desire to fix these issues, but focusing on goals that seem outside of our immediate grasp usually results in non action due to bewilderment. For example, contemplating the fact we have exponential population growth and no clear idea how we will house, feed, water, and ensure the wellbeing of these new members of the world is likely to have you feeling pretty melancholy and not motivated to make change! Big problems like this can seem too large for little people and often too far removed from our daily lives to be relevant. The scariest part is that sometimes when we think ‘too big’ about global problems we are frightened and shut off to them, instead choosing to focus our attention solely onto ourselves and our immediate family.
Why Your First World Problems are Directly Linked To Developing Nations.
As mentioned above, for many of us our daily decisions are based around what is best for ourselves and our families. We may be a single parent with five kids, a solo student living off a casual wage, a duo of full time workers, or perhaps an heir to a billion dollar fortune. Whatever our status each and every one of us care about our money (whether we want to admit it or not) because money brings security and freedom of choice. Every dollar we own, be it from a collection of millions of them or just a few, is worth the same amount in our countries economy. This means that every dollar we spend is an equally important vote for the World we want to live in!
The more dollars we earn and the less duty of care we have (dependants, mortgages etc.) the more freedom we have to choose how we would like to use our dollar to make the World a better place. While we might laugh at ourselves and mutter something about ‘First World problems’ when trying to choose between two seemingly identical t-shirts, your purchase directly affects the lives of ‘those people that you see on the news’ in far off (or your own) countries that you may have believed you are powerless to help. The ‘First World’ issue of ‘OH MY GOD I really can’t decide what t-shirt to buy’ is a real and important decision and with it lies a great deal of purchasing power.
If you choose to buy a fair trade, organic cotton t-shirt, dyed with vegetable dyes and sewn by survivors of sex trafficking in a renewable energy powered workshop, you are not only voting for a world where people can afford to eat, drink, care for the soil, live a life free from pesticides and chemical dyes, prevent contamination of environmental flows through pesticide and dye run off, live free from slavery and feel empowered and ‘human’, and reduce CO2 emissions and reliance on fossil fuels, you are also using your ‘first world’ problem to better the entire planet. Alternatively you can buy a black t-shirt for a tenth of the price at a discount department store. This black t-shirt was made from conventional cotton, picked by a slave labour workforce in Uzbekistan, dyed using conventional dyes loaded with irritants by people who aren’t provided any personal protection gear and factory run off going directly into a local stream, sewn in a conventional factory in Bangladesh that doesn’t pay workers enough money to eat or allow them to take regular breaks, and sold to you for four dollars by a team that are pushed to churn you in and out of the store as fast as possible, work long hours and make a merger wage.
Perhaps if you took the money you saved from the purchase of the cheaper t-shirt over the more expensive one and donated it to charity there would be some merit in this purchasing decision (if personal poverty issues are not the deciding factor… and obviously the best choice environmentally is to not buy at all our buy secondhand but this is not the point of the example). Either way there is no separation between the ‘first world’ and the ‘developing world’, because in case you haven’t noticed…. we only have one Planet Earth, and we are all the same flesh and blood sharing the same air and the same environmental flows.
The info graphic above gives a closer and more visual look at how important your decisions as a consumer are in the proposed framework for making a sustainable fashion industry (sometimes it’s nice to have a visual and you can learn more about it here).
But I Don’t Have Enough Money and I’m Too Busy.
The statement above is the real ‘First World’ problem! Our media, be it social or mainstream, feeds us a diet of doubt, lacking, and fear in order to make us feel insecure, inadequate and want to buy more stuff. Why? Because the global economy is based around the idea that the buying and selling of stuff (and services) is equal to success. A countries worth is based on their gross domestic product (the total amount of stuff they buy, make and sell). We are encouraged to buy more things and have more babies because more stuff and more workers makes our countries look good figures wise. Despite the fact that more people and more products is exactly the opposite of what a finite globe needs.
Advertisers spend large amounts of money getting into the minds of their target market consumers and work with our base desires to fell loved, secure, accepted, relevant and happy. However, if you feel too loved secure, accepted, relevant and happy then you won’t need to buy a new product and they won’t ever make any more money out of you and the global economy will eventually come to a stand still. So advertising is cleverly designed to make you believe that your purchase will make you feel all of these emotions, but they do it so you don’t feel these things for long. As soon as you walk out of the store with your brand new iPhone the mood changes, it won’t look as shiny outside of the store. You might get a scratch on it a few weeks later and it no longer feels ‘new’. Suddenly a year later your perfectly good phone no longer seems relevant. The new model is out and they have changed the power charger so your phone doesn’t fit easily with new add on devices. You no longer feel good about it and want to upgrade. That emotional goodness has been replaced by a sense of lacking.
This advertising strategy is used to promote products that appeal to our modern day notion of being time and money poor. Believe it or not we now have more free time, higher incomes, and more choice than ever before! We just choose to use it in a way that makes us feel like we have less (check out the linked post for more details). We also have the freedom of choice when it comes to family planning. Thanks to contraception we can now choose if and when we want to have children and if we want to have more or less than replacement rate (replacement rate is one child to replace each parent). Sadly the undercurrent in mainstream society is to celebrate ‘time macho‘ culture of being too busy with work stress (and don’t let your mind stick to office work, this includes parenting and volunteer work they are serious jobs too) responsibilities to have time for ‘caring’ about everyday actions. We are told we need to have the career, the house, the car, the perfect family, and the ideal vacation and leisure time. Products are designed to support this lifestyle and we are ‘add on’ sold convenience. Perhaps your iPhone purchase was sold to you on the premise that it will make your busy life as a part time worker, full time mum of three, and passionate lover of tango dance lessons a whole lot more streamlined due to it’s ability to sync wireless with you computer and calendar appointment reminders? Everything in supermarkets is pre-packaged for ‘your convenience’ as a time poor person.
So if you are serious about not looking like a ‘first world’ complainer why not examine your lifestyle. Embrace how little or how much you have in regards to your finances and try to work out how to use it best to support your family and yourself, and how your purchasing decisions translate on a global scale. If your budget is meagre this might mean buying your fruit and veg from a local farmer (which usually works out cheaper and less packaging intense) rather than buying bulk buy imported and transported produce from the supermarket. If you are really time poor and have screaming kids in tow why not opt to buy in season produce with minimal or no packaging from the supermarket? Sure you might look like a bit of a ‘first-world-problem-person’ trying to decide between two seemingly identical types of fruit but picking the locally produced one over the imported one means so much more to local farmers and the environment than you can ever imagine. You have the power to make real change simply by being thoughtful with your purchases be them big or small. Be supportive of one another. One persons attempt to live a more sustainable and ethical life might not align with your situation personally but you should be respectful and learn from them what you can. You are part of the solution of the global scale crisis we collectively face. Next time you are in the supermarket staring at two identical apples remember that you are a warrior and a force for global change.
Let’s give planet Earth and all its inhabitants a great big hug to show our global support and identify that there is no ‘US’ and ‘THEM’. We are ONE (listen to the creepy wombat)…whether you like it or not. Be loud and proud about your ‘first world choices’ even if some people think you are a pretentious knob in your $40 fair trade t-shirt purchase.