Can you be a fashion enthusiast and truly experience eco-anxiety?

Article written for IKIGAI THE MAGAIZNE.

Sometimes it looks like there are two teams: the ones who love fashion and the ones who love the planet, as if you can’t have both. Of course, we are seeing more and more conscious fashion brands and initiatives, but a hardcore fashionista is buying everything from luxury brands, fast fashion brands to eco-friendly brands. Can this person actually care about the environment, struggle with eco-anxiety and continue shopping like that?

If so, why isn’t she taking some sort of action?

If I am to talk from personal experience, I can say that the transition from an avid shopper to a conscious one is an ongoing process and it’s not perfect. I’ve often came across with a disturbing feeling when I bought something less sustainable than I would have liked. It was an internal conflict between my values, what I am doing and my interest in fashion. The main reason for me to buy from a fast fashion brand is the budget, while this is not an excuse, it’s something than influences most of us when choosing to buy something. And while fashion style doesn’t equal new clothes every month, having a fresh item from time to time in the wardrobe is really nice, and sometimes a necessity.

So, if I have a clear reason why I am buying something why I am still having an internal conflict?

I don’t consider myself a fashionista, even if a few years ago this was an idea I was aspiring to, today this term makes me think at a person who is owning lots of clothes but does not have much personal style. Even so, because I went through this phase, I know the feeling of guilt can be there if there is also an interest in the environment. At the beginning is mild, not a strong feeling, it grows as you get more informed and learn about the fashion industry and climate change. And as you learn you might feel like you can’t be a fashionista or fashion enthusiast, as I prefer to call myself, and an environmentalist at the same time.

The internal conflict that I, and maybe you, have been experiencing is known as cognitive dissonance. This theory was proposed by cognitive psychologist Leon Festinger in 1954 to describe the inconsistency that occurs between our thoughts and actions, that leads to discomfort (or dissonance). This discomfort when experienced more often and for longer periods of time can transform in guilt and then in anxiety, and in this case this is known as eco-anxiety.

The American Psychological Association first defined eco-anxiety in 2017 as “a chronic fear of environmental doom.” This sense of anxiety is largely based on the current and predicted future state of the environment and human-induced climate change. However, eco-anxiety is not officially considered a diagnosable condition, but mental health professionals do use the term within the field of ecopsychology, a branch that deals with people’s psychological relationships with the rest of nature and how this impacts their identity, well-being, and health.

You wonder if it is ok to be a part of the ethical and sustainable movement (advocate for it even) when you are still trying to create stylish outfits?

I believe that it is ok, as long as you are willing to do something about that guilt or anxiety, no matter how mild the feeling is. With all the news and protests about climate change, having a reaction is normal, and if it happens for you to be a fashion shopaholic and also care about the future of the planet, you have to be willing to admit that you can do some changes.

Although solving environmental issues relies on societal change, governmental input, and corporations taking responsibility for their contributions to climate change, people can usually manage their own responses to environmental issues using a range of strategies.

You don’t have to give up fashion and dress only in organic linen, in order to experience eco-anxiety and care for the environment. Here are some strategies to help you handle eco-anxiety in regards to fashion:

Take action

Break up with a fast fashion brand. Try to shop less, from clothes to devices, mindless consumerism is not helping your budget or the planet. Find a transparent, local fashion brand to support. Or you can learn to repair your clothes. The list can go on and on really. These steps might seem smaller than baby steps, but trust me, it helps, and while you are not reverting climate change overnight, you are either helping local businesses or creating less waste which is always a win.

Get informed

If you love watching fashion shows, scrolling on Pinterest for outfit inspiration, feeling excited about new collections, get deeper in the fashion industry than that. While being up to date with the fashion news from the glossy magazine is great, do your own research about a trend you might love, about the brand you like, about how the fashion industry works. Watch documentaries from a designer’s biography to an investigation about how the clothes are produced. By understanding this industry and its links to the climate change, your values will become clearer.

Know when to disengage

Staying informed is key, but a flow of news, social media, videos, statistics can also make more stressed. When you feel too much pressure from what’s happening in the fashion industry, or if you don’t find what you would like at the sustainable brand, or maybe you feel hopeless about everything, stop for a moment. Take a break for a few days from all the media, research or shopping. It’s essential to pick a few trustworthy sources, no need to check everything on the web. Also follow people who make you feel good and have similar values and don’t forget to be patient with yourself. Take breaks regularly.

Fashion and anxiety are good old friends, from creatives to models we’ve heard lots of stories about the stress of working in this industry. Eco-anxiety and fashion seem to be separated for some reason, but I believe that they are connected and that we should talk more about this without judging people. By feeling less shame and more secure to express our concerns, more of us might acknowledge this eco-anxiety feeling instead of burring it and take some positive action.

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