Have you ever gotten it into your head that you absolutely need a new piece of clothing? A trending item like a butterfly top or puffy tote bag, or a product of brand hype like a Miaou corset or Salomon trainers? In the words of Ariana Grande: you see it, you like it, you want it, you buy it – right?
As a fashion editor and someone who experiences a lot of adrenaline from sourcing a good deal or a rare vintage piece, I often feel the high of getting a new item of clothing several times a week, to be exact. When I'm not getting new clothes (gifted or otherwise) I'm writing about trends, corresponding with brands and making a living out of an industry that is contributing to the growing climate crisis. Many of us who love fashion – even just a casual amount of shopping – are reckoning with that cognitive dissonance too, and having to reevaluate the way we shop.
When I read Alec Leach's debut book, The World Is On Fire But We’re Still Buying Shoes, I finally saw this experience accurately depicted and not shrouded by jargon. Leach, former fashion editor at Highsnobiety and the founder of sustainable fashion platform @future_dust, explores everything from hype as a catalyst for consumption and the state of supply chains to smart sustainability marketing tactics deployed by big brands.
Leach also explores some of the ways we can consume less, which is something we're all actively trying to do. One of the tenets that really stood out to me and helped to reshape my mindset was: what if we treated each piece of clothing like a relationship?
"We need to remember that for all fashion gives us – the thrills, the joy, the excitement – we also put a lot in. It’s about viewing it as a relationship, something that gives but also takes," writes Leach in the book. He also references blogger David Cain, who came up with this idea in 2015. Seven years on, it’s clear to me that this idea is more relevant than ever.
If you're going to start a relationship with the next piece of clothing you buy, first ask yourself: do you really like it? Is it something that you want to have long term? Is it adding to your life or is it just a distraction? Dating – and clothes – can be like that sometimes.
"Viewing fashion as a relationship is about reevaluating what it is that we really want from our clothes. Taking ownership of our shopping habits," Leach continues. If we're honest, a lot of us are still buying clothes for moments – birthdays, weddings, Instagram posts – or to chase fleeting feelings of desire, happiness or validation. Fashion has always been led by trends and newness, and we buy into it. But as soon as the likes, comments or rush of adrenaline passes, we can be guilty of pushing those clothes to the back of our wardrobes and forgetting about them.
One of Leach's more powerful anecdotes in the book takes us through a particular shopping journey that he'll never forget. After seeing a bright red racing jacket online, he then sourced a very expensive, similar version. He paid for it to be shipped overseas, only to exchange it twice for a different size and then realise it didn't actually suit him. How many of us can relate to this scenario?
I've done it, too. I bought a racing jacket for £80 on Depop, only to post it on Instagram once and then quickly lose interest in it. The outcome? You guessed it: I ended up reselling it on Depop for £30 less than I originally paid.
"That’s the thing with trends," Leach writes. "When you’re in the midst of one, it feels as if it’ll be for real this time, not like the others. None of them last, of course. As soon as they come, they’re gone." Even if we resell or donate our unloved clothes, it takes time, energy and often money to undo that one impulsive buy.
Leach’s revealing, matter-of-fact book explores the push and pull of our shopping habits, the biggest issues regarding sustainability in fashion today, and the small decisions we can make to shop better. Despite everything we know and continue to learn about the climate crisis (along with some understandable feelings of anxiety and guilt), Leach implores us to remember that a majority of the onus is still on the fashion industry as a whole.
"If shopping is a relationship, then it’s not the only one we need to rethink," Leach states. Shopping better is one thing but consumerism in its entirety is the problem. We can’t change the world by buying one less high street dress when corporations are still greenwashing and brands are producing hundreds of thousands of products a year.
What this book does so right is allow us to acknowledge that shopping and fashion is part of life. Our culture and society revolve around it and many of us benefit from it. My job wouldn't exist without it! But Leach also makes it clear that the world is, well, burning. And with that in mind, he provides a smart, colloquial overview of the broken systems, as well as small changes we can all make to do our bit.
Some other responsible habits he suggests? Buy clothes from brands that are locally made, independently run or BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ owned. Shop for pieces that are secondhand, rented or simply timeless. And just like dating, maybe you'll get lucky and find a piece of clothing that lasts for years – and won't ghost you after two nights out.
The World Is On Fire But We're Still Buying Shoes is currently sold out but will be reprinted and available soon on alecleach.com.