During the first few months of the pandemic, my days began by rising before the sun to get a few hours outside before anyone else was out, and were then spent trying not to completely lose it over the unknown. I didn’t bake, nor did I knit a Harry Styles cardigan. I also didn’t shop.
According to NPR, I wasn’t alone. In April, clothing and accessories stores experienced a 78.8% drop in spending compared to March, which also saw a 50.5% plunge in spending compared to February. (This includes both online and brick-and-mortar stores, many of the latter, of course, closed during lockdown.)
As of right now, the pandemic has no end in sight, and with colder temperatures and flu season looming, a second wave seems imminent. And yet, retail is on the (slow) rise. The New York Times reported in August that retail sales in July were up 1.2% from June, while clothing and accessories spending was up almost 6%. My self-imposed ban, too, has been lifted — my love of the find, resurrected. Just like I’ve done since I was old enough to log online without supervision or go to the mall with my own money, I’m once again spending hours perusing page after page of merchandise in the chance that something special will stand out. But my time away from shopping led to some much-needed changes in my habits.
Following the protests sparked by the death of George Floyd, like many, I looked at ways to support the Black community. As part of that, I focused on shopping from Black-owned fashion brands — and, in the process, I uncovered new designers. For instance, while profiling The Folklore, a Black-owned retailer bringing African brands to the international fashion landscape, I discovered a Nigerian label called Bloke, which sells artisan-made clothing and footwear. Soon, it was all over my Instagram feed, daring me to purchase. Whereas the social media platform used to bait me into making purchases I didn’t want nor need, now it was attracting me to beautiful, handmade pieces that would last me forever — a change in algorithm that I have come to appreciate. Sunni Sunni, Martine Rose, and Kendra Duplantier are just some of the other brands that have since been sitting in my various shopping carts.
Also during lockdown, I spoke with a handful of Gen Z environmentalists on TikTok whose dedication to treating their spending dollars as votes was a wake-up call for my otherwise lackluster conscious shopping habits. Fast-fashion was a go-to for me pre-pandemic, so much so that I’d frequent the Zara near my office twice or even three times per week just to look at the new stock. I even knew which days the store received its latest shipments. I wrote about sustainability at work, but rarely did I follow suit personally. Talking to people years younger than me, yet much wiser when it came to their shopping habits, made it clear that I have to change my habits — if not for me, than for those who’ll be punished later if my generation doesn’t make necessary changes. (Orange skies and unsafe air quality in California were further catalysts for change in my consumption.) As part of becoming a more conscious shopper, I now spend most of my time (and money) on secondhand sites like Vestiaire Collective, The RealReal, and eBay rather than major department stores. And, if I can support a struggling small business, rather than a well-equipped retailer, I will.
Part of all this meant researching brands more thoroughly before considering them for placement in my wardrobe: Who have they worked with before? How did they handle the pandemic? Do they support the Black Lives Matter movement? What are they doing to reduce their contribution to the climate crisis? And how are they keeping up the momentum? These are important questions that we should all be asking ourselves. It can be tricky to give up things we’re so used to doing, but, at least for me, this far into the year, it doesn’t feel unfamiliar anymore — it's actually exciting. Maybe I’ll have to spend more time and money in the short-term to support brands that will bring about long-term change. So be it. And, just like my return to retail, the changes that came with it feel good. If I do say so myself, so will my wardrobe once I eventually click *purchase.*
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