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How to create sustainable shopping habits and keep them in place

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Changing the way you shop isn’t something you can do overnight. But we’ve recruited the help of three experts to share some advice on where you can start when it comes to putting positive, sustainable habits into place.

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The importance of reducing our collective consumption is something that more and more people have become aware of in recent years, with the threat of the climate crisis looming. Buying fewer clothes is a key part of this, as research shows that the UK produces 206.456 tonnes of textile waste each year.

Many people are not only trying to buy less, but to buy better too. Buying second hand or renting clothing is one of the most effective ways to reduce your climate footprint when it comes to fashion. Investing in high quality clothes that you truly love is also important, as you will be less likely to send them to landfill after a short period of time.

But changing your shopping habits is difficult, particularly if the highlight of your weekend as a teenager was a Saturday afternoon visit to Topshop. Or, maybe you have come to rely on next day delivery to ensure you have a new outfit to wear each weekend. Either way, it can be difficult to kick your shopping habits, even if you’re aware of the negative effects they’re having on the planet and your bank balance.

“It’s definitely possible to retrain yourself to become a more conscious consumer,” says Emma Slade Edmondson, a consultant who helps businesses to improve their social and environmental impact. 

Emma, who has honed her personal shopping habits and approach to fashion over time, adds: “You can find the joy in not consuming and the more you practise it, the more rewarding it is.”

Changing the way you shop can change your mindset towards life, and vice versa, according to Molly Benjamin, the founder of the Ladies Finance Club. “Spending is often the side effect of something else going on – we might be bored or unhappy,” Molly says. This is part of the reason why changing your shopping habits has to be a long term commitment.

Shakaila Forbes-Bell, a fashion psychologist, has conducted research into how buying new clothes affects our brains and self-esteem and she confirms that “clothes have a significant impact on our moods, desires and identity and they can change the way people perceive us.”

Shakaila explains that there are five key elements motivating people to shop. 

Shakaila Forbes-Bell headshot
Shakaila Forbes-Bell is a fashion psychologist.

What motivates us to shop, according to Shakaila

A need to express ourselves

Clothes and fashion allow people to signal their identity and to communicate themselves to others. Consumers don’t just purchase clothing – they purchase lifestyles.

A need to belong

Humans are incredibly social creatures and when we dress according to fashion and what’s popular, we showcase that we belong to a group which is a way to form bonds.

A natural response to persuasive stimuli

Shops and e-commerce are designed to connect to our peripheral route of persuasion and this can be a key motivator when it comes to shopping.

Commitment to a belief

People showcase their beliefs through what they buy. For example, someone who is trying to live a more eco-friendly lifestyle might buy from a sustainable brand.

Emotional needs

Retail therapy can help people deal with negative feelings, even if it is short-lived. How long it lasts will depend on what you buy and the extent to which what you have bought aligns with your identity and beliefs. 

Molly Benjamin headshot
Molly Benjamin is the founder of the Ladies Finance Club

With our brains motivated to shop in so many different ways, you can probably see why reducing your consumption can be so difficult. So we asked Emma, Shakaila and Molly to share their advice on how you can improve your shopping habits on a sustainable, psychological and financial level. 

How to improve your shopping habits

Practise mindful shopping

Shakaila recommends that you ask yourself a number of questions before you start shopping:

  • What do you want to buy? 
  • What are you going to gain from it? 
  • Are you buying something because you’re feeling low and you want a pick-me-up? 
  • What are the long-term ramifications of your purchase?

According to Shakaila, you should never make an impulse purchase, as this doesn’t allow the brain time to process whether or not you truly care about an item.

“Be self-reflective,” is Emma’s advice when it comes to mindful shopping. “Is your want to shop a real need or is it a learnt behaviour?” Emma explains that shopping regularly is something most of us have grown up doing, so considering your background with shopping is very important to helping you change your relationship with buying new things.

Shop your wardrobe first and repair your clothes

Shopping your own wardrobe before you buy something new is a great way to tell if a purchase is something that will really add value to your life and the things you wear.

It can also be a creative act in itself, according to Emma. “Fashion is the desire to look a certain way and that’s about you – it’s not about the newness. Decouple the idea of newness from enjoying the art of creativity,” she advises, adding that the more time you spend with your own wardrobe, the better you’ll come to know your own style.

Molly recommends that you also learn some basic sewing skills so that you’re able to repair your own clothes, as this can save you money in the longterm and help you to appreciate the clothes that you own more.

Change the way you value your clothes

“Before you buy something, take into account what it costs (including maintenance costs) and divide that by the amount of times you think you’ll wear it,” is Shakaila’s advice for understanding the true value of an item. This might mean that expensive items will actually have better value if you’re going to wear them more.

However, if you are on a budget, second-hand shopping is a great option when it comes to buying new things, as it has a much lower environmental impact than buying new clothes does. “I have a shopping hierarchy. First, I’ll look to buy second hand and if I can’t find it there, I’ll look to rent before considering buying something new,” Emma says.

Second-hand shopping can be seriously rewarding and Emma says that she has learnt to “swap the joy of fast fashion for the joy of the find.”

Take some space before you buy anything

The best way to curb your impulse shopping habit is to rule it out altogether by never allowing yourself to buy something as soon as you see it.

Molly advocates a 24 hour rule with online shopping. “Keep it in your cart for 24 hours – if you’re still thinking about it after that time period, you can buy it,” she says, adding that waiting even longer can be more beneficial because the item might go on sale.

Shakaila recommends adding the things that you like to a mood board rather than buying them straight away. “Take a photo of a piece of clothing in a shop or pin something you’ve found online. This will give you ideas and inspiration and you can then come back to it later,” she says. 

Shakaila also suggests trying out made-to-order brands, where you may have to wait a few months between buying an item and receiving it. “This is a great method because you know you’re not just looking for instant gratification,” she says. 

Emma Slade Edmondson headshot
Emma Slade Edmonson is a sustainable and ethical fashion consultant.

Set yourself some goals

In order to become a more conscious shopper, you need to know what you want out of the things you buy and setting goals can be really helpful for this. You can start from a financial perspective by setting yourself a monthly shopping budget.

“A lot of people who overspend are people who don’t have goals,” Molly says. If you’re looking to start budgeting but don’t know where to start, she recommends the 50-30-20 method, where you spend 50% of your money on your essentials, like bills, rent and groceries, 30% on entertainment, eating out and shopping and 20% goes to savings.

You can also set yourself goals in terms of the kind of items you’d like to buy over the next month, year or find in your lifetime. This can help make second-hand shopping easier and it will also make you less likely to buy something simply because it’s a trend or marketed well. 

You can read more expert-led guides on Stylist.co.uk’s The Curiosity Academy.

The Curiosity Academy is Stylist’s new home for learning, packed with workshops, guides & video classes from the UK’s most in-the-know people.

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Images: Getty, Shakaila Forbes-Bell, Molly Benjamin, Emma Slade Edmondson

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