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Living in a permanent state of cognitive dissonance

Hurray! In 2023, we can wreck both human rights and the planet and open pop-up stores all over the world. If like SHEIN, the steamroller of the ultra-fast fashion, you have a taste for forced labour and liberal use of sanitary and environmental norms: you can have your polyester cake and eat it too. A regrettable standard in the fast fashion industry.

What’s more mind-boggling is that as pop-up stores have opened, petitions against them have flourished. In France more successfully than elsewhere, with over 250k signatures. The debate rose. Both pop-up stores and petitions met some success and went. And now what?

In the great scheme of things, SHEIN is only a slim tree that hides a forest of contradictory injunctions that force us to live in a constant state of cognitive dissonance. Cognitive dissonance is the gap we experience when: what we desire, who we think we are and what actually happens are misaligned.

Here goes the dissonance gap in glistening numbers:

In the UK, the apparel market was worth 55 billion in 2022, less than in 2021 and it is projected to reach 65+ billion by 2026. Meanwhile, the average adult has not worn 25% of clothes in their wardrobe in a year or more (a market well worth expanding). Fortunately, sustainability pushes back. ‘Textiles 2030’ initiative has seen more than 100 clothing organisations pledge to halve the greenhouse gas emissions of new products by 2030… Which kind of begs the following question: How? How can a market expand by 15 annual billion, while reducing their carbon emissions by half? The dissonance is deafening.

It’s not all on the sellers, with 38% of people buying 11 to 20 items during an average year, the average household of 2-3 people likely buys as many items of clothing as they buy boxes of eggs each year.

Despite some redeeming trends such as the rise of secondhand clothing markets with the rise of apps such as Vinted or Depop. Or, expanding the lifespan of wardrobe with jeans, for example, being kept for an average of four years in 2021 compared with three years in 2013. Wiggling through these proofs of customer behaviour of goodwill, let’s remember that clothing is somewhat of a flag for the economy of permanent desire. To exist and be more alive, we must buy more. A phenomenon called Emotional (or psychological) obsolescence and you know that if psychology researchers had the time to:

  1. Justify the funding and be successful in their grant application

  2. Do the research, to the extent that the model holds, and the theory can spot a pattern worth putting a name on

  3. Publish the data, through a strenuous (and desperately slow) peer-review process

  4. Get that paper out and get the press talking about it

We’re in deep trouble.


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