Why do you crave that fast fashion fix?

We all know that fast fashion and over-consumption is bad for the planet - so why do we do it? Our co-founder (and resident neuroscientist!) Louise Weiss shares her perspective on what drives our shopping habits – and how we can overcome this toxic addiction by finding a new way to get our fix (one that doesn't cost the earth).

I’ve always been driven to understand what motivates us.  It’s what drove me to train as a neuroscientist, and it gave me the deepest insights into how our brain and behaviours are intrinsically linked. Our brain shapes our behaviour,  and our behaviour shapes our brain.

If we’re serious about creating any kind of shift in our shopping habits we can’t just focus on behaviour. We have to understand the neuroscience behind it all. As both the Co-Founder of dotte (a sustainable fashion business) and a trained neuroscientist, I felt like I had quite a unique combination of perspectives to try to shed some light on this.

So, here are four reasons why our brain craves that fast fashion fix, and how we can overcome this toxic addiction.

1. Our brains are hardwired to seek out the new.

Neuroscientists call it 'novelty preference' and - from an evolutionary perspective - it's pretty important. It means we pay attention to things which could potentially be a threat (or an aid) to our survival.  

It's an old brain system that is perfectly exploited in today's buy, buy, buy culture. Look, a shiny new thing! Gotta have it. We can't help the urge to buy new stuff.

But getting your newness fix doesn't have to come box fresh. 'New to you' is just as good at satisfying those neural impulses. So next time you get the urge for a wardrobe refresh, try exploring reseller platforms instead, and let your brain bathe in the glory of something that's new to you, without the guilt.  

But here’s a disclaimer - resale won’t actually curb all your fashion fix urges! Every day sellers are loading their preloved items for you to peruse meaning there's a constant stream of new items up for grabs. One of the main pieces of feedback we've had about dotte is just how addictive it is. That's the novelty preference right there for you! 

2. We are social animals

It's how we have survived. It's fundamental to who we are and how our brain works.  

And it explains why shopping (at least in the pre-COVID era) was something we enjoyed spending so much of our time doing. Why? Because all that socialising while we shop gives our brains a nice dose of oxytocin and dopamine. Chemicals which make us feel connected and rewarded, and all round GREAT.

But alas, in this post- (or not-so-post-) COVID era the new reality is that shopping is no longer a social behaviour. It's you, on a phone, in your house. Nay so rewarding for the old noggin.  

This is where shopping on reseller platforms offers something unique; Connection. Finding a community of like-minded people who inspire you and share their wardrobe with you provides us with the opportunity to bathe our brains in feel good chemicals once more. We feel more connected in this oh-so-disconnected world we currently find ourselves in. It allows people to feel part of something, together.

Finding a community of like-minded people who inspire you and share their wardrobe with you provides us with the opportunity to bathe our brains in feel good chemicals once more. We feel more connected in this oh-so-disconnected world we currently find ourselves in. It allows people to feel part of something, together.

3. Immediate gratification over long term gains

While we know that good things come to those that wait, it's easier said than done. That's because the urge for immediate satisfaction is driven by ancient parts of the brain strongly linked to emotion and basic urges like hunger and sex. Powerful stuff.  

In contrast, the parts of the brain that help us wait patiently are relatively new (as far as evolution is concerned). The prefrontal cortex is one of the things neuroscientists believe propelled our evolution beyond that of the chimp and into the realm of the intelligent human. It's the filter that stops us embarrassing ourselves, and allows us to put the brakes on so we're not just constantly acting out all our basic urges.

But what has this got to do with fashion? When we're browsing sales where you can bag a pair of trousers for 99p it's hard to resist the temptation of fast fashion. Low, low prices mean our brains get to experience an immediate win, even though we all know the long game looks bleak. Fast fashion is one of the biggest contributors to the climate emergency.

When bargain prices are being rammed down your throat (or social feed) it's hard to kick the prefrontal cortex into gear and convince our brains to invest in the more sustainable brands that carry a heavier price tag.

That's why resale is a brain's delight. It satisfies our immediate need for the pleasure of bagging a bargain, whilst also giving our prefrontal cortex the opportunity to feel smug about shopping in a way that makes the survival of planet earth (and all of us on it) that bit more likely. Win, win.

4. We are creatures of habit

Habits are helpful to our brain because they are like cognitive shortcuts - saving us time and energy. But when habits form around something that isn't good for us (or our environment), then it's not great news.

Do you ever find yourself shopping at the same handful of shops? We are slaves to fast fashion largely because of habit. It's easier to buy our clothes from the same old places that have been making clothes in the same old way (polluting the same old planet) because we don't have to think about it. Change takes time and energy. And who has that?

And indeed shopping second hand can feel like a lot of effort at first, because you often need to know what you're looking for. It's hard to find anything beyond the brands you're familiar with. But reseller platforms that allow you to discover like-minded sellers provide an opportunity to become exposed to a much broader fashion landscape; to discover smaller, more sustainable brands; and to learn from each other and break out of fast fashion habits. Resale is a healthy habit, and one we should all be encouraging our brains to get into. Like brushing our teeth. Kind of.

 

There you have it. The neuroscience says it all.  Reducing the impact of fast fashion on the planet doesn’t just rely on corporations changing. It lies with us, as individuals. The more aware we are of the motivations behind our behaviour, the more equipped we are to notice bad habits, stop and consciously change the course of our behaviour.  

If you want to change your shopping habits we welcome you to join our movement at dotte. Enjoy discovering a different way to get your fashion fix - one that doesn't cost the earth!

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