“We are living in a very strange, mad, bad world…Everything is so bizarre and strange and upside down. What we can do, is make our own bubble of colour and happiness…” Sue Kreitzman, Fashion Innovator at the Wearing Wellbeing Conference

East London in November never looked so colourful, especially with a chromophilic collective making their way to the first ever Wearing Wellbeing Conference by Old Street Station. Bustling with bold and beautiful designs, conversation was flowing with attendees keen to discuss their relationships with their clothes. However, this was more than a forum for fashion-lovers to share their passion, but an important opportunity to reflect on individual and collective consumer behaviours, and the future of the industry. Driven by perspectives from positive psychology and ethical journalism, there is a lot to learn about how fashion can affect our wellbeing and how we can make the industry healthy and sustainable for all.

For the individual consumer, dressing for pleasure can play an important role in how we feel. While this statement may seem intuitive, research into how our clothing affects our thoughts and emotions is still in its infancy. Researchers like Rebecca Smith and Carolyn Mair provide crucial initial steps into understanding our relationship with our clothing – not only as consumers, but as designers and innovators. Such research underlines the positive potential of our clothing. What we wear helps us to moderate our relationship with the outside world. Clothing can help to make us feel good and even manage our mood, and it seems to have an impact on making others feel good too.

However, dopamine dressing is far more dependent on the relationship we establish with clothing, rather than what we actually wear. Our expectation of our clothes as facilitators of wellbeing can make all the difference. Relationships with our clothing can be deep rooted, providing reinforcement through times of hardship, or acting as a memory anchor for people and places we hold dear. As designers, our relationship to our clothing becomes even more personal. The act of creating or tailoring a piece helps us to create further invisible ties to the garments we wear, and boosts positive connections between ourselves and these items.

Dressing for pleasure can play an important role in how we feel.

But living in a consumer-driven decade, perhaps some of these relationships have become lost. Fast fashion driven by social media, prizes the novelty of wearing new clothing more than the actual pieces themselves. This mindset has not gone unnoticed by the fashion industry, with innovations such as ‘clothes-for-rent’ being launched in retail outlets, with some success. As a result, consumers are no longer empowered to build bonds with what they wear, but consider garments as disposable commodities on a constantly replenishing production line, ready to be replaced. It would appear the intrinsic value of clothing has been lost on a generation.

As a collective, such high demand comes at deep cost. The dysregulated consumption of cheap, disposable clothing in such high quantities puts pressure on the industry to deliver, and has serious social and environmental consequences. As a as a labour rights and environmental journalist, Tansy Hoskins raises her concern regarding the ethics of how our clothing is sourced and the lack of sustainability for the current model. Demand comes at heavy toll for the people involved in the production our clothing. The utilisation of factories in developing countries in return for cheap labour means that workers are often vulnerable to unscrupulous practices or human rights abuses. Events such as the 2013 collapse of the Rana Plaza complex in Bangladesh leave a bitter reminder of these realities. So how can we ensure the clothes we are wearing, which are so enjoyable to wear, are also enjoyable for the people that are making them?

Perhaps a little bit of positivity could go a long way.

Perhaps a little bit of positivity could go a long way. Reminding younger generations of the true value of clothing may help to produce more conscientious shoppers, and motivate them to make more thoughtful fashion decisions. Moreover, it might empower them to consider their own individual style, and the contribution they can make to their outfits. Evidence suggests that by building these relationships with our clothing, we can slow down the act of consumption. This slower, more conscious consumption could help to alleviate demand, and inspire us to make wiser decisions about where our clothes come from. So perhaps the way forward is education and inspiration for all, moving back to practices that made fashion so special for previous generations. There are different ways to wear our clothes, but let’s wear them with wellness.

To learn more about Wearing Wellbeing have a look at the group’s Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1846342565680625/

Image courtesy of Richard Kaby.

About Sasha Walton
Sasha approaches discussions on fashion with a psychological slant. With a BSc in Psychology and an MSc in Neuroscience, she is keen to get to the crux of how fashion affects our thoughts and behaviours. At the heart of her writing, she aims to discuss more about how we can become more conscious consumers and the role of that Psychology plays in our understanding of the industry.