15 Feb The World Is On Fire But We’re Still Buying Shoes
Surprise Subscription #26
“Oceans Were The Hottest Ever Recorded in 2022, Analysis Shows”
“Twelve European Countries Broke Temperature Records in 2022”
“Human Toll of Deadly US Storm Grows in ‘Blizzard of the Century’”
As much as we here at do you read me?! believe in the power of positive thinking, it is a difficult thing to do when these are just a sampling of headlines from the past few weeks. To be sure, when confronted with the cold hard reality of an era of environmental crisis and geopolitical instability, it sometimes feels as if the simplest tasks require a healthy dose of courage, resignation, and gumption. All of these mounting anxieties need to be assuaged; and the only thing that can do it is…perhaps a new handbag. Or maybe those nice boots you have had your eyes on? Or why not an entirely new wardrobe!
February’s Surprise Subscription choice, The World Is On Fire But We’re Still Buying Shoes, zeroes in on this peculiar (and peculiarly human) response to the stresses of living in the Anthropocene, exploring the vicious circle of consumerism and environmental destruction from the under-explored angle of how people shop for clothes. In it, the author Alec Leach–a former editor at the streetwear media brand Highsnobiety–explains how major fashion corporations strive to make it so that something as simple as a sweater can be consciously fetishized into a potentially valid source of spiritual enlightenment.
To present this enriching book in finer detail, we asked Alec Leach to answer a few questions:
You worked as a fashion editor for Highsnobiety, a platform known for hyping drop culture. What made you change your mind and quit your job?
There wasn’t one particular moment, I just got really exhausted from all the non-stop newness — fashion is a pretty brutal industry to work in, and being on the front lines of it all just got too exhausting. At the same time things were getting so bad in the world that it became really hard to ignore just how scary things were looking, so it felt like the right time to take a step back and do something a bit more meaningful.
On your very popular Instagram account, you have already spoken extensively about the dangers of consumerism. What made you decide to write a book on the subject?
Consumerism is the elephant in the room on sustainability. Everyone talks about organic cotton and recycled polyester, but people don’t question why we buy so many clothes in the first place, and that’s a really important question to ask as making new things is the biggest source of pollution and carbon emissions in fashion.
We have all heard how destructive the overproduction of fashion is, how exploitative the industry, how devastating the mountains of discarded clothing are to nature, and yet we continue to buy. How does the fashion industry’s marketing machine manage to make us forget everything we know and keep drawing us in?
Fashion plays with so many existential themes — and I talk about this a lot in the book — that it becomes so tightly connected to our sense of self. Our clothes are one of the first things people notice about us, and it’s just really really hard to stop feeling excited by clothes just because you know it’s bad.
What should a responsible person do now? Buy sustainable fashion? Buy second hand? Not buy anything at all? What might a healthy relationship with clothes look like?
There’s no black and white answer, it’s not like you can buy this or that kind of product and everything will be fine, we really just need to buy less clothes generally — that’s the most effective way of reducing your impact as a consumer, and it’s also the simplest and easiest to remember. The point I make in the book is that it’s also an opportunity to really take a step back from all the trends and hype, as that’s just a really unsatisfying way of relating to fashion in the first place. Clothes deserve to be worn for a long time!
Do you have any books or articles you can recommend on this topic?
I did a lot of reading around philosophy and consumerism, Alain De Botton’s Status Anxiety and Johann Hari’s Lost Connections were really helpful, in terms of sustainability I do most of my reading from industry publications, newspapers and just speaking to people — it’s a more ongoing process than just reading this or that book. I still love fashion though, and I can always find something really cool and inspiring in a great print mag, like INDIE, Fantastic Man or Marfa Journal. Just because I’m critical of the industry it doesn’t stop me from being really excited and inspired by what people create!
Thank you, Alec!