I’m a reformed fast fashion abuser, where to from here?

There’s a term for people like me*. Once we learn something, we can’t unlearn it. It’s like when I discovered one of my all-time favouritist pleasures included unsustainable palm oil. I just couldn’t consume it anymore. Ditto fast fashion.

The system by which we consume is broken. We are encouraged to get out there and buy, buy, buy. Those fortunate enough to get their first jobs, know the exhilarating rush it is to be able to get out there and participate in consumption, tracking down the latest micro-seasons trend, bringing it home and wearing it until the next new trend comes along. Consumption has become a hobby, its become a panacea for people’s feelings (hello, I’m looking at you ‘retail therapy’), a mindless habit, a solution for problems that we could otherwise use imagination, ingenuity or borrowing, a product of thoughtlessness (looking at you disgusting baby wipes and disposable nappies) or laziness (looking at you fast food). Everyone is at it.



It wasn’t always like this though. For most of human history people had little and what they did have was passed through generations, reused and repurposed. Clothing and most goods in people’s homes were expensive. At the end of the lifecycle, because the goods were made of natural products it could be broken down.

Prior to fast fashion ramping up in the post war era, around the 1960s, the methods of production, but also the living memory of the need to be frugal with money and resources meant that people had less. These generations (let’s face it, probably women) had skills to make things last, they aired their clothes, they wore clothes multiple times before washing it, they could repair or alter clothes. Make do and mend was the motto. Although I certainly don’t envy these women on many fronts (including early washing machines or that medieval torture scrubbing device) I do envy them the capabilities and self-reliance that the production system encouraged. Things were made by hand and often close to home (or even in the home). The cost of production was borne close enough that the cost of purchase was acceptable, particularly if you knew you were going to keep that coat for a decade.


I couldn’t find a figure for comparison in Australia, but in 1930 the average American woman owned nine outfits but now, women in the USA buy on average 60 new items per year. Australians are the world’s second largest consumers of textiles, buying on average 27 kilograms of new clothing and other textiles each year, most of which is produced abroad, and contains synthetics that leech out through the wash, or cannot break down in our lifetime. It’s estimated that there has been about a 400% increase in the consumption of clothing over the last two decades globally. Hidden from this is that most garment factory workers couldn´t hope to afford the garments that they produce on the wages they are paid. Not to mention the horrifying conditions. Also hidden is that fashion is the second biggest polluter….


Source: https://www.ellenmacarthurfoundation.org/publications/a-new-textiles-economy-redesigning-fashions-future

The thing that is really heartbreaking in all this is of the 100 billion garments manufactured, with the attendant environmental and human toll is about 50% of these goods will be disposed of within the year.  With that largesse, charity stores cannot possibly get this out their doors (because everyone’s already buying more new clothes), so what happens – third markets (closing down local producers) or landfill (where the synthetics prohibit them from breaking down). And don’t think that the majority of luxury branded items are any better than high street cheap brands. They know that they need to keep up with the demand and that reducing costs, whilst keeping higher prices that used to indicate quality and care in the supply chain, means more profits.

When I first started working, I had just returned from my first stint in Tonga, a formative experience where I understood for the first time deep in my bones that not all people lived like where I grew up in suburban Victoria. I had taken mostly op-shopped clothes with me to Tonga, to fit with the dress code that had been described to me by well-meaning previous travellers to the Island Kingdom. I lived within my means and bought little. When I returned to Australia, I was a nomad for a while, interning first in Western Australia and Sydney, and had no money for anything.

Come 2012, and my first, full time, fully paid job. I had it made. All of the sudden I felt a subtle pressure on me to “look the part”. Confession, I did not continue my op shopping ways and neither did I carefully peruse the racks for the “perfect capsule wardrobe that would last forever”. I had money, but not enough to be fussy, or so I thought. I ended up consuming a lot of fast fashion, which was “good enough” for me. I became known for having “lots of clothes” and that I had “good taste”, see early notes on this blog for evidence. I loved the self-expression that fashion afforded me and pursued this to the detriment probably of my living space, my storage and to the environment. I was limited in many ways by clothing companies that would sell to me which had shady AF supply chains, but I hadn’t done all of the reading on that yet. I read about the awfulness of the Rana Plaza disaster, but felt confused about what it was that I could do about it.

It was not until that I really deeply understood my feminism (I’ve always been a feminist, but it wasn’t cool to launch at your friends in 2003 for participating in the debutante ball, and I only really came to grips with active liberation feminism later) that I understood that in order to be a proud feminist I had to go beyond what it meant my own narrow life, and think about how my actions were continuing to perpetrate harm on other women.

Couple this with the massive amount of personal upheaval that putting our household on a low-waste pathway and there was a lot of thinking to do indeed. In 2017-18 I consumed all the books and articles that I could that talked both about the environmental and ethical impacts of modern capitalism, and came to the conclusion that I would work to not be complicit. It’s a process and I’m not going to have a tiny jar of waste anytime soon, but it really made me think. It’s made me read and reflect on minimalism, fashion, the food industry and a simpler life.  Like most, I started with looking at the stuff I had, and slowly but surely, we’ve been repurposing things that no longer serve us, replacing things we do need with better alternatives and generally slowing our roll on consumption.

When I have seen the outpouring of stuff in the latest wave of Marie-Kondo cleaning (the first wave was impressive when the book hit the Australian stores too), I fill myself up with compassion for these people who are inspired about their living spaces. I have been there, looking at the piles of stuff, for me it was clothing, but who knows what the poison is for others. My worry is that people are focusing on the decluttering but not the process and the system in which their clutter was produced. There is no point in doing a weekend of decluttering, just in order to find more ways to consume more stuff. I wish that social juggernauts like this educated people on the whole lifestyle of their things. If we all slow our roll on consumption at the beginning and ask for better transparency about where the “things” come from, who made them, from what and how is the waste managed, consumers can push back on fast corporations to change their practices.


What I haven’t figured out yet, is how do I reconcile my love for clothes and accessories, with the feeling of self-expression it gives me, with all of this? I’ve got part way there, but I’m still not immune to the gentle nudge toward consumption.  At this stage, its meant taking much better care of what I do have, constantly checking in on myself “I have plenty” and being really thorough in when I assess my upcoming needs. I allow myself to browse op-shops freely, but I have removed shopping as a leisure activity. When something breaks or becomes unrepairable, I check in, whether I “need” to replace it or whether I “want” to replace it. If it’s the former, I research the best possible option. Then I use my own personal “bird cardigan” measure. Once, I had procrastinated on buying a lovely red bird cardigan, not once but twice, but it haunted me. It eventually came back on sale, and I got it and have loved it since 2014. If I’m going to buy something now, it has to both pass the ethics and environmental test, but also the bird cardigan test. All of which is to say, this shit is hard but essential.

What can you do?

  • Take better care of what you do have, learning skills to keep the things you do for longer.
  • Be considerate of where your waste goes, and picture that moment of disposal next time you pick something up in the store.
  • Take a look at the brands ranking on Good on You, before purchasing (there is literally an app for that).
  • Unpack whether you actually need a thing, or whether its about self-expression, feelings, status or boredom. Go do something fun instead!


Great books you could read:

  • Wardrobe Crisis by Claire Press: it was the first time that I really understood the enormity of the supply chain and the many many issues with it. Just so well researched. I felt a bit sad about it all at the end, so have a good fluff book to enjoy afterwards. Sad is ok though!
  • Give a Sh*t: Do Good. Live Better. Save the Planet by Ashlee Piper: A really aces book that introduces sustainability and ethics in a way that doesn’t feel overwhelming.
  • Slow by Brooke McAlary: unpacking what it means to live slower and reject the pace. It wasn’t all relevant for me as a DINK but I really appreciate that she’s out there thinking about how we can reject the Joneses. I listened to her podcast in my 2017 Tonga stint and I reckon it may have hyped me up for the low waste challenge.


*If anyone can tell me what the term is THAT WOULD BE GREAT! I’ve read something somewhere about this in a psychology article but I couldn’t re-find it.


Of voyeurism, selfies and feminism in friendship

Trigger Warning: Discusses suicide and depression. If you need help, please reach out to Lifeline Australia on 131114 or an appropriate service provider in your home country. 

Lately, I’ve been contemplating the changing ways in which our world is shaping and presenting lady friendships (I talk lady friendships as that is my lived experience and I can’t really know what being inside a male friendship is like*). It strikes me, that there are two perhaps linked social trends that impact the way people are now conceptualising friendship:

  1. Our friendships are now performative, with people posting where they are, who they are with and what they ate. This is enabled by technology platforms. Gone are the pop-ins or the mundane activities of our grandmothers, we must be seen to be performing our friendships for the voyeuristic peeping toms of social media. We edit out the dull and mundane, or the deep and meaningful for the fun photo in a unique locale eating something rainbow coloured. #guiltyascharged
  2. Others have written how high profile celebrity female friendship is providing an alternative to the celebrity couple. The issue there, is not just that we continue to idolise a narrow group of people (which tend to drawn from a narrow homogeneous pool of the privileged, wealthy and beautiful), but also that we are conceptualising friendship as though it should be a romance, that one person will complete your needs in a deliberately exclusive club of two.

I think that the latter is powerful as it provides an alternative to the notion that women cannot be friends, that we are competitors for the love of men (pffft! What a prize). However the idolisation of celebrity, who are humans who ultimately have the same foibles and failures as the rest of us less manicured types, inevitably leads to analysis of this friendship through pop culture tropes of green eyed monster breakups (they’re jealous women!), competitors for love, frenemies and squads (which are exclusive and often replicate narrow social strata with the exception sometimes of the minority hire).

I’ve written before about the myriad benefits of friendship so I’m not going to rehash that here (health, well-being, networks etc). What I’m concerned with here are how these two trends are intersecting in changing the ways in which women (and men) relate to each other and the messages that the commodified version of friendship, where friendship is now on the market, as we ostentatiously consume for the viewing of others, and also (sometimes unwittingly) sell our data and relationships to services.

friendship 1

I think what troubles me is the commodification of something that is infinitely more complex than six dozen selfies with your #bestie would suggest. Although I think it’s positive that women are taking back friendship we should also remain critical of social trends that would reduce us to a series of check-ins and hashtags. Doing so plays into the trope that we are frivolous and without depth, and that is not the lived experience of women. (My favourite phrase lately is “that is the lived experience of women which is discounted by the patriarchy”. I offer you this for any time a mansplainer gets up your nose.)

Long held beliefs were that friendship was the domain of men, to discuss important matters and perform social rituals outside of the home, which improved ones chances of economic, social and even political success.  I read a great book lately called “Text Me When You Get Home” which observed, that historically friendship was conceived as the sole purview of men (let us be clear we mean wealthy, land-owning men), to discuss high minded ideas. It was suggested that women would have bonds of a type suitable for their role in society, within the home. They might be able to enjoy an afternoon of sewing in someone’s home, but the things they would discuss would be on the home front, rather than ideas or kinship of a grander nature. This placing of women in the less important and intelligent home domain, for those playing along at home, is not unique or surprising.

This notion of friendship is influenced by the gender and class understandings of leisure time. As women and men performed their roles in more gendered spaces with industrialisation, the typical reliance on community and the more flexible understanding of the roles of people in the community changed. With industrialisation, we moved away from conceiving our roles as with the seasons where the roles of men and women may have been more elastic, where gender was less important than the intensity and timeliness of completing the task e.g. planting and cropping. Industrialisation made our roles and the gendered domains of home and work more inelastic. For the lower classes it encouraged the gendering of workforces and industries. Class and gender, during this time solidified who had access to leisure time. Compounding this, is the segregation of domains and activities.

friendship 2

This pervasive set of ideas that informs our notions of friendship today. Compare the prototypes of women shopping, gossiping, swapping recipes, to prototypes of men, out in the world, doing stuff, building stuff we still see on advertising, the content of magazines and television shows. Stereotypes of gossiping, bitchy women, have their genesis in these ideas of women being small minded and lacking intelligence, concerned with interpersonal rather than larger issues. Furthermore, on online platforms and micro-websites/blogs, lifestyle, home, cooking and fashion is dominated by women, who are performing both their gendered roles, but also are participating in a commodification of relationships (again the woman’s game) with each blogger seeking to make their brand authentic and working hard to capture the attention (and therefore ad revenue) of readers by being “internet friends”, with chatty prose. I love a couple of these sorts of blogs and this is not a critique of them but the system that they operate in.

Beyond this, reclaiming friendship as a source of power, support and networks in a system not designed for their needs is a positive trend. Using the internet to enhance and expand these links is also beneficial. But thinking that this is some sort of “girl power” all grown up, hides a myriad problems, principally that women’s access to leisure is seriously impeded, with most women doing the majority of unpaid care and housework globally. Enhanced online presence has given many people the ability to connect, to create and to build networks for support. However, often it results in mindless scrolling and passive updating in our friends lives with little nourishment or actual connection. With the limited leisure time women have, me time is shoved at the end of the day and relegated to voyeuristic looking into others lives rather than connecting with friends over cups of tea (which I believe is where the good, intimate meaty stuff happens).

Last month, after reading a number of books and articles both about the use of data, but also the physiological impacts of technology addiction, I made the decision to deactivate one of my social media accounts. I haven’t yet deactivated the second platform, but I take regular breaks now, deleting the app off my phone for days at a time, or only installing it to upload something. There has been a few interesting observations about the quality and nature of my friendships.

Have you defriended me?

People have thought I have “defriended” them, despite not messaging or interacting with me on the platform in a really long time. Passive friendship isn’t quality friendship. It’s not enough to consume other people’s data and throw a like at it. This doesn’t provide the meaningful support or human interactions that we crave. The people I speak to regularly are the ones that I’m more likely to be vulnerable with, share the mundane with and feel a genuine sense of connectedness with. Regularity is really a level determined by the two people in that friendship and the nature of their friendship, as I’ve got friends who I hear from every few hours, to others that I’ll only hear from once every few years. There is room in life for all sorts of friends but its important that there is a common understanding of the role you have in each others lives and what you can reasonably bring to a friendship.

Your algorithm is broken dude

I don’t miss it and I realise how frustrated I had become with being constantly being the target of misshapen advertising (how hard is it to get the algorithm right, show me PhD programs not tedious advertisements for fertility treatments). I realised how much of the platform had tricked me into sharing over the years and had created a picture of me, and my friends, that could be used by advertisers. As a more conscious consumer, with increasingly strong views on where my money goes, I was becoming increasingly frustrated by this (poorly) targeted advertising.

Improved quality of life and connections

I feel less stressed, and I can return to enjoying quality time with people who do make an active effort to be in my life, or doing activities like reading or writing. Talking about wanting to, but not being able to write (or a myriad other hobbies that I find enjoyable) whilst whiling away time online was profoundly inconsistent.  Furthermore, I’m more present in my relationships, whether it be in person, on the phone or online. I am better at reaching out, being present and asking quality questions with people. #presentnotperfect

Some people have fallen off the radar

There have been people, where we’ve been in a voyeuristic loop where our only connection is online and it’s very passive. Whilst I would always want to keep in touch with people who I like, the effort of doing so must be to a certain extent, be reciprocal. I am becoming clearer who only really engaged in my online life as just another feed, or only when I reach out. Good friendship needs a certain amount of reciprocity, and unfortunately I’m now at this age where people’s priorities have shifted towards babies and home lives, and there is simply only so many times where I can extend an invitation, call or message without any reciprocity. Just a simple response, which shows a modicum of interest is now the minimum standard for friendship. I get it, that it’s hard to relate to someone who makes different choices than you, but it’s impolite to not respond or fail to do the basic levels of welfare checks. There’s excellent studies (that I’ll analyse next) on the social isolation of childfree women between 25-50 who make up only about 11% of the population. If I’m reaching out to you, it’s because I care about your welfare (not to say that I speak to every single person all the time) and I would always try and respond in a timely way, in a way that would be authentic to my relationship with that person and their interests.

friendship 3

Bringing it back to my original two observations I think that social media makes it too easy to be passive in our relationships, but also quite ostentatious in our public declarations of friendship and love, which can only serve to make us feel disconnected as “everyone else” is out there loving each other. This is further compounded by the treatment of celebrity women friendship, the lifestyles of whom, regular joelettes cannot hope to attain, without a major injection of funds and free leisure time. Our consumption of these friendships and their brands, is part of a clever branding strategy aligned with the interest to consume products and services in the hope that we would achieve the level of glamour and beauty that is part of fame. By mimicking their behaviour online, with duck faces, filters and poses we ape the branding in the hope that its glamorous sheen will make our friendships and lives more enticing and clickable. But for what end?  My observation is, that in an increasingly connected world, more and more people are lonely, and this feeling of loneliness and isolation, has been shown to be made worse by social media, which shows others highlights, whether they be famous others or your friends you wish you were with. We need to reclaim friendship and use these tools, as tools for enhancing our relationships, rather than being the defining feature of our relationships.  Like everything in life we need to be active participants rather than passive recipients.


*Note: I will make a general statement however, that studies do show that boys and young men are taught to view each other as competitors and also conceptualise friendship in relation to activities done together, whereas girls are often taught to monitor the feelings of others, and are encouraged to cooperatively play in modes emulating the women in their lives. Generally women are socialised to have skills that help them connect more deeply and process difficult emotions with others, whereas forms of masculine friendship trap men into an ideal of friendship that leaves them socially and emotionally isolated.

Anecdotally, the men I know have less friends than the women I know and it seems the quality of those conversations can be difficult around touchy subjects, as neither has been socialised towards processing emotions and embracing vulnerability.  A study by Beyond Blue found that men have more difficulty connecting  to each other at an emotional level than women, and that 25% of Australian men between 30 and 65 had noone outside their immediate family that they could rely on and that 37% of survey participants were not satisfied with the quality of their relationships, often feeling they were not emotionally connected or supported.

Deprived of the physical and mental benefits and social inclusion offered by friendship, it is one of the factors leading to the very high rates of male suicide in Australia. According to Lifeline, three times as many Australian men die by suicide than women. In 2016, there were on average 41 male deaths by suicide each week. That’s six in a day, or one every four hours. Studies note, that the high rates of Australian men who suicide is also partly linked to tightly held beliefs and attitudes about masculinity, the “Australian man” prototype and social reinforcement of the tough guy. We need a society that encourages boys and men to also be freed from gender roles and stereotypes than can harm them*

Feminism, Fatness and Minimalism, an unhealthy relationship

“Do you think we’ve just got to that age where we’ve accumulated so much crap that decluttering is having a moment?”

I took a moment, took in a breath and thought well yes, but what a Pandora’s box of a question. Our peers, are decluttering, heading to the local op shop in droves, with piles of stuff accumulated in closets, under beds and in “crap” drawers. We’re talking about how less stuff makes us feel calmer at dinner parties, or that ubiquitous meal, brunch.  Each individual sheds their bags and bags of stuff, trying to varying degrees to lovingly (or not) find somewhere for this unwanted stuff to live, if it isn’t with us. Its closing time, and I’m sorry mis-purchased products, you can’t stay here.

Our peers have been working at this point anywhere between 5-10 years and our stuff is a statement of where we find ourselves in our economy. We work hard, often longer hours with slower progression than our predecessors. We are bogged down by student debts (though less crippling here in Australia, but definitely growing with each generation) and slower, more insecure entry into the workforce  coupled with rising living costs and stagnating wage growth; we buy short term because bigger #adulthood purchases are harder and harder to come by. Like kids who can really only afford lollies with our pocket money, we can afford cheap and cheerful unicorn slippers from Kmart  (#noregrets). There is no barrier to entry and so well hidden are the environmental and human impacts of these purchases from our place in the market, we take a drag on the cigarette of capitalism and breath a contented sigh of relief (apologies for the overwrought language, but like cigarette companies, fast fashion and lifestyle stores count on our addictions to get us to continue to consume).


The Decluttering movement, and its big brother Minimalism to varying extents seek to reframe our relationship with stuff. Decluttering requires us to rid ourselves of belongings that no longer serve the needs of the owner. The remaining belongings are to be carefully organised, perhaps requiring a couple of trips for special organising boxes and “tidying” paraphernalia. Minimalism, gets a bit deeper into it. Yes it does encourage people to jettison and consider what items they need to live their best life, requiring some sort of decluttering process. It then gives a big walloping dose of pop psychology, asking people to believe that by doing that, they’ll make more room for the things that are important, more passion, more life. It recognises that people have been using the stuff as a way to variously entertain and hide from feelings; creating debts that need servicing, shelves that need tidying and a sense of stress and unease.

Minimalism and decluttering both treat the symptom (crap), and to some extent consider the cause (a fast paced production, marketing and consumption machine), but it doesn’t necessarily ask us to think about how different individuals might be able to reframe their relationship with stuff. It doesn’t require newcomers to these ideologies of stuff to really get into why they have all this stuff and what hidden impacts the production and consumption are having on our world.

My holey jumper and chap-style jeans

As I’ve slowly being lovingly rehoming, or wearing out anything that was fine, in the effort to reduce the pure amount of stuff, I realised that big bags of donated clothes were a thing of the past. Sure, there has been a few big “culls” of misfitting, unloved or unsuitable clothes in the past, the stuff that is now being worn out and worn through (vale my only pair of jeans and favourite green jumper, both too holey to fix any further) I am keeping to wear out.

Why not pursue a capsule wardrobe? Why not just say, these last 20 or so items that are not my favourite or preferred choice can go? Well, because doing so, even though I would certainly achieve the end goal of less stuff would come at a huge cost into the future of searching and purchasing replacement items. Women over a certain size, like myself have to make do with a combination of clothing from a few retailers willing to dress us and basics from fast fashion stores. Very few ethically or environmentally made clothing companies produce clothing beyond a size 14. The next best option is op-shopping and clothes swapping which I do do, but that is both time consuming and often frustrating as you only find the cheap and pilly remnants of someone elses cheap fast fashion basics.

So I got to thinking, if I want to reduce the stuff, because it feels so much easier and better than drowning in choice and just ephemera of bad past fast fashion, but I don’t want to further implicate myself in problematic environmental and ethical practices, I can really only do one thing, and that is to wear out what I have for as long as I can, stitching, airing and caring for what I have.  For me, it makes most sense to just accept the sunk environmental, ethical and financial costs in my current wardrobe, and hope that by the time I actually need to replace products that there are options that fit the trifecta of fit, quality and ethics.

Feminism and Minimalism 

There seems to be a degree to which the onslaught of minimalism and decluttering has been gendered that I find problematic. The home has been squarely placed in women’s domain. Consumption and shopping are posed as womanly pursuits. There is a sense that by reordering and challenging these domains, by asserting authority over stuff (and their purchasers), there is a better, more masculine way of ordering our homes that is calmer, more serene, not manic or hysterical. The targets of minimalism (and I don’t think that any of its central proponents would have intended this) are the excesses from the pursuits women have been encouraged to participate in – decorating, home-making, and generally making ourselves (and our extensions of ourselves, home, husband and children) look lovely.  We are told both that we need to ensure that we (and our domains of control) should be decorative and beautiful, but also that we are wasting our lives by accumulating all this stuff, and isn’t life lighter and freer without it.

minimalist fem.PNG

Its similar in many respects to the observable gender disparity in the low or no waste community. Many of the proponents are women, which is amazing, and I thank them for their service and insights, but where are the men? It seems that in that case, women need to sort out the waste thing insofar as it occurs within the home. Many blog posts have comments like “how do I get my husband/male partner on board?”.  It places the onus only on women where we are really talking about systems of production of our food, clothing and lifestyle goods, that we all play a part in in various ways that needs everyone’s input.


Representation in Minimalism 

I think, that Minimalism has been presented as a glossy set of neutrals and whites, clean and exclusive, rather than this more pragmatic side of “how do I best serve my values”. It has created a version of the world that was clean cut, and sold exclusivity of a different kind. It does not represent the interests or life experiences of all kinds of people.  I Googled “minimalist” and “minimalism” images with the following results:


So who can participate in minimalism, if it is clean and neutral with high quality and often high tech products? The accoutrements are often sleek and lovely art and homewares, speciality design and a love for light pine. Googling minimalists more generally, brings up pages and pages of results for white, middle-class men who have shed their stuff and found new meaning. I live with only a backpack! I relied on the generosity of strangers! I have a small apartment!

Absent from these results are people of colour, women, people with a disability or other minority. Furthermore, poor people are either minimalists because it is all they can afford, or they can’t afford to be minimalists. Their lives, and the necessity of frugality means that keeping something “just in case” makes more sense than losing sleep in the future when some middling to average disaster does strike. The above examples, for underrepresented groups or the poor would be homelessness, accepting charity or overcrowded housing, which is not nearly as sexy.

It is the privileged who have comfort in discarding their unwanted goods.  They can afford to get rid of the stuff, because they can afford to pay to replace it at a later date. The removal for now brings them rest and ease. Without any deep thinking on why they are removing things from their lives, is likely to be a repeated performance. It might mean buying better quality things, scratching the same itch, with the same pipeline of product production and consumption. It doesn’t require adherents to question where products come from, what resources were used or who was doing the work (and in what conditions, for what pay).

Minimalism, if it leads people towards asking themselves these questions has the potential to transform our world, with greater demand on businesses to bring better made, repairable products, that serve the needs of people over the life cycle. The trickle down of these demands made by higher earning, more privileged purchasers, may see an improvement in the quality of products enjoyed by all, whether that be in the first or second hand market.

At the very least, I would love to see more realism and more representative viewpoints on minimalism. How does a person with a disability manage minimalism? How do the poor use it for a tool for empowerment? Can the women be a variety of sizes and shapes? Can we hear from couples of all kinds, about why and how they have adopted a simpler mindset?

Have you decluttered or minimised lately? Why did you do it? How do you feel it will change your behaviour into the future? 




Zero Waste living: six months in

On my return to Australia, I was conscious of all the small ways in which Western capitalist society was encouraging me to consume. I would walk down the street, passing shops on every street. I would see advertising bombard me from trucks, from cars and buses. Going into the supermarket was an overwhelming adventure, with bright colours and ten different types of the same product, just with screaming slogans proclaiming like a cheap street preacher that it was 100% tastier, sure to improve my gut health and probably make my hair curly.

I would go home, open my cupboards and these screaming products were there, reminding me where I got the thing, what brand it was, and how amazing it was for me or how tasty it was. This isn’t even to mention clothing, whose marketing machine was incessantly telling me I could be more fabulous if I only shopped for every micro-season that their problematic supply chain churned out faster than people could buy. I opened my wardrobe after living on about one and a half suitcases and was overwhelmed by the sheer quantity of things. I thought that I had pared this down before I left I said to myself. There was clothes in there that either aspirational Renee (she’s got problems and choices ain’t one) had purchased, or good enough but not quite right (a.k.a cheap) Renee had purchased.  Hidden amongst these not-loved riff-raff were the treasures that I’d lovingly purchased – a red lace dress purchased in Capetown that made me look like a sleek spy, the bird cardigan that I’d debated over for months (almost losing an eye and my best friend’s love for the length of the debate), my all purpose navy chiffon number that is great for both funerals and job interviews, my green wool knit that made my green eyes look greener and my fun giraffe jumper with sequins that make small people smile brightly when they see it.

zero waste 6 month 2

During my time away, I had ample time to think. Lots of solo walking and a bout of the mumps ensured that. I had observed on my island home, rubbish collecting on the beach, on the street, or being burnt by neighbours who couldn’t afford, or chose not to use the rubbish service. I saw the gleam in everyone’s eye for the new and shiny here too, fuelled by connections to the diaspora and social media in part. I realised I wanted to get off the stuff train, but didn’t really know how. I knew every time I bought a cheap pair of underpants, I was complicit in poor labour standards for mostly women textile workers in the global south. I knew that by buying synthetic materials, I was washing micro-plastics into the ocean. I knew that by buying packaged products from elsewhere I had participated in the compounding problems of both waste, marketing and a problematic supply chain with food miles, possibly unethical practices and preservatives that was making my gut bacteria wince every time I put those delicious chippies in my chip-hole.

I said to husband when I got home, I wanted to try and transition our home into a zero waste (or at least close to zero plastic home).  This decision had impacts beyond just our food or consumables. I experimented with lots of different aspects of changing our shopping and eating habits, some which have been stickier than others. Its made our meals more wholesome, and often simpler, its made our life less crowded, and sometimes it makes things annoying and inconvenient (hello dropping the frozen compost on the carpet!). Its made me almost paralysed by indecision about clothing. I love clothes, and as I’ve continued to pare down clothing that neither suits me or my lifestyle, I’m beginning to feel the knife-edge of wanting novelty, of wanting something new and shiny. Reframing that feeling, and telling myself that at one stage the bag of clothes that I’m re-homing, was once the salivating purchase of something new! interesting! different! is the only way I’ve been able to control that feeling. I’m trying to go as long as possible without engaging in consumption, but the embarr[ass]ing realisation that my pre-loved activewear pants were see-through is going to send me on a tailspin trying to find something ethical, sustainable and in my size!

The positive benefits are beginning to come to light. My cupboards are wholesome places where mostly glass jarred or the occasional (pre transition) tupperware containers store flours, spices, legumes, noodles, rice and pasta live. I still purchase a couple of things from mainstream stores, after the effort and cost overwhelmed me with the change of seasons – at the moment a tin of crushed tomatoes, husbands instant coffee, stock powder and cordial for our soda maker. Its calmer in there without the screaming. Our fridge, is deceptively empty most of the time, its door filled with a range of condiments in glass, and the precise amount of vegetables, protein (eggs and tofu) and milk that we need for the week. I refuse to throw away produce because I’ve bought too much anymore. I’d rather MacGyver a meal out of what we have, than overbuy. The freezer is the storehouse of the place. We buy in bulk what we can’t purchase from eco-friendly bulk stores where you re-fill containers. Our meat and fish consumption is very low, with one of our maybe twice a week meat based meals (usually a four serve meal for dinner and lunches) usually using an average one persons serve of meat, by utilising vegetables and legumes creatively. I make our own baked beans in the slow cooker and freeze them. I make curries and save one two-person meal in the freezer for a lazy day. Its about designing systems to prevent going to take-aways or going for convenience food at the supermarket. I’m happy to make treats out of our pantry, fridge and freezer, but we do sometimes have treats from the store and recycle their packaging.

zero waste 6 month 1

I have experimented over the last six months with making – crumpets, muffins, six types of bread,  barbeque sauce, cordial – most of which were a culinary success. But theres a balance. Spending four hours making bread a weekend, whilst fun, didn’t always work in Australia’s hot summer, and would limit my ability to participate in other (mostly community based) activities. Crumpets and muffins were better than store bought and freezable – so they are a win – but aren’t strictly necessary for the running of the house. They are going on my semester break bulk cook list. Barbeque sauce was put into separate glass jars and one is frozen ready for the next time I need it. Making my own ginger cordial was a success, but it was time consuming, labour intensive, used a lot of electricity and I’m not sure I trust the supply chain of the ginger enough, to repeat that performance. I refuse to make my own soy milk or tofu. Its too much effort and I’m not the ultimate pioneer woman living her life to milk a soy bean, and we simply don’t eat them enough. Like anything being extreme is a way to set yourself up for failure. I’m not aiming for perfection, I’m aiming for a balanced life where I can manage my responsibilities to myself, my relationships and my community and reduce my impact on the environment. I believe my impact needs to be in a venn-diagram between influencing others, personal responsibility and community action.

The products we purchase for our cupboard mostly now come from the Food Coop. I try and volunteer at the Saturday international kitchen once a month to participate in that community. Women from refugee communities cook the meal and we help prepare (peeling things, stirring things) and help serve (my favourite part) customers. The women get work experience in Australia and I have a delicious lunch, trying new cuisines. A few things come from privately run bulk shops like my premium coffee and snack type things. I’ve been trying to scratch the shopping itch by going to op-shops to fill voids. For example, one of my goals for greater connection, was to try and host monthly dinner parties, meant I was in need of some serving spoons and more plates. Twenty minutes at the op-shop meant I had all I needed for $14 and didn’t purchase anything new (and how flash to have intricate gold patterns on my plates). We purchased some produce bags and try and shop at the fruit and veg market (this doesn’t always work depending on scheduling) to reduce food miles.

This process has given me time. I don’t need to go shopping on the weekend. We don’t need to go and buy things when there’s nothing convenient in the cupboard. Its meant I can volunteer with the food coop, the RSPCA and a local theatre. I’m using my consumption time, to get out there in my community and build the world I want to see – less stuff, more animals and excellent theatre! Its made me re-trust my cooking skills and reaffirmed to me that I can try and fail. Its cheaper and less stressful, but its also fun to figure out how to get around consumption. Its opening up new conversations with people. Its also cheaper, through the combination of wanting less, using less and consuming less.

zero waste 6 month 3

I’ve been asked a couple of times by people for suggestions on how to get started. There’s a million and one zero wasters with glass jars of their last few years of rubbish on the internet. Their advice is good, but I think it builds it up to a point of perfection that leads to people feeling overwhelmed, and falling into the trap that they think that the whole process is so hard that they couldn’t possibly do that. Not everyone is a great cook, or has time, energy or start-up money to get started. Not everyone lives in a house with people who will be on their side and help out (the division of unpaid household labour is for another day folks!). I think there are some sensible steps:

Beginner (low cost, low conflict)

  1. Get a drink bottle. Take it everywhere. Fill er up. Try to only drink that, rather than popping in to get a sugary something in plastic when you`re thirsty.
  2. Stop using disposable plastic things: no plastic cutlery, no straws, no carry bags
  3. Get a reusable coffee cup and actually use it (don`t leave it at home) or make a rule that you sit in the cafe and drink it out of a real cup.
  4. Get a couple of reusable shopping bags to carry purchases in and leave one in your bag, your car and by the front door.
  5. Write a list of what you need (and why) before you go shopping. Its ok to need undies, its probably unnecessary to come out of Kmart with them and six new cushions, a cat costume and six new pieces of trash jewellery.
  6. Give up cling wrap. Use it up (or save it if you know you`ll make doughs where its necessary) and find ways to store food with reusables. e.g. Glass jars from pasta sauces = freeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!
  7. Set up a system to sort your waste. There`s issues with recycling in Australia but we shouldn`t give up! Sort your hard and soft plastics, educating yourself on what can and cant go into recycling.


Intermediate (a little cost, a little time, a little bit of conversation)

  1. Purchase or make some produce bags. Extra points if you support a small business or one that recycles materials (try etsy).
  2. Find some old facewashers or scrubby towels and make them into dishclothes that you wash weekly. (or go to etsy)
  3. Use up things in plastic containers that have nasty side effects – looking at you dishwashing and washing powders – and find some alternatives that work for you next time you shop. I love my soap berries and I`m happy with ecostore dishwashing powder. Next up is refilling our dishsoap at the coop.
  4. Toilet roll – who gives a crap
  5. Find alternatives for single use items – menstruation and makeup removal. I have zero waste options for both. Whatever works for you.
  6. Before purchasing something new, try and reframe what you already have. For example, at the moment I desperately want a black pleated skirt. I have many skirts. How can I pair things differently to come up with a new option?
  7. Beyond that, try and find pre-loved options for your needs. If its washable and hygienic is my motto. If not research options that are more ethical, local or environmentally friendly. Micro-businesses are the best way I reckon.
  8. Maybe join a buy nothing or zero waste facebook group in your community


Advanced (effort required)

  1. Set up a system of composting. For apartment dwellers like myself, find a friend with a compost or ring your community garden to see if (and what) they`ll accept your compost. We freeze our compost and once a fortnight take it to the local community garden.
  2. Start shopping at a bulk store. Reduce the number of things you think you need from mainstream supermarkets.
  3. Challenge yourself with new recipes that use simpler and fewer ingredients.
  4.  Go on a shopping ban for a certain period of time, and honestly clean out your closet and cupboards, finding new homes for things that no longer serve you. Reframe your relationship with shopping and stuff. Do your research, know your brands and understand that your choices have impacts.
  5.  Talk to others about why you`re trying something new. Encourage them (but not berate them) to try new ways of doing things.
  6. Read about slower living, minimalism, zero waste and challenge your assumptions, but also the writers assumptions. Like me, not all tips will work for your life and needs.
  7. Be willing to try and fail.
  8. Be generous of spirit, when faced with a smiling colleague with a takeaway cup for you.
  9. Think and act about how you can try and improve the community you live in. How can you help others? Is there a food pantry that needs help?
  10. Have polite conversations to challenge suppliers. I had a twenty minute chat with a supermarket manager about how their business could support me to continue to shop there.


Further Reading:

Stuffocation by James Wallman http://stuffocation.org/

Wardrobe Crisis by Clare Press (or her podcast) https://www.clarepress.com/podcast/

The Rogue Ginger`s Blog http://www.therogueginger.com/



Soul Soup over Pringles please – Social Media

“Please, please, please upload! Come on! You CAN DO IT! Yes, yes, yaaaaaaas”, I shouted excitedly at my rather nonplussed laptop screen. It, and the five geckos, seventeen thousand mosquitoes (who had been merely laughing at the mosquito coil and my repellent for the last five hours as they continued to snack on me) and the cat all seemed to be underwhelmed with this performance.

I’d been trying to upload my second last assignment of my Masters for about half an hour, by connecting my somewhat dodgy data on my phone to the laptop. After the frustration, the begging, the pleading it finally managed to connect and upload the assignment.

It got me to thinking how far the internet had come in creating opportunities and connections. As a millennial (lets not say much more about that) I grew up through the Internet’s progression from beeping modem to smartphone. My undergraduate degree was during the painful and not well executed introduction of online learning – an exercise in frustration if there ever was one. Now, I study online, apply for jobs online and connect online. Businesses and communities thrive in the internet’s digital environment.

As an adult, my experiences leaving home have each bought new ways to use technology. My first trip (almost 10 years ago!) to live for the summer beside Uluru, Myspace was still a little bit of a thing, no one I knew had a smartphone and Facebook was just starting to take off in Australia. I could text my friends back home for cheap and call my parents on a regular call. When I left for Sweden the following year, email and Skype were my best friends, with costs for international texts too exorbitant to consider doing. I even sent regular postcards to my folks. When I came to Tonga in 2010, Facebook provided me a great and cheap way to keep up with friends on their walls, but chatting hadn’t really taken off, but I usually used my local phone to text home. Now, I have data on my smartphone that can connect me instantly and cheaply through a number of applications like Viber, Whatsapp and Messenger to friends anywhere in the world, I can share images and links to my hearts delight and make video calls with ease (as long as the internet is cooperating).

Despite all this, the degree to which I have felt connected during these times, has been roughly the same. The quality of the connections we have digitally is not necessarily improving with the technology. Humans are driven for connection, but with the advent of technology that provides us instantaneous connection, we can get cheap thrills without much labour. A quick “like” here, a text there, people can feel like they are connecting to their friends without necessarily engaging at the level at which you would face-to-face, or even through correspondence like letters, where someones handwriting and scent could give you a tangible reminder of their connection to you.

This happens both due to our outputs and inputs online. My social media feed, which I have taken the explicit decision to be a place of positivity only and interesting (admittedly sometimes arcane) articles. I don’t exclude the unpleasant or the sad for the purpose of shaping a stylised life, but in order to reduce the negativity I put out into the internet. But the effect may be the same. Seeing pictures at the beach, the theatre, on holiday, with the occasional funny meme presents into the world a life lived with a sunny disposition. It hides the mundane, dreary or displeasing, for who honestly wants to take a picture or post about these things?  Further, who really wants to see them? I’ve had too many conversations where someones confessed, that they’ve stopped following a friend or acquaintance when their social media becomes too much like reality media. That’s why the clever kids over at Facebook invented the “unfollow”.

Image result for unfollow button image

In terms of our inputs, how often are we actively engaging with our friends online? Mindlessly scrolling through feeds gives you a ill-formed idea of what their life is like, but throwing a lol, a heart or a like in, is easy to “keep in touch”. Similarly, a quick text to say hi, without engaging in a conversation, is like knocking on the door, saying hello and walking away. The drive for human connection is a strong one, and our social media consumption gives us the impression that we are connected, when in fact, we may only be seeing a part of someones life, the highlight reel.

Connection is vital for our physical and mental health. To a certain degree, connection is the way that we have always had our needs filled before those needs were commodified. We needed others for shelter, for food, for warmth and for protection. Now we can sell our labour and purchase housing, food and a comfortable life. For the majority of human history, our family and friends, were co-located nearby and those connections were generally not commodified. This has changed in recent times, with the creators of Facebook, Snapchat etc successfully creating businesses and commodifying human connection, with relatively little backlash from their users, who still believe they are organically connecting. Its unclear to me, at what point social media will encroach too far into our lives, and when we begin to consume this with more consideration.

On the positive side, it creates the possibility to continue to extend the life of our friendships that would have otherwise faded into memory. This takes work still, but the ability to instantaneously contact my girlfriends around the world, glimpsing into their lives. This is most effective where we are able to chat frequently, sharing both the mundane and the special. These times are deeply nourishing, like a rich soup filled with vegetables, warming on a cool winters night.

On the negative, we spend a great deal of energy scrolling mindlessly, fooling ourselves into believing we are connecting. Most of us are indeed just bombarded with articles, memes and updates, where we get snippets of information. This is junk food, quick snacks to get us by between meals of proper conversation and connection. Its Pringles, delicious, addictive and ultimately unsatisfying.

Image result for pringle

Recently I have sought to institute a couple of different techniques to more mindfully consume social media, so that its less Pringle, more soul soup. I mean, like any snacking, its often easier to fall into the readily accessible hit rather than slaving over vegetables to create something more nutritious. But I think, like vegetables, spending the time consuming whats good for me creates the possibility of a better life, in which I’m more connected and ultimately happier.

Some techniques have included:

  1. Using a feed blocker – this means if I think of someone, I normally have to go and consciously look on their social media page, which feels a bit stalkery, so it normally turns into sending a message or reaching out in a different way.
  2. Removing the app on my phone from time to time to break the habit of checking mindlessly. This has the added benefit of focusing more on those whose company I’m currently in.
  3. When opening up social media, sending a message to couple of different people every day to let them know I’m thinking of them.
  4. Setting up group chats – its so much fun to get that blow-by-blow everyday experience of how things are going.
  5. Designing my days where I’m near decent internet to try and get on a video chat.

How do you consume social media? Do you feel its a Pringle in your life? 

On fast fashion part two #whomademyclothes

Quite accidentally I posted my most recent post about fast fashion in April, coinciding with a broader campaign  #whomademyclothes run by Fashion Revolution. This campaign inspired in part with the April 2013 Rana Plaza factory collapse in April 2013, which killed over 1100 people. The campaign seeks to highlight the social and environmental impact of the fashion industry, and seeks to engage people on these issues in informing their consumption choices. In 2016 alone, Fashion Revolution reached 195 million people online through its hashtag, and it is currently present in 95 countries.

The Rana Plaza collapse has been called “inevitable”. Bangladesh is the third largest exporter of garments in the world, accounting for about 75% of total exports (Donaghey & Reinecke). Currently the manufacturing industry employs over 4 million Bangladeshis (Reuters) across about four to five thousand garment factories. Eighty percent of 2.5 million garment workers are women who tend to be poor, illiterate and unaware of worker rights in national and international regulation. A great number of these workers are in secondary, less regulated markets in even poorer conditions, that supply larger factories, to whom stricter standards of conduct apply. International enterprises typically contract with larger factories, with little consideration of these smaller markets. This means that fashion is hurting women and the vulnerable most.

The two major responses to the collapse and its backlash, led by a coalition of actors within the global supply chain were the Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety (“Accord”) and the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety (“Alliance”), also respond to these broader forces. In some ways, these market-led responses were global responses to local solutions, illustrating the positive ways in which market actors seek to address issues within their supply chain.

These were in addition to several other initiatives led, by a range of business, worker and civil society coalitions including the Better Cotton Initiative, the Sustainable Apparel Coalition and the Ethical Trading Initiative, joining other global initiatives such as the Clean Clothes campaign, which seek to raise awareness and standards for those employed by the global garment industry. These civil society initiatives are touted as more democratic, flexible and responsive mechanisms that can supplement government and international regulation and market led initiatives. These seem to have little impact on the behaviour of contracted, and subcontracted factories, despite lip-service paid by international brands to end-consumers.

Thats all well and good, but what can I do?

1. Educate Yourself

Understand the supply chain of your clothing and the environmental and social costs associated with your consumption. Consider reading Slave to Fashion or watching true cost or Fashion Victims.

2. Be realistic about your consumption

As I noted in my previous post, the fashion industry (and capitalism) wants us to consume rather mindlessly to create ongoing consumers and profits. Understanding the difference between needing and wanting, is really important here. Consider doing a shopping fast/ban  like blogger Cait Flanders or the 333 Challenge as a way to kick start your personal shopping revolution. Last year, I focused on only replacing broken essentials (undies, socks, gym/swim gear, shoes, stockings). This year, I’m on a kind of 333 challenge, with a very limited wardrobe whilst on my assignment, where I’ve worked out that I really only need a very limited set of work and casual clothes.

Livia Firth, founder of Eco Age and Green Carpet popularised the #30wears test, wherein she asks at the moment of purchase, think “Will I wear it a minimum of 30 times?” If the answer is yes, then buy the item. If it’s no, then don’t.’


(source FutureFashionMe on Instagram)

3. Consider alternative and better shopping experiences.

There are two main ways to improve our footprint, beyond just reduction. The first is to consider shopping vintage/thrifting/op-shopping. This extends the life-span of used goods. For those clothes you then wear out, consider if there are uses, like rags or art projects that you can get the absolute last thread out of that clothing.

The second, is finding sustainable or ethically produced clothing. The Good on You app provides useful data about the suppliers of clothing. It also provides an opportunity to send messages to your favourite brands encouraging improvements in their supply chain or impact. For someone like me, who’s clothing options can be quite limited already, as most of the suppliers I had previously purchased from have low ratings, this is somewhat of a challenge. Plus sized ethically and sustainably produced clothing that doesn’t look like a sack of shit, is really hard to find. To get around this, I’m increasingly focusing on purchasing from small Etsy sellers, and really limiting the amount of wardrobe growth.

4. Look after your stuff

Basic care and learning skills like mending can extend the life of your clothing. Consider repairing clothing rather than replacing it, and get shoes and handbags re-soled. If you buy quality at the outset, care for it according to directions and have a reasonable skill with a needle and thread, you can increase the lifetime of your purchase.

5. Participate in campaigns and ask for more from suppliers

Fashion Revolution has some suggestions. You might like to participate in the #whomademyclothes campaign as a first start, and send a couple of emails to your favourite suppliers. Demand transparency through the whole supply chain.





On fast fashion

Or Renee and her ever shrinking wardrobe

I’ve always been someone with a lot of clothes and accessories. I am the product in many ways of my beautiful and colourful mother and my equally beautiful carefully coordinated maternal grandmother in this sense, with a love of matching accessories and bright colours and lipsticks. For what I lack of their dark, thick hair and deep brown eyes, I’ve certainly made up for in their love of clothing.

However, over the last few years I’ve become increasingly concerned with the patterns of our clothing purchases, including its implications for workers, the environment and our collective self esteem.

Clothing has through eternity been a signifier of wealth and status. Certain colours and fabrics suggested you were from a particular caste or class. The cut of your clothes could show whether you were likely to be in a field sweltering over crops, or being fed peeled grapes whilst reclining in the shade.

However the degree to which we could produce clothing, prevented accumulation and waste.  The importance of caring and repairing for clothing, is a dying artform. Mass-production is now the norm, with companies offering ’boutique’  handmade clothing as an alternative.  Whereas in history, most normal people “the plebs” would only have what they needed and this would be repaired until it became rags or some other household use, we have gone from having two fashion seasons “spring/summer” and “winter/autumn” to approximately 52 seasons.

52 seasons – once a week – retailers are pumping out supply into stores whilst communicating to us through traditional and social media, that we need to continue to keep up with fashion. The price-points of many of these retailers suggest that this is attainable and desirable for most people to achieve, and that somehow if we don’t participate we are somehow not “most people”. This drive to do retail therapy and be fashion forward is deeply destructive to our sense of self, our debt and our wardrobes.

Too much stuff 

We are increasingly consuming more and more clothing of poor quality, to the detriment of our health and financial well-being.  The garment and textile industry comprises a large part of the global economy, reaching $US3 trillion in 2011 (Marketline). The world now consumes 80 billion new pieces of clothing every year, about a 400 percent increase from 20 years ago, according to “The True Cost.”

There is no coincidence that this increasing supply of fast fashion (which can be extended to the cheap production of household goods and decorations – looking at you stores with ridiculous prices) has coincided with a growing industry of professional organisers, stores full of “storage and organisational solutions” and Kon-Maries. As people seek to be “most people” who can afford to keep up with fashion, they loose the sense of how much they need.

Shipping our problems elsewhere

We are pushing our waste onto others. Individuals amasse such significant amounts of “stuff” which they can either no longer store or organise that they then seek to “do good” and donate it. A common sight is charity bins overflowing onto the street with no regard for the weather or the elements (or the significant cost of disposing that which is now clearly ruined).

Image result for charity bins overflowing

Worse still this fast fashion is loaded up and sold to people in the developing world. These clothes, already poor quality on sale, now second-hand are being sold to the worlds most vulnerable people, with the people in the developed world believing that they have donated it. Neither side of this transaction is ethical. This supply is retarding the continued growth or development of local supplies (with the added benefit of reduced costs/impact of shipping) and local industry that contributes to a growing economy.

Image result for second hand clothes to developing world

Source: WSJ

Whilst the local charitable organisation may not collect it with this intent, the continued supply of clothing provides a market for middle men to buy these donated products and then sell it for sale in the local markets.  Whilst this may provide an option for low cost and sometimes higher quality clothing for those within these contexts, the ongoing supply of cheap and fast fashion just ships the problem elsewhere. A sorter in India remarked to the Wall Street Journal ““I don’t understand why people throw away all these clothes. Maybe they don’t have time to wash them.” Such is the extent of this problem, terms have been developed for the phenomena. In Nigeria second hand clothes are known as kafa ulaya (the clothes of the dead whites) and in Mozambique roupa da calamidade (clothing of the calamity).

The toll of the whole value chain is just too much on individuals and the environment. The fashion industry releases significant amounts of chemicals in the treatment and dyeing of clothing, and this is compounded by doing so in countries where environmental protection is weak or lax, or where the importance of the clothing industry to the local economy overcomes any concerns relating to environmental impact. It impacts the local water supply and reduces air quality.

Image result for fashion pollution

The ready-made garment industry, where multinational enterprise typically seek to arbitrage costs by carefully selecting the location of their manufacturing. There is fierce competition for market share in apparel between developing countries, which often means the reduction of conditions or removal of environmental protections (“Waste Couture”).

(Source: ABC)

So what can a girl do? See my next post ….

Taking action on “first world problem” guilt

Yesterday I listened to one of my favourite Australian podcasts (Straight and Curly, ep 61) on my walk home from work. These ladies are a little piece of home and normality in what can sometimes feel like a quite foreign life from the norm. I used to listen to them on the bus commuting from my townhouse to work in Canberra, and now I am listening to them on the not uneventful walks I sometimes take home (shout-out to my life penguin* who often takes a pooped sweaty Renee home). Like a number of my favourite podcasts, its comforting to be included in what seems to be a great conversation between friends.


They were talking about dealing with an existential crisis, and that it was a luxury to have choice, to be in such a fortunate position as to both strive and to achieve your goals. I was listening to this, as I walked home pot-holey streets, with dogs of various health and viciousness eye-balling me, with rusty cars and kids playing in yards with toys that would have been long discarded back home. Chickens clucked and pigs snorted in the bushes.

As Carly reflected (and I’m hoping I get this sentiment right), there is always a place to check your immense privilege in thinking about the luxury of feeling like you’ve “ticked all the boxes”. Being in a position to think, wow I’ve got it sorted, means that your basic needs are filled and you’ve been able to achieve something freely without too much interference from poverty, structural** or actual violence. Of course this is right. Things are much harder when there are practical or systemic barriers in your way.  Being reflective in setting and going about the achievement of your goals, in the sense of where you can draw strength from, and being grateful is a part of being a decent, humble and not assholey individual.

As I reflected on the conversation, it made me think of the somewhat overused phrase first world problems. Its an attractive concept, because it both allows the sayer to suggest they know that they are relatively privileged on a global scale but doesn’t necessarily mean that they need to do anything about this inequality.

I guess my main issue with using the term without any action attached is that it both separates people into types, and reduces the possibility of developing deeper connections with others whose journeys are different. Think about this:

“Oh I know complaining about not having the latest iPhone is a first world problem, but I really want it”

“Oh I really want a new iPhone, but I’m really concerned with the treatment of labourers in the factories and effect of marketing on overconsumption”

The first, recognises that there are perhaps other more significant problems in the world, but the individual still comes first, and that no further thought really has to go into it. The second thinks more deeply about what the problem is. If we use the term as a way to reflect on our relative privilege and then as a stepping stone to taking action to countering inequality of experience and opportunity, we have the chance to take action, be involved and be part of change for good (however you want to do that).

What I’ve learnt in living and travelling abroad, is that people are more similar than they are different, and using phrases carelessly like first world problems discounts the commonality of the human condition. It creates division, dehumanising the real people that are experiencing a tougher time than you. It doesn’t recognise the strengths of these individuals and communities in creating opportunities for themselves in the face of having not much. First world problems, aren’t just problems in the first world often. People struggle with having a phone dying (read this on the rise of the mobile phone in the developing world if you don’t believe me), their credit run out, the milk going sour, not getting their favourite food or drink (though it might not be a latte, might be any of these top 50, also check out the grocery hauls ). People have awful bosses, silly pets, are clumsy, put their foot in their mouth or stay up late worrying how they are going to pay the bills. The way this looks might be different where you live to where someone else lives but the desire to have a good life, surrounded by love, connected with others, with a roof over your head and some food to eat is universal. Making connections with others on your similarities rather than on your differences leads to a more fulfilled life.



*Penguin – they thrive on land and on the sea, used here to denote people who can help people living/working overseas understand the cultural context that they have arrived in by being able to dip in and out of both contexts. e.g. the ability to explain something that is new and foreign to the newcomer in ways that make some sense in the newcomers language and cultural context.

**Structural violence – a term attributed to academic Galtung, which encompasses the systematic structures that harm or disadvantage people by preventing them to thrive and meet basic needs. It normally includes systemic or instititionalised ageism, classism, sexism, ableism,elitism, nationalism etc.

Taking big leaps and thinking large


I have put my comfortable life on hold. I have put my well-paying and interesting job on hold, left my cosmopolitan Australian city with its vibrant arts and education culture and left my friends, family and husband. I have swapped soy lattes for beaches, stressful deadlines for community change, my new car for a free rickety old bike. The pace is slower, warmer and friendlier. I hear roosters in the morning, and wave to little kids with gleeful abandon. The shops are emptier, the markets bountiful and the roads have way more potholes.

I am currently writing from a Pacific Island, where a tempting offer to work in gender and development for an international organisation for a year has taken me. At thirty, this was a different proposition than the last time I endeavored out, as a fresh graduate at 24. Receiving the offer, was one of those “oh #*$% what have I done?!” and this was a refrain I often repeated as I was gently encouraged along the path to making the decision to uproot myself.

Last year, I did three things that enabled me to step into the void more easily. The first was an exercise in developing value oriented goals with my Diploma of Leadership. What this exercise illuminated for me, was the underlying drivers for me in everything I did were giving back and empowering women to live happy, secure and empowered lives. The second, was doing three sessions with a career counselor, who pushed me to think outside of the box, to define my dream roles and pathways more clearly, and to seek and take up opportunities as they arose. The third, was streamlining my budget and putting effort in paying down debt and saving for the future. This looked like big and small changes. I now practice values based budgeting. I contribute to causes I believe in, invest in me and my husbands’ future and reduce needless consumption. Despite loving clothes, I’m switching to minimising shopping and reducing the size of my wardrobe over time. Where possible I’ve swapped to re-usable alternatives for consumables that are kinder to the environment and also improve the budget over the long term. For me, all three of these steps, was acting according to what I could see in the big picture and developing a stronger sense of the future.


I am a lover of Gretchen Rubin and Elisabeth Craft’s (their podcast is a shared one in my mind) Happier Podcast. I listened to episode 27 where they discussed about how to make decisions. The suggestion was to choose whichever alternative would give you the bigger life. In an article in Forbes, Gretchen further discussed this idea noting:

“People make different decisions about what the “bigger life” would be, but when I ask myself that question, it always helps me see the right answer, for myself.

This list might help answer questions such as:

  • Should I join Facebook?
  • Should I buy a tent?
  • Should I throw a Labor Day party?
  • Should I buy a new kitchen table?
  • Should I sign up for Spanish lessons?

There’s no right answer or wrong answer — only the right answer for me.”

In so many ways, choosing this path has meant more doors will open, more experiences found and knowledge developed in my chosen field. Though it has come at some sacrifice, such as a significant pay cut and a year without my husband, I am positive about the prospects of this choice for my future, as a way to enrich my personal and professional life. It is also aligned with my values driven goals to give back and women’s empowerment. Having my budget and goals clearly connected and articulated, created an enabling environment to approach this decision.


Why I hope Stars Hollow has changed

Women of a certain age, that grew up in the late 1990s and 2000s, are a bit excited on the internet over the last six months or so. Its been a rough year for many, with problematic global trends, continued gender inequality and the inability to get the perfect liquid winged eyeline (just me?).

What has got women excited? The announcement of a mini-season of Gilmore Girls, a return to our favourite fictional town of Stars Hollow. Look up “gilmore girls revival”  and you’ll see over half a million results. Its part nostalgia for a time before smart phones, before the domination of social media, before the global financial crisis, before the refugee crisis. It is part about a return to a family in which people saw parts of themselves, that challenging competition between closeness and frustration that signifies family relationships. Its returning to characters in which we could see ourselves – clever, complicated, bookish, kooky, music-loving, food-loving, DAR attending,  Celine Dion loving, consumers of popular culture, coffee and enormous burgers.

Despite being excited by the revival, I’m nervous. In the original series we saw some deeply problematic issues

Homophobic Jokes



White Privilege and the use of “foreign” characters that use typically racist tropes


  • the lack of diversity
  • the interchanging of foreign maids, their disposability and othering


Oy with the slut shaming


The shift (especially in later series) away from the close relationship between  two females who spent time together, studied and worked hard, to one in which drama around men dominated their conversation. 


  • I wonder about the Bechdel ratings over the seasons
  • I note that the plotlines do centre around female leads in various spheres: the independence/dragonfly, Chilton, Kims Antiques, the dancehall,the editing room.

The problematic use of pregnancy


  • Sookie in the last season and her non-consensual impregnation
  • The shaming of Sheri as a nonconforming -mother

Toxic masculinity and its impact on Luke as a partner


Class privilege and the presentation of the challenges of single mothers in service industries as a lifestyle issue rather than an economic one


Using Paris Geller as an “unnatural woman”


Alternatively, I am looking forward to the show continuing to centre upon women and family, in a way that sometimes feels raw. Families and relationships within them, and I include non-genetic family here, are  complex and a site of conflict, but also deep loyalty and love.

I am hoping that Paris Geller is fighting the good fight and smashing the glass ceiling, using her razor sharp wit and single-mindedness in a career. I hope that she continues to challenge people particularly employees to accept authority from women. I do not want to see a soft, motherly Paris. I don’t want her sparkle to be dented by the world of school pick-ups. I want her pure unadulterated passion. I want her with Doyle in a equal partnership of passion, respect and hard work.

I want Lane to represent working mothers; managing the dual roles that the final season gave her. I want her to go back to school. I want for her a partnership and a family environment that represents a village raising children that facilitates her equal participation in both her passion for music and in her family life without any metaphysical angst about her ”motherhood”.

I want Rory to be single and uncomfortable for her immensely privileged life. She should represent the feeling of most millennial women. We have been given enormous opportunity, but we have also been consumers of gendered products and demonstrations of femininity. We were promised if we worked hard at school and at university we would and could do it all. The transition into work is hard for many, with many having to job-seek for a long time, to have to work in many casual jobs, to not work in our chosen field. For those who are lucky enough to enter their field, fighting against unconscious biases, long hours and constant connectivity. Rory, should not be saved by her family’s wealth.