Material world

June 27, 2018

Material world

The word materialism often conjures up a picture of wardrobes featuring hundreds of pairs of shoes, fur coats and designer bags. But what if we’ve been looking at materialism all wrong? Richard Denniss explains how it can provide us with a sustainable future and a deeper appreciation for the clothes we wear.
Last year I was lucky enough to head to TedX Brisbane where I watched economist and author Richard Denniss give a talk on the topic of materialism. In the talk, which was based around Richard’s book Curing Affluenza: How to Buy Less Stuff and Save the World, he compares the difference between materialism (buying things you love) and consumerism (the love of buying things). I caught up with Richard to find out how this relates to the fashion industry, and what we can do to embrace materialism and reject consumerism.  

How do you touch on fashion in your book?

Once upon a time men wore a codpiece, once upon a time nylon flares were fashionable for men. Fashion changes, so the point I would make in terms of that is when we throw away perfectly good material objects because they’re past their fashion used by date, we do enormous harm to the natural environment. 
Now that doesn’t mean fashion is unimportant, that doesn’t mean that our clothes are unimportant, but every year when we throw out a perfectly good wardrobe and replace it with another one, purely to send a signal to our peers or strangers, that comes at enormous harm to the natural environment. 
Plenty of people in the fashion industry will tell you that you can keep your garments forever, it’s about how you wear them, not what you wear, or how to change the way we adorn things, rather than throw the whole object out. Once upon a time, people would keep a jacket for a lifetime, and change it up with a broach or maybe the collar. Whereas now we’ll throw out a perfectly good coat after 12 months. 

What do you think led to us being so happy with throwing things away?

We were led to that by people who make money, by encouraging us to throw away perfectly good things and replace them with other things. We’ve been persuaded and encouraged to believe that wearing three-year-old clothes makes us stand out in society. In the 7000 years of recorded history, that’s a new idea. 

There are people who still want to stick to the trends and they still want to look good. How do they do that without feeling guilty? How do they not harm the environment but still feel good about the way they look?

The key point of Curing Affluenza, is that so many of the decisions we make are shaped by the community we live in, not by our own tastes and preferences. When we live in a society where wearing two-year-old clothes is somehow embarrassing, it’s very hard for individuals willing to cope with that embarrassment. So we need to have an honest conversation in our community.

Can you tell me about the difference between materialism and consumerism?

We talk about consumerism and materialism as if they’re the same thing. I argue that they’re actually opposite. I find consumerism as the love of buying things and materialism is the love of the thing itself. And if we loved our things, if we loved our boots, if we loved our jackets, if we loved our shirts, then the thought of throwing it out or replacing it would cause us pain, not pleasure. I argue that we need to embrace materialism. And people need to be proud of their things, and repair their things, and maintain their things. And then when they don’t want their things or need their things anymore, find a new home for their things. But until we do that, until we stop getting a thrill from chucking out perfectly good things, until we change that pattern of behaviour, we’re going to continue to waste billions of dollars on replacements of perfectly functional things. 
As lovers of fashion, we mustn’t feel guilty for appreciating beautiful clothing. Rather, we should be celebrating that love and buying pieces that we will cherish for many years. Materialism and luxury is something that we should be proud of embracing. 

1. Bec and Bridge Hailey coat, RRP $480, available at becandbridge.com
2. Holly Ryan Picasso Bar Drop Earrings RRP $280, available at hollyryan.com.au
3. Curing Affluenza by Richard Denniss, RRP $27.99, available at blackinkbooks.com.au
4. Viktoria & Woods Theatre shirt 100 per cent silk, RRP $330, available at Hunted Concept
5. Viktoria & Woods Picasso belt, RRP $150, available at Hunted Concept
6. RM Williams Mila boot, RRP $595, available at rmwilliams.com.au

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