by Jovan Vialva
As a native New Yorker, it feels like it's in my blood. I was voted "most fashionable" in high school, designed my own prom dress and threw my first fashion show (with terrible clothing albeit) when I was 18. Because I grew up in a low-income houshold, I worked hard my entire life to get into the best schools and then land great jobs so that I could afford the wardrobe I always wanted.
I moved to Berlin 4 years ago for a new career challenge. Everything was going great, but then it hit me one day after another promotion, that while I was climbing a corporate ladder, I wasn’t doing much to make a difference. The way I was spending most of my time, with work, trips to Vienna and Florence, and the frequent shopping spree, didn’t match up with my true values. In this regard, what I was doing was meaningless.
While I valued equitable society, sustainability and social justice, I didn’t really live by these principles beyond casting a vote every few years during an election. At my best, I engaged with these important issues in conversations with like-minded friends who reinforced my own beliefs. The other spectrum of my "engagement" was occasionally liking an Instagram quote about women’s rights or fair trade.
“Jovan – you’re right, but we only made half of the decision. The other half was made by customers who have been buying the cheaper items from competitors who have moved jobs abroad long ago.”
During a catch up with a friend one evening, I got into an emotional debate about how soulless my friend’s company was for outsourcing several good-paying jobs to Asia. I will never forget what she said to me: “Jovan – you’re right, but we only made half of the decision. The other half was made by customers who have been buying the cheaper items from competitors who have moved jobs abroad long ago.”
With this one sentence, I suddenly realized that I was that customer on so many occasions. From that moment on, I decided to vote more often than just on Election Day – I began to realize that each purchase I made was a vote for the kind of world I wanted. I slowly adapted my buying habits to support companies who promoted fair employment locally. My first “fair fashion” purchase was a pair of Nudie Jeans, which I still love years later. It’s been a journey to become a conscious consumer, and every day I am learning new things. The biggest lesson that I have learned is that you can start to make a difference with even the smallest of choices. Last year I chose to start a womenswear label to make the kinds of clothing I wanted with principles I cared about. I am by no means perfect, but it is something I work on continuously.
We all care about something, be it environmentalism, the gender pay gap, the growing inequality between rich and poor, national security – the list goes on. Many of us also want to do something about these issues personally, but on top of our busy lives and numerous daily commitments to friends and family, not all of us can quit our day jobs and follow our "calling."
We can all, however, “vote with our wallets”. That is, we can all be more conscious on how we spend our hard-earned money. For those of us with bigger budgets, we can choose to spend more on items that were made fairly and support a living wage for garment workers across the world. For those of us who earn less, we can choose to buy fewer things of better quality, as well as mending jeans to last years instead of months. In the the long run this is more affordable as well.
While changing our entire buying behaviour overnight may feel unimaginable, starting with small actions is an important first step. Conscious buying is not easy always easy, but nothing worthwhile ever is.