On being … a dose of consciousness raising

By Ingrid Sapona

Though I’ve never been particularly interested in fashion, I was intrigued by an article by an assistant professor of fashion design, ethics, and sustainability who teaches in the school of fashion at a Canadian university. The professor’s main point was that “fashion lovers need to reflect on how their consumption has an undeniably negative impact on both planet and people.”

The author talked about the slavery-like conditions of the millions of third-world workers, the majority of whom are women. She also talked about environmental degradation and pollution caused by the fashion industry, as well as the fact that more than 70% of the 53 million tonnes of fibre produced each year by the industry ends up in landfill or bonfires. One of the surprising statistics she mentioned is that the average number of times a garment is worn before it ceases to be used has decreased by 36% in 15 years. She also talked about “fast” fashion, which she defined as clothing that’s disposed of in less than one year.

The professor believes business as usual is no longer an option for the fashion industry. She set out some steps we can take that she thinks will make a difference. Besides paying attention to where one’s clothes are made and supporting ethical producers, she urges curbing overconsumption. She encourages consumers to join a campaign started in 2016 by Livia Firth (actor Colin Firths’ wife) called: #30wearscampaign. The idea behind the campaign is to ask yourself – before you buy an item of clothing – whether you’ll wear it at least 30 times. If yes, then buy it. But, if you don’t think you would, don’t buy it.

Neither the article nor the link to a story about the #30wearscampaign explained the significance of the number 30. So, I assume it’s relatively arbitrary. But, I think it’s a pretty reasonable number to get people to stop treating clothing as disposable. Clearly, with things worn every day (like socks and underwear) 30 is low. But, if you’re talking about a top you might wear every couple weeks to work, wearing it 30 times means you’d wear it for more than a year. So, even if 30 is arbitrary, you have to admit it seems a reasonable goal.  

I’m glad I took the time to read the article. It left me thinking about both my relationship to clothing and clothing’s impact on our environment in general. More importantly, it gave me parameters for measuring my own behavior vis-à-vis clothing and the environment. And, it got me thinking about other areas of consumption that I might gloss over but shouldn’t. Indeed, shortly after, a different area of consumption came into my focus.

My main client right now is in the electricity sector and I spend a lot of time at their office. When the dishwasher in their kitchen broke recently, they got a new one. A stick-on label on the front provided some sort of efficiency number. The fact there was such a label leads you to believe it’s a high-efficiency model.

People in that office are in the habit of running the dishwasher every day. Someone usually starts it right after lunch because people like to take home clean lunch containers for the next day. The first time they ran the new machine they chose the “turbo” cycle, thinking it would be quicker than the normal or heavy-duty options. It’s an understatement to say everyone was surprised when it became clear that the 3:00 showing on what looked like a digital clock in need of programming was actually the cycle duration.

When the cycle was done, we consulted the manual that came with the dishwasher. That’s when we learned that the “turbo” cycle (which does, indeed, run for 3 hours) uses less water than the other cycles. While that was interesting information, given that the company’s focus is electricity, everyone wanted to know how the different cycles compare in terms of energy use. Sadly, the manual didn’t provide that information.

Clearly, the dishwasher’s manufacturer – or perhaps the organization that grants the efficiency labels for such appliances – considers water use paramount. And you know, maybe as between water and energy use for dishwashers, that should be one’s primary concern. Though I feel a bit better knowing I only run my dishwasher only when it’s full, my motivation’s been because I figure it’s probably a big consumer of electricity. I’m embarrassed to admit that I never considered the issue of the amount of water a cycle takes. 

Though the connection between an article about fast fashion and efficiency ratings on dishwashers may not seem connected at first blush, to me they’re very much related. They both made me think about tracking my consumption based on some actual measure, rather than in the abstract. In short, they provided a dose of consciousness raising about my consumption, which never hurts, I think.

What about you? Do you give much thought to the different things you consume? Would applying some measuring standard help you change your consumption behaviour? Should we be doing more of that??

© 2019 Ingrid Sapona


On being … over it

By Ingrid Sapona

After writing about not having a favourite restaurant, a friend forwarded a travel article featuring 10 Toronto restaurants. She’s retired but used to come to Toronto on business and she used to like being up on the Toronto restaurant scene.

When I had a look at the list, I wasn’t surprised I hadn’t heard of most of them. There was one I’ve been to and another one I’d at least heard of. The one I’ve been too has been around for years but I think it’s a dud. I wrote her back, confessing I’d never heard of most of them. I also told her about my surprise at the one on the list that I’d NEVER recommend. As I told her, if that restaurant made it on a “must try” list, I consider the list questionable.

Later that afternoon she forwarded me a NY Times opinion piece. It was titled: “The Best Restaurant if You’re Over 50”. It was by Frank Bruni, a former NY Times restaurant critic who’s now “over 50”. It was an interesting piece. One of his comments got me thinking. He said, “What you want from restaurants, it turns out, is a proxy for what you want from love and from life.” He went on to explain what he sought from restaurants at different times in his life. In his mid-30s he wanted things that made him feel special. In his mid-40s he wanted things that made him feel sophisticated. Now, in his mid-50s, he wants things like martinis – in other words, things that he’s certain about and is certain about what they do for him.

Bruni also talked about what he’s learned from restaurant owners with respect to what older diners want. Apparently, restaurateurs have found that older diners are more likely to be “regulars”. Bruni chalks this up to becoming more creatures of habit as we get older. I think he may be right about that.

Though I used pay attention to which restaurants were hot (even if my budget didn’t allow me to try that many of them) – I’m just not that interested in what’s new anymore. Now, I value a restaurant’s proximity, hygge, and friendliness over unusual flavours and exotic ingredients. Bruni’s piece got me thinking about other areas – besides dining out – where my “appetite” has changed. Sailing and live entertainment – theatre and concerts – are the two best examples.

Though I’ve always been a fair weather sailor on my own boat, for years I enjoyed racing on others’ boats. Part of the appeal was the chance to get out on bigger, better equipped boats. Part of it was also the rush of adrenaline knowing that we’d race no matter how heavy the winds or how high the swells.

But, at some point, I noticed that the job of yanking in a huge, wind-filled sail as fast as possible so that we might move a tenth of a knot faster started to feel more like work than fun. That’s when I decided I’d had enough racing. Now, my idea of a terrific afternoon is being on the lake with just enough breeze to move the boat merrily along and then returning to shore for an après sail barbecue.

As for live entertainment, while my tastes haven’t changed that much, what I’m willing to do to partake has changed quite dramatically. I used to be willing to stand in line for hours to get tickets for concerts and shows. If a theatre had rush seats, I was always game to take a chance and wait in line in hopes of getting in. Or, if a concert had lawn seats or an area that was general admission, friends and I thought nothing of getting to the venue hours before show time to secure a good spot. Part of it was the thrill of getting a good deal on a show I wanted to see but couldn’t afford to pay a premium for. Part of it was also the social aspect of being part of the crowd of fans for that particular show.

Last time I waited hours for a show was in 2011. It was a concert by Aretha Franklin at the Toronto Jazz Festival. I went with a dear friend and his wife. They’re really into music and I’m sure they’d have paid top dollar to hear Aretha, but that wasn’t an option because it was a free concert. To ensure a good spot, my friend got there early in the afternoon and his wife and I joined him in line after work. We ended up waiting more than three hours and then had to stand for the whole concert.

Don’t get me wrong… I’m glad I saw the Queen of Soul before she passed away. But, waiting in line that day I promised myself I’d not do that again. I just don’t have the patience for it any more. Hell, I won’t even put up with overly complicated ticket ordering processes. (For example, for some film festivals you have to first buy a voucher and then you later exchange the voucher for a ticket once the screenings are announced. Can you say pain in the a--?) For me, that kind of thing pretty much takes the joy out of even wanting to see a show.

I think the best way to sum up how I feel is that I’m over it. The thrill of the hard to get – or the hard to get into – no longer tugs at me. Instead, I relish hassle-free pursuits and pleasures. What about you? Have your “appetites” changed over the years?

 © 2019 Ingrid Sapona