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Overcoming cognitive dissonance

Updated: Oct 5, 2020

Have you ever found yourself questioning whether it is still OK to wear 'those' pieces in your wardrobe, despite not knowing who made them?


Were you torn when it came to deciding whether to buy those shoes secondhand, despite being from a brand known that you know don't pay a living wage?


Were you ever given something from a friend or work colleague (maybe a voucher for a fashion brand) that doesn't align with your values, and were you conflicted about what to do?


Or have you ever found yourself questioning whether it was OK to purchase that garment from that fast fashion retailer because it was made from organic cotton?


You may have found yourself conflicted by these, or similar, questions.


Don't fret, you are not alone. This internal conflict is known as cognitive dissonance.

This theory was proposed by cognitive psychologist Leon Festinger in 1954 to describe the inconsistency that occurs between our thoughts (or between our thoughts and our actions) that leads to discomfort, or dissonance.


Like the examples above, you may be confronted with two opposing ideas that are inconsistent (e.g. second hand verses unfair wages, fast fashion verses organic materials), and you find yourself trying to decide between the two conflicting options. 


We may try to relieve this tension in one of many ways, for example; explaining away or simply rejecting the presence of the conflict, or by finding a away of reconciling the difference.


Becoming more aware of the environmental and human costs associated with the fashion industry inspired me to make more conscious wardrobe choices. But navigating the world of ethical and sustainable fashion can seem daunting, confusing, and at times unattainable.


I think some important things to remember are:

  • Fashion is a massive global industry, and it might feel like our choices are small, and insignificant, but our actions can, and are, making a difference.

  • At times it may not be possible to shop ethically and sustainably, but don’t let this get you down - you can simply try to do better next time.

  • When it comes to all those pieces already in your wardrobe that you don't consider ethical and sustainable, and that don't conform to your current values, don't dispose of, or ignore them. Research by the UK government agency ‘Waste and Resources Action Programme’ (WRAP) has found that extending the life of a garment by just nine months reduces the waste and water impact of that garment by 20-30%. Therefore, disposing of any conflicting items in your wardrobe is only going to contribute to the problem.

  • Don't think of ethical and sustainable fashion as expensive and inaccessible. You just have to know where to look. Good on You, an app that rates clothing brands for their impact on the environment, labour rights and animal protection, is a great place to start. As is a simple google search! Or check out my 'evolving' post 'Ethical & sustainable fashion is expensive & inaccessible - I beg to differ!', which includes some of the fantastic (and affordable) brands I have come across!

  • Lastly, when it comes to making more conscious fashion choices, why not try focusing on progress, instead of perfection? After all, any change is better than no change! Right?!

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