Sophia Schyman,  a recovering shopaholic who prioritizes free time in front of consumption. Sophia challenged herself through a purchase-free year and came out on the other side as a more conscious consumer. With a great love and new awareness of quality and sustainability she shares her thoughts on her blog “Recovering Shopaholics” and gives me advice on my own shopping habits. Welcome to fashion-therapy!

Emeli: You’re an ex shopaholic. How did you do to stop?

Sophia: In 2017 my friend and I challenged ourselves to go cold turkey when it came to shopping, and stop completely for a whole year. What began as a challenge has grown into a approach today. Now I shop again but I’m a more conscious consumer and do nothing unnecessarily.

Emeli: What’s your relationship with clothes today?

Sophia: I’ve probably never loved clothes more than I do today. Probably because I’ve learned so much more about the craftsmanship behind and besides, and I’ve learned what consequences the disposable fashion culture has. Each of my garments I value highly, and try to take care of them accordingly.

Emeli: How did people react to your shopping stop? Were they provoked? Inspired?

Sophia: Provocatively inspired? Is that even a word? It was very two-fold but the majority was very positive. I had several colleagues that joined and ran their own challenges. Of course, some reacted that my shopping stop was a personal insult to them. I kind of understand that reaction, to question consumption culture is like putting a stick into the whole machinery of the society, shopping is the pacifier of western culture.

Emeli: I went from buying a lot to selling a lot. The dopamine kicks can access either way. But there is always focus on consumption. For example, one can shop at a flea market (sustainable) or in a department store (not sustainable), one is better but it’s still shopping! I just would like to get it out of my life and my focus. Do you think it’s possible?

Sophia: Of course it’s possible! It’s about finding a balance between work and leisure. A consequence of the fact that I shop less is that I have been able to reduce working hours. This means I have to cut back on savings, but I value spending more on unpaid (but so rewarding) leisure activities. After my shop-stop it was like the opposite of dams bursting in my savings account. I was almost obsessed with saving money! Probably because I overcompensated for my wasteful years. At last I feel that there is a balance between work, leisure and finances.

Emeli: How do you combine an interest in clothing/fashion and a conscious consumption? I am constantly craving new things! They don’t have to be new, it could be second hand, but they’re new for me. I really just want to get it out of my head and dress in a uniform! What do you think about that? Is it a bit too hardcore?

Sophia: If I were a psychologist I would start by asking the question “And what do you think would happen if you dressed in a uniform?” Now I am not so I take the freedom to give my own personal answer: I think it’s very drastic. It’s probably a reaction to getting too much fashion inspiration in your daily life? The boundary between inspiration from others and dissatisfaction with one’s own is fine. I find that I’m much more satisfied with my clothes since I stopped glancing on those whose style in completely unattainable to me. But why don’t you try to find a uniform that suits you and wear it for three months and see how you feel about it?

Emeli: I’m really considering it. And I also want to cut down on the shopping, really. We jump to another subject: what, according to you, is the difference between FASHION and CLOTHING? Fashion designer/dressmaker – fashion consumer/apparel consumer?

Sophia: Oh, what a difficult question! Clothing made well is a fantastic craft, and real fashion is an art form. From my layman’s perspective the two things are closely intertwined, but not necessarily the same. My mother-in-law was a fantastic seamstress, but I don’t think she knows anything about fashion. And many fashionable people hardly know what a straight stitch is. So I guess clothes are craft and fashion is art. After all, the problem is that many “trends” mask themselves as “fashion”.

Emeli: I’ve noticed that consumption has become something of a task, something that gets me out of the house on weekends “To buy something”. (Now I sound like a terrible person!) And I am terrified to pass this behavior to my 6 year old son. He has also just started to get pocket money and we talk a lot about what he could /should do with them. The kids of today need to get the idea of value of money in these times of cashless society and online purchases. How do you think there, as a parent?

Sophia: I understand exactly what you mean. The reason why I wanted a purchase stop was that I wanted to break a destructive behavior before I passed it on to my daughter. I also struggled with that. I love flea markets and for that kind of consumption I have no reservations about bringing my three-year-old. But I actually avoid going to stores with her because I don’t want her to perceive shopping as an activity. Since we live just outside the city, I guess the day will come when she will want to “go out on the town” with her friends. For my part, that day may be long overdue.

Emeli: You worked as a “content manager” when you were deepest in your shopping addiction. To work with online media and always be one step ahead, do you think the two things could be connected?

Sophia: I think my unhealthy shopping behavior came from having the opportunity. I lived in town, worked full time and had no children. Also, no direct meaningful leisure activities other than reading blogs and eating brunch. The shopping became something fun, a way to create an identity and escape everyday life. I also lived in the belief that I “lived quite sustainably” because I was recycling and not having a car. Then I read about how disgusting the fashion business actually is to both it’s workers and the environment and I started to look critically at my own habits and that they actually got consequences for other people.

Emeli: You are talking a lot about clothing care on your blog. I was on an interesting seminar at the East Asian museum in Stockholm about Japanese boro boro patchworking mending techniques. It was also a tradition in Sweden before we began to over consume clothes by the end of the last millenium. The clothes were fixed so many times and filled with memories and they actually became a part of you and your family when they went to inherit it through generations. Do you think today’s fabrics from the big chains would survive such treatment? Are they able to patch and repair?

Sophia: That we had a similar repair culture like the Japanese is a novelty for me, how exciting! Of course, there are good clothes today too, but I find it hard to see how the garments I own would last for generations. Although I care for them with the greatest love. Just look at bedding. On the flea market you can find sheets from the 40’s that looks completely unused. The fabric is thick and durable. Bedding today has a completely different quality. They break and the fabric can become so thin that it tears in just a few years. Of course, some of it can be blamed on the way we treat clothes and fabrics today, but not everything. It’s naive to believe that the clothes of the chain stores should last in the same way as before. The technology of producing high quality stuff cheap does not exist. The compromise we make when we buy a 5 € T-shirt is quality.

Emeli: You talk about borrowing and renting clothes, if you’re going to a wedding or some other kind of party, instead of “indulging” in an expensive one-occasion-dress. So smart! Instead of satisfying a shopping-need/losing money you can just make yourself pretty for the evening and enjoy the party.

Sophia: I do it a lot, also for kid’s clothes. There are some different companies and there are always popping up new ones. A dream is to have the possibility to rent pregnancy clothes, that you only use for a couple of months.

Emeli: Sometimes consumption feels like an economical class problem. The middle class can allow itself to buy ecological and conscious, while the lower economic classes are forced to pile up at the sale of HM. Am I right?

Sophia: Somehow yes but I think that is a self-deception. It’s not poor people who over consume, it’s rich. The blogger Underbara Clara wrote a fantastic text called “The poor are the real environmental heroes” where she turns the whole argument on who really makes an effort about the environment. The fact that the norm for being climate smart requires a considerable amount of “right consumption”. I try to remind myself of this often! That the solution is always to primarily take advantage of what already exists instead of buying something new.

Emeli: Yes, I remember that text, it’s just “Wow”. It makes me think of all those articles of capsule wardrobes and how that makes your life easier. Just get rid of everything you have and buy these 5 pieces and only use them. 5 pieces that you probably already had in there somewhere, you just needed to re-discover them. The large chains produce about half a billion garments a year. Each. The raw materials begin to disappear and no one who could take responsibility for it does so. There are so many double standards out there and I think this should be noticed a lot more. But nobody really wants to come to close to it, everyone seems quite happy about wearing the latest trends bought for little money. What do you think about that?

Sophia: If you can believe all the major fashion companies annual reports, they are perfect examples when it comes to sustainability. So then the question remains: Who is really destroying the earth, the climate and the environment? If they are that sustainable, who is the destroyer? I think that we as consumers can rightly allow ourselves to become a little angry at these companies, we could demand a faster change. And vote with the only voice that counts in the context; the wallet. It is a big and difficult question though, because the responsibility lies with several parties. It should be brought to a political level and the regulations should be tightened up.

Emeli: Do you think we save the environment by changing our shopping habits?

Sophia: Reviewing our consumption is one of the things a private person can do quite easily. The fact that we all become more conscious consumers does not exempt the companies and the politicians from their areas of responsibility. A complete detox, a “shop-stop” or just stop buying unnecessary stuff is a great start to becoming more aware. Everyone can do it. Shopping less requires no prior knowledge or changing difficult habits, it’s just about breaking a pattern of action that is really bad for the environment (and sometimes for oneself). Many find themselves owned or stressed out by their “stuff”. Shopping less and owning fewer things can actually be liberating in itself.

Emeli: I, as a clothing designer, need some advice! 5Preview has a small scale production, 2 collections a year of around 30 000 garments each – we only produce what the stores have bought and it might justify something but at the same time I feel that it’s such a double standard! Should I just shut down the business and change job?

Sophia: NO, you shouldn’t! Why should the small scale producers that try to make a difference shut down their businesses? It’s us as consumers with our wallets that should support small businesses with sustainable concepts instead of going to the chain stores. Just producing what the stores bought sounds like a recipe more brands should try!

Emeli: Puh! Then I can continue without feeling too guilty. Last question: When do you think a garment is FINISHED? I have this amazing Isabel Marant linen jersey long sleeved T-shirt that I’ve used so much the last years. Now I only use it as an undershirt because it’s full of holes and the lower sleeve fell off. I don’t even try to fix it it looks like a bunch of moths threw a party in it. Time to throw away?

Sophia: Ha ha, when you don’t use it anymore? Why throw something you still use? When the shirt is completely beyond all rescue, and no longer used, you can use it as a cloth or to polish shoes, so it will not be wasted. Or recycle.