The Psychology of Shopping

“While the pleasure of cheap fashion is neurologically very real, consumers are equally experiencing mental exhaustion from the accumulation of all of this cheap clothing. They are hungry for change.”

~ Maxine Bedat. 


In 1943, Abraham Maslow developed a theory in psychology called the Hierarchy of Needs. We’ve put them in a pretty pyramid for you to understand how our brains work when it comes to priorities. 

Maslow suggested that when we purchase, we use this pyramid to fulfil our needs, starting from the bottom up. First you pay your rent and buy food, then you buy a car seat for your kid’s safety, then you buy something pretty to impress your friends, then you send your kids to an elite school. He suggested that after all of these needs are met, this is when we reach self-actualisation – ie purchase ethically.

But what we are seeing in the current social climate is a very different story. We are living in a whole new world since Maslow was around. And his pyramid is being flipped on its head.

“73% of Millenials are willing to pay more for one thing. And it’s not even avocado toast. It’s sustainability.”

~ Melanie Curtain. 


Social merit. 

Purchasing ethically has become somewhat of a social badge, as it should be. In certain circles, you wouldn’t be seen wearing anything that was unethical, for fear of being rejected from the clan. So some of us are doing the right thing just to fit in with the cool kids. And if that’s what it takes, then I’m all about the revolution of fitting in. 


Social and cultural trends have a big influence on the purchase process, and they are causing the demand for fast fashion to slow down. This is evident in the loss of profits from fast fashion giants H&M, Forever 21 and the Topshop Group, Arcadia. In Australia, we have recently seen the closure of Marcs, Maggie T, David Lawrence, Pumpkin Patch, Payless Shoes, Diana Ferrari, Gap, Esprit, Metallicus and Rhodes and more, while the UK has said goodbye to Banana Republic, British Home Stores, Austin Reed, Tie Rack, JJB Sports and Jane Norman. Consumers are shifting their awareness and the movement is exponentially growing. When I’m not sure whether we are evolving I remember this: close friends of mine are now Husband and Husband, South Korea has a zero food waste policy and I don’t know of anyone who still smokes cigarettes. 


Ethical Fashion is making its way into mainstream media. Through media we’ve seen what happens to our farmers when we don’t support local produce and we’ve seen our children stand up in a global environmental protest. When Jo Blow watches the 7pm news and discovers what’s really happening behind the sewing machine, it gives Jo the chance to think twice about his $5 t-shirt. 

The Feels. 

If I’m honest, I buy ethically for the same reason I donate to charity – it makes me feel good! We feel good about ourselves when we give back to society and tackle inequality. It activates regions of the brain associated with pleasure, social connection, and trust, creating a “warm glow” effect. Scientists also believe that altruistic behaviour releases endorphins in the brain, producing positive feelings and improved health. 


The first and most critical of our core values is Empathy. Why? Because it has aided in the survival of our species. In my own experience, I have witnessed the inner workings of fast fashion and it ain’t pretty. I regularly visited factories in Guangzhou to help improve quality and manufacturing, and what I saw can’t be unseen.

“There is no beauty in the finest cloth if it makes hunger and unhappiness.

~ Matahma Gandhi. 

Women who were so exhausted they would fall asleep hunched over their tables; women in an assembly line, placing the same sticker on 10,000 plastic bags for 12 hours a day, 7 days a week; women whose children would walk from school to the factory to help Mum finish her quota of garments for the day – also known as child slave labour; women who were threatened to be beaten if they didn’t meet their targets; hoarded squalor on the ground and in the stairwells; the constant smell of garbage; filthy bathrooms and a kitchen with one fork between 300 people. These women could have been my mum or my sister. They could have been me. Empathy still drives me to purchase ethically.


I’ve fallen off the wagon before. It’s like a fast food fix: instant gratification, instant guilt. You’re only human, it happens! The pyramid makes it a steep slope to climb. But you can get to the top with rational decision making, by constantly educating yourself and by remembering what drives you. Flip that pyramid on its head and ask yourself, “What really matters to me?”

“Every time you spend your money, you’re casting a vote for the world you want.”

~ Anne Lappe.


Get behind legislation. I recently learned that the minimum wage in Bangladesh equates to 10c per garment, and this is NOT a livable wage. It would take only 10c more per garment for workers to no longer live in poverty. We need Government, Council and Industry Leaders to get behind this movement. Find out who your local policymakers are and send them this pretty little postcard. 

Ask the question. #whomademyclothes. Put it to your favourite brand. If you’re unsure, head to their website – transparent brands will have an ethical statement on their About page. If they don’t, there’s probably good reason for it, so shoot them an email and ask for change. 

Be part of the Fashion Revolution. Sign the manifesto or attend an event. 

Share your love story. Share a story on social about a quality garment that you’ve loved and worn for years. Where have you worn it, why you love it, what makes it versatile or special, who made it, and why it matters to you. 

Follow awesome people. Stay in the know. We love Clare Press, Kira Simpson, Eco Warrior Princess, Alisa Koz, Ethical Clothing Australia, Ethically Kate, The Fashion Advocate, Well Made Clothes, 1 Million Women, Peppermint Mag, and The Fair Edit

“Personally, the thrill of mass shopping on the high street lost its appeal a while ago. Once I realised that the labour conditions of certain garment factories were referred to as modern-day slavery… I packed it in.”

~ Olivia Burton. 

“How can we expect brands to be on their best behaviour if we don’t match our purchasing power with our desire to end human misery? We must change our behaviour. Lives depend on it.”

~ Erica Bartle, Peppermint Magazine.