In This Episode
Just in time for the holiday season, Amy and Mary chat with Aja Barber – a writer, stylist and consultant who works at the intersections of fashion and sustainability. They dive into the problems with fast fashion, and its worst offender and Aja’s sworn enemy Shein. They discuss Aja’s recent book – Consumed, talk about more ethical options for gift giving, and more.
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Mary Annaise Heglar [AD]
Amy Westervelt Hey, hot cakes. Welcome to Hot Take. I’m Amy Westervelt.
Mary Annaise Heglar And I’m Mary Annaise Heglar. This week, we’re going to be talking to Aja Barber about a topic that couldn’t possibly be more relevant at the moment. We’re going to be talking about shopping, Amy.
Amy Westervelt Yeah.
Mary Annaise Heglar Right?
Amy Westervelt That’s right.
Amy Westervelt Shopping, consumerism and all of the ways that that intersect with climate change.
Mary Annaise Heglar E and of course, colonialism as well. Yeah. So Aja is a writer and stylist and a consultant, and she works at the intersections of sustainability and fashion. She is Shein’s worst enemy on Twitter.
Amy Westervelt It’s true. It’s true. Yeah.
Amy Westervelt Yeah. She also recently wrote her first book. It’s called Consumed. It’s great. It looks at the fashion industry through the lens of collectivism, colonialism, climate change and consumerism. And it’s great. Go get it. Go get it for your friend that you can’t think of anything to get for.
Mary Annaise Heglar Right. Or the friends who, like, always have ridiculous requests for the holidays. With the holidays right around the corner or are actually kind of back around the corner, the way you look at it since Thanksgiving is past. We thought she would be the perfect person to bring on. I doubt we have anybody listening to this podcast who is buying a ton of fast fashion like she and hauls and making those sort of tiktoks or whatever. But if you have a friend who does, this episode will give you some stuff to, you know, hopefully open their eyes to the harms of fast fashion. So with that, I think it’s time.
Amy Westervelt It’s time to talk about climate.
Mary Annaise Heglar All right. Aja Barber, welcome to Hot Take. We’re so happy to have you.
Aja Barber Thank you so, so much for having me on. I’m a tremendous fan of the show, so this is quite a big deal for me.
Mary Annaise Heglar Well, we’re big fans of you, so this is a big deal for us. And I’m just going to kick us off with the first question. How are you feeling about Twitter these days?
Aja Barber Girl. Girl. I am waiting for the delegation of Black Twitter to be like, Where are we going? That’s what I’m waiting for. And like, I’m like, can someone give me a sign, a memo, something? But in general, I think it’s like I don’t want to say it’s funny because I know that like it’s very emotional for some people, but deep down inside, there would be a part of me that would laugh so hard if this man paid 44 billion for this app and then proceeded to just think it into the ground and then had to sell it at a loss. I’m sorry. That would not be a loss to me to see that happen.
Mary Annaise Heglar Hmm. Yeah. I don’t know. I’m a little worried that this is exactly his goal to tank public discourse so I don’t know if he would see it as a loss.
Aja Barber I would definitely. Yeah. I think deep down inside, I want to believe that it’s all ego and he has no idea what he’s really doing. But I think there’s some truth to what you just said as well. But really, I’m just sort of I have other spaces that I’m in to be honest. My Twitter only took off this year. I’ve been on Twitter since its inception and for like the first like.
Mary Annaise Heglar Oh wow.
Aja Barber Eight, nine years I only had 2000 followers. And then my Twitter finally took off. And so I’m just laughing at my own bad luck because like, wow, this finally took off and now he’s going to ruin it.
Mary Annaise Heglar Of course. Of course there was that. That’s what he was waiting for.
Aja Barber That’s how it goes for me. Like, that’s just like, yeah, it always rains on me. So I’m okay with it. I’m used to it.
Amy Westervelt Oh, God, it’s gross.
Aja Barber I filled my other spaces though, and that’s what I really hope. The other. I’ve always diversified because I know that you can’t count on these apps, we can’t count on corporations, apps, anything. So I’ve never put all my eggs in one basket, be it Twitter or Instagram or even Patron, where I am supported. I try and diversify as much as possible just in case something like this happens.
Mary Annaise Heglar Yeah.
Amy Westervelt Yeah. You have a huge following on Instagram, Aja.
Aja Barber Yeah, Instagram gets kind of weird too. And I also have like a smaller following on Pinterest, but I could definitely like amp that up. But like for me it’s just unfortunately you can’t depend on these apps. And so we have to like always sort of have a little backup plan. So I feel a little bit like, okay, I prepared in some way, even though I didn’t know that that’s what I was preparing for.
Mary Annaise Heglar Yeah. I mean, I think probably part of the reason your Twitter took off is because we’ve been having a pretty heated conversation on social media about fast fashion.
Aja Barber Yes.
Mary Annaise Heglar In particular Shein.
Aja Barber Yes, yes.
Mary Annaise Heglar Which I will assure you, is not a sponsor of the show.
Aja Barber Thank God for that.
Mary Annaise Heglar But before. But before we get into Shein, I wanted to just get you to explain the link between climate change and fast fashion. Yeah, I think a lot of people get that there’s a lot of waste and they probably think it’s more connected to plastics in the ocean, which, you know, its also related to climate, but still. So yeah. Can you just give us your your elevator speech on that.
Aja Barber By the way, there’s a lot of like microplastics, too, because 60% of the fabrics on earth currently are poly fibers. And whenever we wash poly fibers, which do come from plastic, which does come from oil, what happens is these garment shed and it gets into our water supplies, our soil, our food sources and our ocean. And so this is that this problem will come around to bite us in the ass so hard. And unfortunately, people don’t see that. They just see a cute dress and they don’t see the exploitation of other people. They just see a cute dress. But eventually this problem is going to mess with all of us. And that’s what I want people to understand, is that our liberation is intrinsically tied to the liberation of people in the Global South. But how this problem is connected to the climate crisis is depending on who you ask, because it’s been heavily debated. Some say that the fashion industry accounts for 10% of all global carbon emissions.
Mary Annaise Heglar Wait how many?
Aja Barber 10%. And you can play around with the numbers because different reports are definitely going to say different things. But what you need to know is the fashion industry and how we choose to consume garments is aiding in this problem, and like, fast fashion is not even a problem that like we need, right? It’s not the same as food. It is something where this is created by materialism, consumerism and pernicious marketing. And so a lot of these problems with the climate crisis are more challenging. But whether or not we choose to buy 68 garments a year from someone who’s exploiting someone else, that one shouldn’t be the challenge. And yet, here we are.
Amy Westervelt Mm hmm.
Aja Barber But if you want another link to how it’s going to aid in climate crisis, and this is something that I always tell people there’s a lot of water that goes into creating garments. And so, for instance, cotton as the crop is known to be a pretty thirsty crop. That is, again, one of those things where people will debate the numbers. But some people say it’s something like 3000 liters to like make a T-shirt and jeans. Right. That’s a lot of water to grow clothing, essentially to grow fibers that will be turned into clothing. So if you have fast fashion corporations like H&M who are admitting that they’re incinerating billions of dollars worth of garments that they didn’t need to produce, and we know that some of those garments are cotton and we know that we live on a planet that already has water insecurity, and that’s only going to be heightened during climate crisis. What damage is the fashion industry actually doing to issues like that?
Amy Westervelt Yeah, well, and I think it’s worth pointing out that the synthetic fiber thing is not an accident like that. That’s part of this whole, you know, like as they did with plastic more generally, oil and gas companies saw saw the potential for synthetic fibers to become a revenue stream that replaced their revenue when people started using less oil and gas in transportation and residential. And that’s like a big part of why we’re seeing this explosion. So, like, you know. And they’ve made it so cheap that they undercut all the natural fibers, and that’s on purpose as well to take market share.
Amy Westervelt That’s right. Yup
Aja Barber So they can’t you know, a cotton farmer can’t compete with the price of a cheap polyester. You know, a silk manufacturer can’t compete wool. Wool is another one. So like any natural fiber is going to have a hard time competing with the pernicious ness of like the poly fiber industry, because they have by far taken the fashion industry by storm and undercut everyone. And that has been by design.
Amy Westervelt Mm hmm. And it’s been like, relatively fast too.
Aja Barber Very fast.
Amy Westervelt Yeah.
Mary Annaise Heglar The fast has two meanings, in fast fashion.
Amy Westervelt That’s true. Yeah.
Aja Barber One of the things I talk about, like, I’m a little bit older than a lot of people on Instagram and social media in general. I always say like I’m a social media grandma and there’s a real privilege in being that person. Because I remember when we didn’t have these systems, I remember when you would buy your clothing from the department store and they would get shipments in four and five times a year. I’ve I’ve seen this system become what it is today at this speed where someone who is Gen Z, where they were born in like the year 2000, all they know is this system. So this idea that anything else actually exists is is quite foreign to younger people. So we really, I think, need to do the service of like communicating that there is a different way, that you don’t have to feel preyed upon by these corporations, that you don’t have to participate in a micro trend cycle, especially if it doesn’t make you feel good. And I think that’s a lot of the work that needs to be done. And people who are of the older generation need to quickly recognize what we’re taking part in and make sure that we are good ancestors for those of the future.
Amy Westervelt That’s so wild. I honestly. I’m a little older than Gen Z. *whispers* Gen X. But but so I think I really and like, of course I’ve noticed that, oh, there’s more and more clothing being, you know, marketed and sold on, on Instagram. But like I honestly had not thought much about how different it is from when I was buying clothes as like a teenager or even in my twenties. That just was not. Not a thing.
Aja Barber Not a thing. Didn’t even exist.
Amy Westervelt Yeah. Actually thrift store shopping was a big thing when in the I mean, I was like a nineties California kid, you know. So like it was like secondhand clothing was a trend. Actually, you know.
Aja Barber It depends on where you live because I was in northern Virginia and my parents, like my mother, always bought stuff for me from the thrift store, but it was not cool. And.
Amy Westervelt Yeah.
Aja Barber In my high school. And so I kept that to myself because I didn’t want to get ragged upon. I was ragged upon far enough, you know?
Amy Westervelt Yeah.
Aja Barber Why give them one more reason.
Mary Annaise Heglar Okay that’s the first time I have ever heard somebody say “ragged upon.” you have been in London, girl. Ragged on.
Aja Barber Oh, I know, I know. I just realized when it came out, it sounded really funny. Yes. I didn’t want to get the point. I just didn’t want to get dragged. Like I was already like, you know, a nerdy nature weirdo who, like, liked fashion and stuff. I wasn’t looking for one more reason to get teased by my peers. I remember, like, telling one of my peers that like, Oh yeah, I got these trousers from charity shop and he was like, oh, so you’re wearing like a dead person’s clothing, which really like made me think, Oh, that’s really horrible. And then of course, later on in my career, I learned about, you know, the secondhand clothing trade and how it is impacting people in the Global South and of course, in Ghana. Dead white man’s clothes.
Mary Annaise Heglar Yeah.
Amy Westervelt Oh, my God.
Mary Annaise Heglar Yeah, it’s also. That’s like saying you’re breathing a dead person’s air because a dead person stood where you were standing one day, like that’s ridiculous.
Aja Barber Totally. But it made me feel horrible. I was like, great. Way to open your mouth and and find yourself in a position where someone can make fun of you for something else.
Mary Annaise Heglar Right. Right. So there’s a lot of fast fashion out there, like you’ve already mentioned H&M. But Shein really takes the cake, though. Can you explain what makes Shein so much worse than their competitors?
Aja Barber Just the size and the speed at which they can move. Like if they were not, like a completely evil company, in many ways, I would actually think they’re really fascinating because the way in which they work is so much faster than like H&M or Zara. And because they don’t have brick and mortar, that is an expense that they don’t have. They can turn over a copy of a design faster than anyone else through algorithms and figuring out what’s going to sell well or what isn’t. They’re actually really evil and brilliant and that’s they’re producing at a rate where they are just trouncing on their competition, which I love to see like a bad guy get theirs. But it sucks when it’s by like an even more bad guy, you know?
Mary Annaise Heglar And they’re hurting a lot of other people in the process right?.
Aja Barber Oh, yeah, no, they’re hurting. They’re hurting so many people. But it’s funny because I know that like, you know, the H&M, and the Zara’s are like “hey, they took what we did and they’re doing it even worse. It’s not fair.” You know, it’s like,.
Mary Annaise Heglar Yeah.
Aja Barber Oh God.
Mary Annaise Heglar They’re not the victims in this story.
Aja Barber Totally. Totally. And, like, I do think, like, obviously, Shein is problematic for like a litany of reasons, but deep down inside, this conversation tends to be very white. And I do wonder how much of the critique comes from, like, latent xenophobia. You know what I mean? Because they are Chinese owned and they’re not trying to play by any of the rules of the West. And I feel like there’s a lot of like, Oh, we hate them. But deep down inside, I’m like, Do you hate them because someone you formerly exploited is doing what you do better than you do?
Amy Westervelt Mm hmm.
Mary Annaise Heglar Yeah. Yeah. I would also just add, Shein adds about 6000 new items of clothing every day.
Aja Barber Yeah.
Mary Annaise Heglar The average cost of about $10.
Aja Barber Yeah.
Mary Annaise Heglar They’re really into cultural appropriation and just stealing designer stuff, right?
Aja Barber Like all of them are.
Mary Annaise Heglar So as soon as the designers come out with something.
Aja Barber All of them are into cultural appropriation and all of them are into stealing stuff. And like what people need to understand in this conversation, because a lot of people like to sort of make the fast fashion conversation sound like it’s, you know, David and Goliath, like, oh, yeah, they’re making it so much more accessible for us. They’re making the world worse for everyone. You just don’t see it because you’re distracted by shiny, pretty things. What they do is, I would argue when it comes to the slow fashion movement, the ethical fashion movement, these movements are being led by small brands. But what these big corporations do, Shein, H&M, Zara, and others, is that they make it so that the small brands cannot even compete. So say you have a dress that becomes a real cult classic on Instagram, and that does happen. And maybe it’s from a small brand. So you’re making this dress, you’re paying everyone fairly. Your dress cost £200 because that is like the margin for you to pay everyone and pay yourself and keep your lights on, which a lot of people do not understand what clothing should and can cost. They just don’t get it. But everyone thinks that they get it, which is kind of annoying. But we do that in our society with like everyone, like scientists. And so basically you have this dress, it becomes an Instagram cult classic. Everybody’s buying it. And then all of a sudden Shein makes a copy of your dress and they’re selling it for $12. And then nobody wants to buy your dress because everyone’s buying the copy. If that keeps happening with small brands, they’re never going to be able to survive. The margins are so tight to run a fashion company because so many of my friends have run them and I know what it looks like on the inside and it’s here today, gone tomorrow. And if we have this market where anyone can really easily knockoff anything else and there’s no regulation, what that means is there’s no small business. And when there’s no small business, there’s a lack of jobs. Right? Like, everyone that is a fashion student should care about this because the better jobs in the fashion industry are with the small brands. They’re the brands that are paying better wages to everyone, and they’re the brands where you’re actually going to get some really fun experience. Like, I think sometimes we’re young, we grow up and we think, Oh yeah, I love to work for that big company. But sometimes when you’re in that big company, you’re just a number and not a name. And so you’re going to get some really good hands on experience within small business that, you know, maybe you can take to a larger company, but not everyone could be at the top. So like the the jobs that I think tend to be the best are the ones where you’re treated like a decent human and you get good experience. And within big corporations, what I find is nobody is treated like a human, not the person at the bottom of the food chain and not even really the person in the middle. You know, you see these jobs for like I want to work for this company and it’s in a major city like New York or London, and the job pays $25,000 a year. Who can survive in New York City or London on that amount of money? The wealthy. So that means that only people that are, you know, born into wealth can actually participate in the fashion industry. So that really limits who can actually be within the industry. And I just think we lose so much when entire industries just become massive corporations. And unfortunately, that’s what fast fashion is doing to the fashion industry as a whole and polluting the planet.
Mary Annaise Heglar Well, there’s that. Yeah.
Amy Westervelt It’s just bad on all fronts.
Aja Barber All fronts.
Amy Westervelt And, yeah, I have seen this cycle. I’ve seen you, like, batting this away right and left on Twitter of people being like, but I can’t afford a, you know, sustainably produced item. And like, I feel like, again, this comes back to the consumption pattern thing.
Aja Barber Yes. Which nobody wants to touch that.
Amy Westervelt Yeah. Because you want to touch it. Here’s the thing.
Aja Barber I just say that this is the thing. As someone who has a platform, I talk all the time about like the various ways in which I used to lie to myself. And I think society allows us to do that. And it. Hang with me here because I’m going to go off the deep end. I feel like.
Amy Westervelt We.
Aja Barber Do this thing right. We’re like everybody’s so poor in our society. And I think we do that because there is a lot of inequality. But like the person whose parents bought their first house in a major city is saying the same thing as the person who doesn’t have parents.
Amy Westervelt Who can.
Aja Barber Do that, like, oh, I’m just so broke.
Amy Westervelt Oh.
Aja Barber And I really think because we don’t talk honestly about wealth within our society, that dishonesty trickles into every conversation and allows for us to have massive industries that just exploit large amounts of people in the Global South. And nobody wants to hold their hand up and say, Oh yeah, I did that. I was kind of irresponsible. Like, Yes, I did buy 68 items of clothing I didn’t need to fill my insecurities. Nobody wants to do that. But I think a lot of us need to realize, right, you’re like, I can’t afford ethical fashion. Great, don’t buy anything this year. Like if you have a wardrobe full of clothing that fits, a great way to participate in the slow fashion movement is to just wear the clothing you have and people do treat trends like it is a human right. And it’s bizarre to act that way when like the majority of the world is not participating in this cycle. But I also just came off of a visit to Paris, where I met up with the Or Foundation, which is a nonprofit in Ghana that deals with the fashion waste stream that ends up in Kantamanto market. They were there in Paris talking to EU regulators, big brands, and it was a wonderful trip. There were 15 people from the Or Foundation, so 13 Ghanaians, two Americans. And can I just say everybody was so stylish. Everybody. And these are people who are largely wearing the items that we call not good enough anymore because we stuffed in a charity bag and somehow it’s ended up on their doorstep. So this notion that we need fast fashion to be stylish and to be able to participate is just patently false. And I think we need to really start coming correct and being more honest in this conversation. But I think that also looks like more honest conversations about wealth in general and who can make changes and who can’t, because there might be someone who has to pick between, you know, paying their light bill are getting a pair of work trousers from Shein. Right. And like for that person, I know you’re you’re just trying to survive, but that is not the majority of Shein’s customers. And it’s time to be honest about that.
Mary Annaise Heglar I mean, as someone who gave up on ever being stylish in the fourth grade, I don’t know. This almost makes me feel like there’s like there’s hope for me.
Amy Westervelt Oh, my God.
Mary Annaise Heglar Me and my chronic yoga pants.
Amy Westervelt This is where I have to admit that I in the fourth grade, I don’t know what got into me. I think I saw the movie Working Girl, maybe. And I asked my mom to, like, scour thrift shops for, like, tiny suits, tiny little lady suits.
Mary Annaise Heglar Like, wait you wait. Like you wanted pant suits? Like Hillary Clinton?
Amy Westervelt I wore pantsuits. Yes
Aja Barber That’s adorable.
Amy Westervelt For, like, an entire year, a little second hand pant suits.
Mary Annaise Heglar I want pictures.
Aja Barber Okay? But that is way more stylish than, like, the bajillion copycat girls who were all, like, the same sweatshirt from the limited right?
Amy Westervelt Yes, yes.
Mary Annaise Heglar I mean yeah
Aja Barber Like you had. Your own personal style where they all looked like clones.
Amy Westervelt l did. I did. I did. And in fact, one girl, in an attempt to be mean to me, said something like, Why do you always dress so sophisticated? And I was like, If you think thats a burn, I’ve got news for you.
Aja Barber Well, I just I also want to say, all of the coolest people in the fashion industry all have like similar stories. About like getting made fun of with their clothing. Not growing up with the right things. Like anyone who is not like Richie Rich in the fashion industry. And there’s a few of us all have like really similar stories about like being the kid who like dressed a little different and then, like, people would make fun of you, but like, you knew what your personal style was. It wasn’t your fault they didn’t get it.
Amy Westervelt Right? Exactly. And yeah, exactly. I was like, whatever. They don’t know. Eventually they’ll see. Anyway.
Mary Annaise Heglar There’s still so much more to talk about with climate and fashion and also colonialism.
Amy Westervelt Yes.
Mary Annaise Heglar And we’re going to get to that after the break.
Amy Westervelt Speaking of consumption, we need to run an ad. *laughs*
Amy Westervelt [AD].
Amy Westervelt Okay. So Aja, we want to talk about your book.
Aja Barber Thank you!
Amy Westervelt Which is fantastic. It’s called Consumed, and it looks at the connection between supply chains created by multinational fashion corporations and the colonial empires that preceded them. Muah, we love it. It looks at lots more, but that was one one key takeaway. So, like, we know that there is there are all of these huge direct connections between how people look at climate as being a problem of too big to solve and how people look at the fashion industry as one that’s too big to fix. This is something that we hear about all of the aspects of climate all the time, right? The same vision, the same thing about energy. Right. The systems, it’s too big and it’s too broken. So when people are you know looking at the fashion industry, you talk about in consumer that the system is actually it’s working as designed. Right. So let’s have you talk a little bit more about that. How how is this set up? Like, how did we know that we were probably going to end up here 100 years ago?
Aja Barber Yeah. So I mean, if you look at chattel slavery and colonialism in the East, those are all like the building blocks of what the system is today. And I was sharing with like my patrons that like, yes, I am in this, this arena because it’s right and it feels right. And I know that’s what I should be doing. But for me, there’s the personal issue. As a black person from the United States who is the descendant of enslaved people, my people were brought to the United States to harvest land, to build the system, and that cotton kickstarted the industrial revolution. Without the industrial revolution, you wouldn’t have today’s systems. So, you know, that industrial revolution led to things like the fair labor in America. But that happened because of things like the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire. And so I think that at the base of this, you know, chattel slavery, which was a huge part of it, but additionally, British exploration and India was all about disrupting the cotton trade there because at the time, India was the superpower of cotton. They were they were killing it in the textiles. And the British went there to set out to disrupt that. And they did. And now, instead of, you know, India really being in control of that system, the people that control that system are the head of the top 20 brands in the world. And most of the time it’s the white person. But additionally, because of the way we consume clothing fast, super rapidly, the, you know, success of micro trends pushed through social media, pernicious marketing. We are going through so much clothing so quickly and, you know, people are taught that like, oh, don’t throw out your clothing, donate it. But we’re donating billions of garments every year. And what’s happening is these garments are ending up right back in the global south in Ghana, and they are polluting the environment there. And so from start to finish, this system basically crops all over nonwhite people because the resources that go into the clothing, the labor which goes in clothing, is nonwhite people in the global south and then the consumer. It’s a linear system. The person that consumes this garment is usually a privileged person in the global north. Often they are white, and then the person who ends up with it polluting their backyard in old Fadama in Ghana, it’s going to be a black person. And so ultimately and it doesn’t have to be a black person. It can be, you know, the Atacama Desert, you know, it can be anywhere, but it’s going to be in the global south. You don’t see mountains of used growth clothing, you know, outside of a politician’s house in London. But I would argue that’s exactly where it should be. But instead, we’re exporting this problem and we’re sending it to the Global South and calling it charitable when this is not an act of charity, this is an act of like environmental violence. It pollutes the beaches that pollutes the water, the amount of clothing that comes into can’t smoke. So every single week, I think it’s 15 million garments. Now, bear in mind that the population of Accra is 3 million people. And it has filled up. The municipal dump ten years ahead of schedule. So now the citizens of Ghana and it isn’t just Ghana, it’s Uganda, it’s Rwanda, it’s Kenya. I would argue pretty much every you know, so many countries in the entire continent of Africa are dealing with this problem, and it’s an ecological disaster.
Amy Westervelt This is like what we did with electronics recycling in Asia.
Aja Barber Yeah, totally.
Amy Westervelt In the 90s and early 2000s. It’s crazy. You would just find this the global. North finds its sort of global dumping grounds for the stuff. And then like the, the grossest part is, yeah, how it gets marketed to consumers as like you’re doing a good thing.
Aja Barber Charity Yeah, exactly.
Amy Westervelt Dumping your stuff on these people.
Aja Barber At this point.
Amy Westervelt Or just buying less.
Aja Barber Yeah. At this point, I would actually rather like if it isn’t something that is good and usable, I would rather that people actually throw it away in the global north because if that keeps happening, then it will force us to have to deal with our textile issue ourselves and come up with some sort of actual recycling scheme because currently only 1% of textiles are recycled. 1%.
Amy Westervelt That is wild.
Aja Barber So people are buying clothing. Yeah, essentially. And unfortunately what we also know is that the quality has just like gone right downhill. And so when you have clothing, you have a system that’s just been degraded and, you know, downgraded and downgraded. What you have is like one time use clothing, but people are still putting it into a charity bag going, Oh someone in Africa might want that. Well, surprised they don’t. You know, it’s trash. And if you.
Amy Westervelt Keep it.
Aja Barber If you know that it’s trash in your heart of hearts when you’re putting in that bag, don’t donate it because nobody is going to want it. Nobody. And we need to really start seeing this problem for what it is it needs to be in our backyard. Like, I only donate things that are current season that are from designers where if I pick something up at a charity shop, I would shout, Score. It has to be on trend. I will not donate anything that is, you know, torn, ripped, that sort of thing. But that is what people are doing. And it’s it’s it’s a colonialist idea that somebody in another part of world might want something that, you know, you don’t think is good enough for you to wear anymore.
Amy Westervelt Mm hmm.
Mary Annaise Heglar It’s almost like you’re saying that we have enough clothes on the face of the earth already.
Aja Barber Oh, my God. The fashion industry, the fashion industry spits out 100 billion garments a year, and the human population is only 8 billion. And let’s be honest, 50% of our planet lives on, what, $5.50 a day? So, like half that amount, because only maybe 3 million of us are actually somewhat participating in this system. So the fashion industry is producing a lot of clothing for a small portion of humanity and at this point, you know, what are we 8 billion in the population for 100 billion garments every single year? Yeah, we have enough clothing. I mean.
Amy Westervelt Wow.
Aja Barber I don’t want to see the fashion industry go away because I want those small ethical brands to thrive and survive. And I want there to be a world where they can. But I don’t want the fashion industry to look anything the way it currently does today.
Mary Annaise Heglar Mm hmm.
Amy Westervelt Yeah.
Mary Annaise Heglar So what you’re saying is, degrowth.
Aja Barber Yeah, that’s exactly what I’m saying. And it’s the pink elephant in the room that no one wants to address in the fashion industry. Trust me.
Amy Westervelt Yeah. In the oil and gas conversation, the. The oil companies always say some variation of, like, while we’re just supplying a demand, like, if you guys used less, we would produce less, which is patently false. As we can see in this whole conversation of synthetic fibers and plastic is the same. They just say, this conversation. Yeah. So yeah, like if people were saying, okay, we need to change consumption patterns, but how do we do it in a way where the system is actually forced to to also change and not just like try to find other ways to push it?
Aja Barber I do think that the corporations have to lose our attention and lose our money. Like, I think that consumer power is huge in this conversation. People love to say on has nothing to do with me. It needs to be regulated. Well, yeah, but who is going to regulate something if you don’t care? Right. If you were okay with this system, if you’re still participating, if you’re still going, oh, I feel really bad. I guess I’m going to go in like by myself, address our new card again from, like, this store that I know doesn’t treat people well. Do you actually think that, like, your lawmaker will be moved to, like, regulate the system? So, like, unfortunately, this is like. We need a cultural shift. And that cultural shift starts with individual change. And like the consumer voice has so much power here and people need to recognize that. But in order to actually get into this conversation, I think it’s important for us as individuals to look at all of our own consumer patterns because the market is dictated by that. It is it’s dictated by what we are choosing to do. There is a reason why every fast fashion brand is now starting to roll out their resale sites. Like they’re all trying to take a piece of the resell market that has been built by, you know, companies like Vestiaire, the Realreal, eBay, Depop. They want that cut. They don’t want you going to those places to sell your clothing. Why profit once when you can profit twice? And the reason why they’re doing this is because they are responding to consumer demand. And so if consumer demand were I don’t know, we demand you start treating our fellow humans with decency and stop union busting. And I’m supporting this company because I actually like that they pay people well, they would pay attention to that as well. But I just think we as citizens haven’t quite gotten mad enough and haven’t realized that we can be a part of this conversation. And we absolutely should.
Mary Annaise Heglar Mm hmm. Yeah. I think you’re getting at this, like, weird pendulum swing that happens in climate discourse overall, where it was, like, for a really long time, people felt so guilty about climate change, like, you know, about what they ordered for lunch or what they the last flight that they took and all that. And they were like, It’s all my fault. And then like, they just felt so guilty that they just completely shut down and did nothing. Yeah. And then there was this movement to be like, actually, it’s all these companies fault. And, you know, there’s all a whole lot of truth to that. And so people were like, It doesn’t matter what I buy or what I use or how many flights I take. It’s like, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa. Too far too fast. I was like, I can take all the flights I want because it’s BP’s fault. Like, whoa.
Amy Westervelt Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.
Aja Barber Exactly. And so, yeah, for me, if you’re not going to do anything about it, then just stop buying stuff like, you know what I mean? Like, just participating in trends, no matter which way you slice and dice and unpack it, is not mandatory for humanity. It’s not even you know, I understand that like that peer pressure is real and like those feelings are real. But maybe it’s time to unpack something deeper that, you know, causes you to lean into consumerism when you feel insecure. That’s what I would say, because you can’t eat these clothes is not going to be life or death. Yes, obviously, we all need clothing that protects us from the elephants and keeps us warm and dry and so on. There there is some survival there. But that the the hole that you just took at the mall, that is not about survival. And it’s time to get real about that. But also, I think a lot of people think that participating in consumerism, the way we’ve sort of been told to do it, because one of the things I reference is like every cult film that I grew up with has like a makeover scene that involves tons of shopping bags. And I think I think that’s I think that seeps into our brains like really early, as much as we don’t want to admit it. And I think that really impacts how we like view, you know, ourselves, like, oh, you really want that person to like you, well then you need a makeover with new clothing. Oh, you’re starting a new job. Okay, well, you need a makeover. I think really getting to the heart of like, is this system even making me happy is something that people don’t do enough of. Because when I think back upon, like when I was buying fast fashion, largely, I was feeling really unhappy and like I had a job that I would hate. So I would like go and visit the stores before I would go into this extremely stressful job where I would get yelled at and blamed for stuff or I didn’t feel comfortable with the people that I was quote unquote friends with. They made me feel insecure because they were all really rich. So I would like buy things that I didn’t need so I could feel rich too, even though I do not come from wealth. So I think really unpacking what’s behind why we buy could be like the key to all of this. And then once you sort of get to that, those like targeted ads, you can just bottom away. You’re like, keep on moving. And that’s what I really want for people ultimately to ask yourself like but do you even like this? Because I think buying the amount of clothing that we’re buying is actually exhausting. And if I can get people to really think deeper about this topic, the humanity element, the lack of connection we have to the things that we buy, I think a lot of people would find that they don’t like it. I get a lot of people that will message me and be like, Yeah, you know, when I first found your Instagram page, I was like, I don’t like her. I like her message. This is a for me. I’m going to keep shopping. And then, you know, I started to like read everyday, which you. Right. And I started to go, no, I think this is for me. So I took a quick break. I said, You know what? I’m going to unsubscribe all these apps and it’s going to be really hard. I’m going to do it. And then they’re like, So now we’re on six months, and I managed to save enough money to buy a really great coat from a designer. I thought I always told myself I couldn’t afford, but the truth of the matter was I was pissing away all my money on things that I didn’t really need or want, and I just want to say thank you. And I get those messages every single week, which really speaks to like a real, deeper issue there. And that’s ultimately what I want. I want people to ask themselves questions and interrogate consumerism and always remember that for every low cost that we see, there’s a human costs and we might not be paying for it. But somebody else somewhere in the world is. And that’s at the heart of the matter.
Mary Annaise Heglar Yeah. I just want to add, you said that we can’t eat the clothes. You definitely can’t when they’re covered in lead, which is the thing that happens apparently.
Aja Barber Oh, God, you don’t want that near your baby. You don’t want that near your child. You don’t want that near your skin. And that’s another thing, right? An industry where there’s very little regulation and everybody’s just marking their own homework is an industry where bad things can happen. And unfortunately, like Shia’s clothing was tested by like a group in Canada and they found lead. They found five times over the legal limit of what’s allowed. Which is funny because you would think there would be no lead in any clothing, but apparently there’s a limit and I. I just thought like.
Mary Annaise Heglar A little concerned about that.
Aja Barber I don’t want this. I don’t want this. Like and one of the things when you stop, like participating in a lot of fast fashion, you stop buying from a lot of stores and you start like caring a little bit more being like, okay, I’m going to buy one pair of trousers through this ethical brand. The thing I noticed most, because I’ll still go into fast fashion stores to like look around and see who they’re like copying. I always noticed how strong a lot of these stores smell of chemicals now, and I didn’t notice it before, which is terrifying.
Amy Westervelt Wow.
Aja Barber Or like one time I ordered something from ethical wine in a department store and I noticed, oh my god, I really don’t miss the amount of plastic associated with like non slow fashion. Like, I had forgotten that like every time you order from like a big corporation, they are going to send you five times the amount of plastic than anything needs were. When you’re buying from ethical brands that are more thoughtful about this stuff, oftentimes your garment is going to arrive wrapped up in brown paper with like a twig of lavender. You know what I mean?
Mary Annaise Heglar Yeah. The over packaging really drives me insane.
Aja Barber Ohhh the over, but it’s everywhere. And all the corporations do it. And like, even like when you go into like a store like Urban Outfitters or Anthropologie, every single one of those items comes in its own individual plastic, every single one. I took a video recently outside of the Urban Outfitters in shortage because somehow all of their like trash was just like right outside the store and it was just boxes and boxes of individual plastic. Wrap it wrapping.
Amy Westervelt Ughhh.
Aja Barber Yeah.
Mary Annaise Heglar Wow.
Aja Barber And that’s like every Urban Outfitters in the world and other stores as well, every mall store. You know, and it’s really interesting because my niece is, I always say you should talk to kids about this stuff because they get it. They really get it like. And if you just break it down for them, they really start to understand. So, I have a small clothing line with my friend Laura. Her brand is Laura Jean. And.
Mary Annaise Heglar Its very beautiful.
Aja Barber Thank you. And my older sister. It’s an ethical clothing line. Don’t worry. Nobody’s getting rich here. But we are paying people well. We’re making clothing that will stay in your wardrobe for a long time. And my older sister bought one of the sweaters, and my niece saw the invoice when it came and she called me, actually, and was like, Auntie, mommy got one of your sweaters, and it was $100. And I was like, actually kiddo it was £100. And she was like shocked by that amount. And so I could see in her childlike brain that she was thinking that like, Auntie is making $100 for every sweatshirt that is sold. So I had to break it down for her. I was like, No, this is not how this works. How it works is Auntie and Laura design a garment. Together we go and we pick out the materials. Now we work with an ethical yarn maker who has some real sustainability practices in place, which means that their yarn is going to cost more than the yarn that is probably being used in this the store, because this is a good company. So the yarn costs this amount of money. So that’s, you know, one fourth of the price. And then we pay our garment makers the most amount of money because they’re doing the hardest labor. So their amount of money is X amount of money. So then that’s like a bigger chunk of the price. And then don’t forget about like shipping because it’s made in Bulgaria and this expense taxes, yada, yada, yada. So then when you’re done, there’s this tiny little sliver left and RG and Laura split that and that’s why she’s not rich. And she was like, Oh, like really understanding that. Like it isn’t just, you know, this or that that goes into it, that there’s a lot of moving parts here. And if you pay people well then the price tag should actually show that and reveal that. So the next question she had was, okay, so like this is how it should be done. Why is everything so cheap at the mall? And I was like, Here’s where I ruin your childhood, basically. And I had to tell her a lot of the stuff that you’re seeing at the mall, that price tag reveals that somebody in that supply chain is not being paid fairly, somebody is being exploited. Chances are maybe they’re using plastic fibers which are very cheap because plastic fibers, polyester has been pushed into the market and it undercuts all the natural fibers. So that’s very cheap. So that’s how you get the price down. But I guarantee you, the person that made that garment, they weren’t paid very fairly. So maybe they make $0.10 an hour, you know. So at this point you’re looking at, what, $2 for the shirt and then there’s the huge markup because that’s what the corporation does and that’s how you get a T-shirt that costs $10 in the mall. And she was just shocked by it. And now when, you know, she receives clothing from someone and it is, you know, a brand that she’s not familiar with, she will call me and say, do you think that this brand pays people? And I’ll be like, What’s the brand? She’ll be like, It’s this. And I’m like, unfortunately, no, they don’t. She’s like, Okay, I don’t want clothing from there anymore. You know, she and she will actually like get excited when her mom buys her something secondhand on Thredup are a lot of her clothing comes from Thredup actually, and she understands what’s happening behind the scenes. So she’s she’s cool with that. She is absolutely fine with wearing secondhand clothing, where with me. I looked at it as a marker of shame because I was surrounded by snobs. So if we can have this conversation with all the kids in our lives, that is going to create so much change. And I think also about like the holiday season and how stressful that is for parents, especially those that might not have, you know, money or money might be tight. Imagine if we could actually unpick consumerism among the next generation and how much of a difference that will make when it comes to the pressure that’s put on parents? It’s a win win.
Amy Westervelt Totally. That’s the thing too, is like like we were talking about degrowth earlier too, which I feel like we should at like briefly define here. But also like it’s you know, it’s sort of the opposite of the the endless growth model, right, of of capitalism. This idea that we have to always be making more money and cutting costs and growing the size of a company, and that is a recipe for endless overconsumption. And the thing of it is, I feel like this gets talked about in climate a lot, too. But the but I still feel like people fight against the idea that actually doing that, making making things work better for everyone makes life better for everyone too like it is actually preferable across the board.
Aja Barber Yes.
Amy Westervelt The only losers in this situation are multinational corporations, which are not people, despite their large efforts to convince us otherwise.
Aja Barber This is so true.
Amy Westervelt Just like it feels better. You know?
Aja Barber I always tell people if we can raise wages for people, you know, fighting the hardest battle, which in my opinion is garment workers and people at the end and the beginning of the supply chain. We can raise wages for ourselves. Right. If we can empower and and help and amplify the message of people who are having their unions busted by these corporations, then that means internally in corporate, they’re also going to have to have some better standards as well. And currently, like the way people are treated within these corporations, even at a corporate level, isn’t very good either. And so by.
Amy Westervelt No.
Aja Barber Joining the fight on the ground there, we can really ensure better wages for everyone. And that’s really important because we’re losing that battle. The gig economy is just a microcosm of what’s happening with the fashion industry, with like all the outsourcing and no one owning their own factories. That’s the same thing that you see with like ridesharing apps, right? And house apps. It’s one of those things where it’s just making it so that. It’s harder to be fair in a competitive market, basically, and be treated well. Yeah, there’s a really, really great book by Roland Gay or called The Business of Alef. And what it basically talks about is how like, you know, fair treatment and placing the environment first is actually really good for business and good for the environment. And so, like, don’t say. Yeah, exactly. Yeah. It’s so like, you know, one of the things one of the one of the points made is, well, if you pay garment workers X amount of money and everyone’s making fair wages, that’s going to actually take X amount of CO2 out of the atmosphere. And here’s why. You know, so like. The freedom of others is tied to like sustainability. All of this is tied together, and you can’t have sustainability without ethical and fair labor. You can’t like brands will try and trick you and be like, this is made from organic cotton, but it was made by babies and that just doesn’t work. So yeah, it’s, it’s all connected. And the sooner we understand that, the better we’re going to be as a people and the planet.
Mary Annaise Heglar Yeah. I mean, I think that gets us into something else we wanted to talk about, which is the greenwashing. Yeah. So can you talk to us about some of the some of the biggest markers of greenwashing and how folks can spot it in the fashion industry? Like I, I feel like I probably fall into, you know, some of the traps of, like, this is organic bamboo, but like, there’s no way to make an entire set of yoga pants out of that, so. Yeah. What should we look for?
Aja Barber I always say, just look for fair wages. I don’t even look for the environmental stuff because the truth of the matter is, is that the corporations that are paying everyone within the supply chain fairly don’t have the same amount of money left over to overproduce clothing. So if you don’t even want to like, look at like the environmental credentials because a lot of that can be really confusing. Ask the company if everyone makes fair wages be like are all of the people making the clothing making above a living wage? Because any company that is actually like ethical and really worth their salt in the sustainability conversation will be able to tell you right off the bat. Absolutely. Here’s what we’re doing, here’s what we’re sharing. These are the factories we work with. This is what’s paid hourly. I mean, with my line with Laura, it’s obviously really small, but I can pretty much tell you, like, who has made certain sweaters and knitwear pieces like that. That’s how tight it is when you actually care about this stuff and when you’re working with like small workshops and places where like people’s general well-being is placed above like greed. And so I don’t even bother with the environmental stuff as much anymore because I think the better brands are never going to be the ones that are overproducing the clothing to the point where we’re dumping it on the Global South because you can’t really afford to when you’re actually running an ethical business. So just look for the ethics.
Mary Annaise Heglar Mm hmm. Mm hmm. That’s a good point. So, like, what are the solutions in the greenwashing feel like? Is there any kind of accountability for false claims?
Aja Barber There is. So that’s a growing conversation right now, which is really exciting because I love to see it happen to these corporations. But there’s been a lot of pushback. I think right now H&M is is catching it. There’s a lawsuit currently in the states where they’re being sued for misinformation. The consumer market authority in Norway also said, hey, this is this is bad information. There’s a consumer marketing authority in the U.K. who recently took some brands to task for greenwashing. And one such brand actually made their whole environmental section disappear overnight when they realized that they were going to be held accountable. So, yeah, there is some regulation happening. There’s definitely some things we’re at the beginning of it. But basically, if a corporation really can’t prove that like the fabric that they’re using is better for the planet, for X, Y and Z reasons, there’s going to start to be some fines and there will be more lawsuits. And I think that’s really exciting. It’s it’s a bit early in the game to say, like, what the final shake down of this ball is going to look like. But I’m just happy something is being done finally.
Mary Annaise Heglar Mm hmm. Yeah. Amen.
Amy Westervelt Yeah. We’re going to talk about the stress that comes with gift giving and how to get rid of it, coming up right after this break.
Mary Annaise Heglar [AD]
Mary Annaise Heglar So I will admit that I have like pretty extreme gift anxiety. It’s one of the things that I specifically do not enjoy about this period of the of the year. So I’m going to start us off with a very specific but also generalized question. Let’s say just like in general, you have like maybe a couple of pesky family members who I don’t know, like are never happy with anything that you actually give them.
Aja Barber Don’t give them shit then. Don’t give them anything.
Mary Annaise Heglar We’re not we’re not done. So, like, they’re not happy with any gifts and they’re also angry with no gift. What do you do with those people? Like I’m asking for a friend. Just in general. Nobody specific.
Aja Barber A lump of coal. That’s what I do.
Mary Annaise Heglar But thats a fossil fuel!
Aja Barber Oh yeah, you’re right. You’re right. You can’t even give them that. *laughs* Oh, God, that’s really tough. Okay, so every year I do a gift guide for my patrons, and it is always things that I definitely like, things that I enjoy, things that I would like to receive usually from, you know, obviously from ethical companies and, you know, environmental companies. But, you know, I love the idea of like, you know, non-material gifts. So like things like master class lessons online, things like, you know, I think right now we’re in a cost of living crisis in the UK and people are definitely going to be trimming the edges of their budget. So like I don’t think any person who is really having to pare back is going to scowl at a gift card to their local coffee shop when they can’t buy, you know, lattes like they used to. So I always say food is a great one, non items that definitely don’t hang around houses. So like for kids, I always get kids products from Lush because it’s really fun. It’s a little bit upmarket, which means that like that’s not something that they’re going to get every day. And it doesn’t sit around my sister’s house because it’s not a gigantic piece of plastic. And so things that can actually be used. Not material items, not plastic things. I think for clothing items you really have to know the person well and you know, know that they asked for the certain thing. Otherwise, if you don’t know them well and you’re not a professional at this and I did used to do personal shopping for the holiday season, so I get it. But I think if it’s too challenging, just get someone like a nice food basket or like, you know, a gift card, a master class, something that they can actually, like, use and do for like a family, you know, those like adventure parks or what are they called, like the trampoline park. That stuff is expensive, but if you’re a parent and you want to have like, you know, a Friday night where you could just, like, be on your phone and not be bothered, go to one of those places. They’ve got benches everywhere and you just got kids, parents on their phone, but that adds up, right? So like something like that for a family I think is really cool. I’m all about the non-material items. I always love books though as well. Books. You can’t go wrong. We can’t go wrong by becoming a more informed society. I actually can think of a really great book, no I’m just kidding.
Mary Annaise Heglar Is it Freakonomics? It’s not Freakonomics.
Aja Barber It’s not, it’s not Freakonomics. Yeah. I just think non-Material items are like really the way forward because I think we all learned during the pandemic that, holy crap, we have a lot of stuff, so maybe let’s try and get away from the stuff this holiday season. And if it must be stuff like maybe we should try and go the secondhand route with some of that stuff. So like I started doing second hand items for people for Christmas, like my niece in the UK, she really wanted this bag from a designer that I consider quite basic that I would probably not be caught dead buying from, but she really wanted it because that’s what her age group is into. And all of her friends had the bag, but they had fakes that they had like bought on holiday. And me, I just hop myself on devestiaire collective typed in the name of the bag and lo and behold, five came up. I bought one for £35. That was gently used. Viola, all your friends have the fake bag you have the real one. It was just gently used by an adult in Switzerland, you know. So I think we need to we need to change how we look at the holiday season and. Gifting in general. I really, really want to normalize secondhand gifts. Like my my husband loves. Like he never used to really care about fashion, but now he does. And there are certain brands that we both really like, like we love. Comme de Garcon but we cannot afford Comme de Garcon full price but I sure can afford it on Vestiaire collective. Especially if I like wait. It might put it in my basket and like see if anyone’s bought it after six months. Okay. No one’s bought it, I send a little offer. They can always say no. So the secondhand items, especially for things that have like a little bit off a higher sticker price, I think is a real win win. And what we know about our society is that everything gets overproduced in our society. If you think it’s not on the secondhand market, you’re wrong. It usually is.
Mary Annaise Heglar Yeah. So you give away a lot of this information on your patreon so I just want to add another plug.
Aja Barber Thank you. I appreciate that. So it’s patreon dot com slash aja barber, but like I’m, I give it away on Twitter too, just not on demand. Like, I do not like when random people that I have no connection with are like can you tell me where to buy shoes from? I’m like, No, I won’t do that. There’s a whole list on patreon where I can do that. You can even write a post on Patreon in the community section and I will do an entire post for you, but I don’t do it on Twitter. But what I will do on Twitter is every now and then I’ll just shout out random brands that I like. It will be at my own discretion. Sometimes I will make threads where I talk about what I’m doing for the holiday season, and it will usually be a shortened version of what I’m doing on Patreon. But like, I don’t want to gatekeep all the information. I just don’t want people treating me like I’m their dial-a- shopper, when in actuality I do get paid for that in some spaces.
Mary Annaise Heglar Look, the way that people feel entitled to black women’s time and labor on on Twitter and other social media apps is ridiculous. So I feel your pain, but I really appreciate the information that you give out for free. But I want our listeners to know there’s a way to pay for this and to have it at your fingertips at all times and not worry about Elon Musk blowing up Twitter and now you don’t have it.
Aja Barber Totally.
Mary Annaise Heglar So go to Aja’s patreon.
Aja Barber Thank you very much and like I really do so I have a monthly newsletter and in the community section sometimes I’ll just grab all of the questions and go through it. It’ll be like, What should I buy for my dad’s birthday then? And the newsletter. I’ll be like, so and so ask this. Here’s a list of five things or whatever. So like I really do try and get to those questions over on Patron. But yeah, you know, if you’re, if you’re not enough places financially, follow me on Twitter because I do give it away for free sometimes too.
Mary Annaise Heglar For real. Yeah.
Amy Westervelt I have one gift giving question and it’s I like my family for the most part has kind of just stopped giving gifts to each other. I feel like it happened
Mary Annaise Heglar Beautiful.
Aja Barber Same. It’s the adults
Amy Westervelt It is kind of nice. Yeah, it is. It’s like it’s basically like everybody gets the kids something.
Aja Barber Yeah.
Amy Westervelt For Christmas. But we’re all like. Like, we’re good. You know.
Aja Barber Basically how I do it, if I see something that I know someone will like, I’ll get it. But there’s no obligation and I’m not expecting anything in return.
Amy Westervelt Yes. Yes, exactly. Exactly. But I do know that, you know, like, if if there’s someone that you don’t know that well or someone for whom gift giving is just a big thing for them, it’s hard to to say like, no, really, I’m trying to, like, have less stuff please don’t give me a thing. Do you advice for people who are trying to set boundaries like that, like, hey, we don’t want to do any gifts this year?
Aja Barber Oh, that is just the. So actually I write a lot of posts about this over on Instagram and the first viral post I had was about this topic. And what I figured out was the reason it went viral was because people were sharing it all over social media and hopes that that one person would see it and catch a dang hint. So what I would say is start posting the message loudly on social media. Not directed at any one person, but definitely directed at that one person. And like they’re on there enough and they see it hopefully they’ll take it on board. You could be like ten reasons why I don’t want a material item and then like connect it to like, you know, the environment being destroyed and you know, we would like this planet to exist for your grandkids and like this is why we shouldn’t be buying Christmas – Fact: Did you know that on Christmas day in the UK x hundred tons of plastic go to like landfill? Like, did you know that? I don’t have the statistics off the top of my head, but it’s a big amount of plastic. So like sharing a bunch of like environmental, you know, connections to the holiday season and how like much trash is generated and like how many people receive gifts that they don’t want. I think just loudly sending the hints through social media is can be slightly effective. So that would be my tip. But hard conversations are hard. I mean, I told someone that I didn’t want a wedding present from them and they never talked to me again.
Mary Annaise Heglar Wow, way to make it about you.
Amy Westervelt Geez.
Aja Barber Steve and I were living in a small London flat and we had no money and like, we just didn’t want stuff. We were just like, Please, no stuff.
Mary Annaise Heglar Give us money.
Aja Barber And somebody got real bent out of shape about that one.
Mary Annaise Heglar I mean, my advice would be just fake your death. You know, if you don’t want people to give you gifts? But I think I actually think that your response is more mature and less avoidant. So it probably will cause less consternation.
Aja Barber I think what we need to do is have the conversation about like consumerism year round. It needs to be pretty constant so that when the holidays arrive, nobody feels like you’re pulling any punches. You know, it’s it’s really in line with what you’re saying all along. And so when they’re like, surprise I got you a jokey mug, you could be like, absolutely not. Like, take this home with you.
Amy Westervelt Just throw it at them.
Aja Barber Exactly. Toss it in the trash as they’re watching. No, I’m just kidding. No, but like keeping this conversation going just before the holiday season is really crucial here because then people are like, well, you know what Aja’s like, don’t buy her anything. She said she doesn’t want anything.
Mary Annaise Heglar Yeah. I mean, what you can do for folks in your life who, like, insist on getting a gift -buy them, Aja’s book. That’ll send a message.
Amy Westervelt *Laughing*
Aja Barber Oh god. It’ll send a message and give them nightmares. There’s literally a chapter called the Black Friday Trick.
Amy Westervelt Yeah. I can’t believe that the. U.K. started doing Black Friday. That’s like the most obvious, the glaring example of it being just complete bullshit.
Aja Barber But you need to.
Mary Annaise Heglar Don’t they not have Thanksgiving, right?
Amy Westervelt That’s right. Yeah.
Aja Barber But you really need to understand though, that the UK was definitely like home to fast fashion, like in the early 2000s. And so yeah, the conversation about fast fashion and doing it needs to happen here because this place definitely made it popular. So yeah, we’re this is a consumer society here for sure. Definitely on a smaller scale though, because like smaller houses with no closets.
Amy Westervelt Right.
Mary Annaise Heglar Yeah, there’s that. So. Well, I feel like I’m ready to tackle the holiday season.
Amy Westervelt So do I. Thanks, Aja.
Aja Barber We’re just not buying anything no one’s buying anything. We’re just gonna. Yeah, buy nice food. Maybe some, like, native soaps and stuff that you can actually use up and then not have hanging around your house. But no plastic cat, no fast fashion. You know, we’re going to give people money, if anything else, like because we’re in a cost of living crisis.
Amy Westervelt A good bottle of booze, maybe.
Aja Barber Good bottle of booze if they drink.
Mary Annaise Heglar And we’re gonna buy books.
Aja Barber We’re going to buy, but we are not buying crap that people don’t need. Say it with me. No crap.
Mary Annaise Heglar Yes.
Amy Westervelt No crap.
Mary Annaise Heglar No coal
Aja Barber No, coal. No, coal either. Oh, man, you’ve changed now I can’t even use that line. You really like. I’m like, crap. You can’t give people, coal.
Mary Annaise Heglar No. No. You can’t give em coal. You give them a lump of dirt.
Aja Barber Okay, I’ll do that.
Amy Westervelt A rock.
Aja Barber Here’s a lump of soil.
Amy Westervelt Just a rock.
Mary Annaise Heglar Right. Go grow something you lazy bitch.
Aja Barber You know what would be a really nice present for somebody. A homemade herb garden. Like, if you had, like, you know, just some pots hanging around and you just puttering in your kitchen. I would love that if a friend were like, I just, you know, grew these herbs myself and you can use them fresh in your kitchen. Like there are so many things where if someone gave that to me, it would be so much more meaningful than like I bought you a hat from a store that, like, you don’t like you know what I mean?
Amy Westervelt Right.
Mary Annaise Heglar For sure. For sure.
Amy Westervelt Right.
Mary Annaise Heglar Yeah. Anyway, thank you so much, Arja. This was a great conversation.
Aja Barber This was a wonderful way to spend my day. And I just really enjoy you both and I’m grateful for the work that you do. So thank you for having me.
Amy Westervelt Yay.
Mary Annaise Heglar Thank you.
Mary Annaise Heglar Hot Take is a Crooked Media production.
Amy Westervelt It’s produced by Ray Peng and mixed and edited by Jordan Kantor.
Mary Annaise Heglar Our music is by Vasilis Fotopoulos. Leo Duran is our senior producer.
Amy Westervelt And our executive producers are Mary Annaise Heglar, Michael Martinez and me, Amy Westervelt.
Mary Annaise Heglar Special thanks to Sandy Girard, Ari Schwartz, Kyle Seglin, and Charlotte Landes for production support and to Amelia Montooth for digital support.
Amy Westervelt You can follow the show on Twitter at Real Hot Take and subscribe to Crooked Media’s video channel at YouTube.com slash crooked media.