Choosing to Empower Yourself
by Kaylin Michelle Sullivan
Packaged packaging around packaging in packaging with extra packaging on the side just in case, endless bombardments of advertising from harmful brands urging, seducing, drugging us into buy, buy, buying and thoughtless waste of materials left to suffocate our earth which is now desperately fighting for its survival. It’s impossible to avoid consumerism in a global society whose fundamental culture is to consume; a culture where a new model of iPhone unites and excites, where the first Starbucks to open in a country is the talk on everyone’s lips for months, where our most meaningful gatherings take place over a meal. It’s especially difficult to escape this consumer culture in places like Hong Kong which thrive on it. However, it’s not escaping it that’s the answer but rather engaging in consumption mindfully.
Just stepping into public for a minute in Hong Kong can send anyone into a meltdown of eco-anxiety  ; becoming nauseated by the amount of unnecessary waste generated every second or wandering into one of our NINE-HUNDRED-AND-FIFTY 7/11’s thinking “There must be something I need to buy, oh god I must buy something”. Perhaps you find yourself exiting a Starbucks with a ridiculously-sized pink latte oozing sugar thinking “WTF just happened? Why am I spending my money on this?” It often feels like most of us are mindlessly dragging ourselves through life from purchase to purchase. However, it’s not all pork and plastic doom and gloom, the social and environmental harm caused by such intense consumption and feelings of personal powerlessness don’t need to continue if we become conscious of the way we consume. Change lies in our small individual actions and making active choices in how we consume.
Consciousness or mindfulness means to be aware and present. To consume consciously means to be present in all aspects of your purchases; to consider both the value something really holds in your own life and the effect your buying it has externally both environmentally and socially. Taking consideration in how and what you buy bridges the all too common disconnection between products, their origin and their disposability. We begin to empower ourselves when we actively make decisions in what we’re buying and its entire life cycle instead of mindlessly letting money tumble into the hands of a business that seduced you with its consistent presence, convenience, sensual allures and deceptions of fulfilment- falling victim to this is being in a state of disempowerment in the consumerist system. By taking the responsibility upon ourselves to give momentum to change through mindfulness, we are essentially “voting with our dollars.” During last week’s talk on consumption at Green Is The New Black’s Conscious
Festival, Sonalie Figueiras of Green Queen (an HK-based eco-wellness blog) said “Every time you buy something you’re voting for the world you want, so I hope you’re voting for a greener world.” This is a profound statement in recognising that we are able to make personal and external change within what is often an oppressive system just by being mindful.
Almost all industries are guilty of inflicting social and environmental damage, but one which is especially at the forefront and which has a particularly personal impact is the fashion industry. The amount of waste generated by unused textiles is terrifying, and even more terrifying is the culture of trend-following and manipulation through tapping into insecurity that it curates. However, there is so much potential for change that has been unlocked in an industry often shrouded in darkness. At last week’s panel on consumption at The Conscious Festival, Anneleise Smillie, Executive director of Redress spoke about unlocking the potential of waste. Redress is a Hong Kong based NGO (achieving world-wide reach) working to reduce textile waste and minimising the negative impacts of fashion through a variety of initiatives. Redress has made mindfulness accessible within the fashion industry and to its consumers by turning conscious behaviour into something exciting and alluring while uniting people in the process. The NGO hosts DIY workshops teaching people how to upcycle  clothes, the Redress Design Awards (the world’s largest sustainable fashion design competition), as well as exhibitions and pop-up stores. They provide donation boxes at Zara’s all over Hong Kong where people can donate their clothes for recycling. The creative problem solving seen in an establishment like Redress has opened the conscious movement up to an avenue of enjoyment, inspiration and artfulness as opposed to being something of duty and work, and it’s this approach that we can embody individually to reclaim power within the often oppressive system of consumption.
Conscious consuming means that we invest value in our things, we love and care for them, we share them and express ourselves through them, subsequently shifting consumer culture from doom and gloom into a positive means of self expression, creativity, innovation and support. To support creators of mindful products is choosing to not only invest in something more meaningful for yourself but is also perpetuating and advocating creativity and growth of a socially and environmentally healthy community. The empowerment in mindfulness lies in taking responsibility; change comes first from awareness but really comes from taking action, even in small ways. For example, personalise those shoes by wearing the shit out of them and making that one pair part of your story. Work with your belongings to portray your authentic narrative to the world and represent your personal values and morals. During the panel on consumption at last weekend’s Conscious Festival, sustainability-focused designer Angus Tsui spoke with pride about how the shirt he’s been wearing for six years has now become an integral part of how he portrays himself to the world and what he represents. This is an example of how we can make our belongings our story. We can reclaim power from “fashion” - a phenomenon of which it is the norm to follow to redefining it by taking ownership. It’s as simple as OWNING your shit rather than letting IT own YOU.
There is an abundance of guidance on mindful living in Hong Kong which allows not only easy navigation of conscious consuming but makes it an enjoyable, creative and inspiring process. We are spoiled for choice with platforms, brands and initiatives who are shifting cultural ideas through action and cultivating a louder voice on this subject. There are the festivals, like Green is the New Black’s Conscious Festival and A.C.F’s The Conscious Collective offering enlightenment through discussion, workshops and the endorsement of socially and environmentally aware products in fashion, beauty, homeware and food. There are the product providers- an example being Live Zero who provide the opportunity for people to buy only as much as they need instead of being forced into overconsumption by prepackaged goods. And then there are the tons of NGOs dedicated to reducing waste, cleaning up and spreading consciousness. Not to mention engaging content on the subject on blogs like The Green Queen and #impact podcast . It’s up to us to spread the word and lifestyle through sharing and leading by example. Partaking in and sharing mindful living doesn’t need to be as off-putting as being preachy or restricting ourselves to monk-like extents. It’s all about the #littlegreensteps and using the tools available to us like social media and engaging conversation- these are major catalysts for change and it is through leading by example and allowing people to follow by choice that individual empowerment becomes power and change in masses.
As founder of GITNB, Stephanie Dickson says “our aim is to make conscious living mainstream and a little bit sexy” so it’s up to us to utilise the many creative resources available to us here to shift conscious living into the mainstream and guide it into becoming the norm and not just a trend. It’s up to us to choose for our role in consumption to be one of value and change rather than a damaging and unfulfilling one.
 Worrying about ecological threats facing the earth
 Reuse (discarded objects or material) in such a way as to create a product of higher quality or value than the original.
Quick Tips on how to consume more consciously:
Invest in reusable things like portable coffee cups, glass containers, shopping bags, straws etc
Organise a clothes swop with friends for new options in your wardrobe
Borrow from friends for once-off use instead of buying
Get creative and upcycle your clothes by cutting, sewing, dyeing etc
Try as much as possible to shop at places where you know the origin of the product
Choose to put your money towards things you believe in, find valuable, resonate with and which are contributing to positive growth and mindfulness
Most importantly: own your shit, be inspired, stay woke, spread the word x
List of links
https://www.redress.com.hk/zara - link with info on donation boxes
https://acfclothing.com/conscious-collective/ (conscious collective)