Freedom from Consumerism

4 years ago by

Meet Maxine Bédat! She is a superstar in the sustainability scene as the founder and director of The New Standard Institute, an organization poised to transform the global apparel industry by enacting critical and science-based environmental objectives.

Even cooler, Garance will be working with The New Standard Institute in upcoming months in an advisory capacity.

Since it is “freedom” month at DORÉ, we asked Maxine to expand upon the ways she’s been able to free herself from the often detrimental system of consumption as it relates to fashion. In doing so, she’s been able to create lasting and more meaningful relationships with the clothing she chooses to adorn herself with.

And stay tuned for more pieces highlighting the sustainability space from Maxine as a new Contributing Editor for DORÉ. In the upcoming months she will share more on the specific ways she’s been able to create a more sustainable lifestyle.


It used to take me ages to get dressed. With a closet overflowing with clothes, I struggled to put pieces together in a way that made any sense. It was a frustrating daily struggle. As women, we tend to laugh about our seemingly collective problem of never – despite stark evidence to the contrary – having anything to wear.

But behind our “superficial”, silly problem, which shopping is supposed to fix, is a system that was created precisely to make us feel this way — a system that ignores the planet, leaves us unhappy, and makes it all seem like it’s our fault.

Ready to peel back those layers?

You know how we’re told that fashion (and all of our other consumable goods) is all about filling consumer demand? Well, let’s take a look back and see if that’s true.

For that I need to introduce you to Edward Bernays, nephew of Sigmund Freud, and the creator of the field of PR. Back in the 1920’s, Bernays received a copy of his uncle’s book on the unconscious, “General Introduction to Psychoanalysis” and decided that he could use people’s unconscious desires to make money. (How very American of him). One of his early experiments? Working for his client George Hill, the president of the American Tobacco Corporation to convince women to take up smoking. At the time, it was considered socially unacceptable for ladies to smoke. Good for our lungs and life, but, you know, a lost market opportunity for the cigarette industry.

Bernays worked with a psychoanalyst in America who told him that cigarettes were a symbol of the penis and of male sexual power. He told Bernays that if he could find a way to connect cigarettes with the idea of challenging male power, that women would smoke because then they could have their own penises.

With that insight in hand, Bernays developed an early PR stunt. At New York’s Easter Day Parade, he persuaded a group of rich debutants to hide cigarettes under their clothes. At his signal, they were to join the parade and light up the cigarettes dramatically. Bernays then informed the press that he’d heard that a group of suffragettes were preparing to protest by lighting up what they called Torches of Freedom. (Totally true story).

The next day this was not just in all the New York papers, it was across the United States and around the world. And from that point forward, the sale of cigarettes to woman began to rise.
What Bernays had created was the idea that if a women smoked, it made her more powerful and independent. An idea that still persists today. Somehow, sucking down a cancer stick was our emancipation. It made him realize that it was possible to persuade people to behave irrationally if you link products to emotional desires and feelings. The idea that smoking actually made women more free, was completely irrational. But it made them feel more independent. It meant that irrelevant objects could become powerful emotional symbols of how you want to be seen by others.

Bernays was extraordinarily successful and began to work with leading banks and government officials to use the “unconscious” not just to sell cigarettes, but to change society in its entirety. One Wall Street banker from this time put it bluntly, he said: “We must shift America from a ‘needs’ to a ‘desires’ culture. People must be trained to desire, to want new things even before the old had been entirely consumed. We must shape a new mentality in America. Man’s desires must overshadow his needs.”

This is the project marketers have been on ever since. Convincing us to desire things we do not inherently want. We, the consumer, do not “demand” more, we are aggressively marketed to in order to get us to desire more.

Even the basic idea that we are “consumers” first and foremost is something that was manufactured, as one journalist during this time stated: “A change has come over our democracy, it is called consumptionism. The American citizen’s first importance to his country is now no longer that of citizen, but that of consumer.”

And that notion that clothing is self-expression? Bernay’s also had a hand in that one. He organized fashion shows in department stores and paid celebrities to repeat the new and essential message, you bought things not just for need, but to express your inner sense of yourself to others.

Now, I don’t like being duped, once I understood things with that context, my relationship with my closet began to change. I would no longer relinquish my hard earned dollars to the marketers. I began an exploration–not starting with magazines or Instagram, but with myself (you know, me time). Having removed the app from my phone, I spent time looking at other women on the street and trying on the clothes in my closet. I did have to learn what I actually really liked.

From that exploration I have come to understand that the most important thing for me is how a garment fits and how it feels on my skin — no shirts too tight or heels too high. A perfectly fitting pair of pants paired with a light-weight shirt tucked just so, helps me feel confident and comfortable. It’s finally the me I care to project. I still love beautiful clothes, in fact, I think I have gone from clothing being a stress to something in which I take real pleasure.

My clothing is no longer disposable. I invest and relish in beautiful pieces that don’t just collect dust in my closet, but are worn and enjoyed for years.

The fashion marketing machine has gone on overdrive. Look today at the Forbes billionaire list, it is replete with the mostly men that own the big fashion companies. Playing with our insecurities, baiting us to become consumers and buy clothing mindlessly and endlessly–this has made a few people a lot of money and has had an enormous environmental footprint (not to mention the impact of the women tethered to a sewing machine making all of those clothes). The fashion industry today has a larger carbon footprint than all international travel, it contributes to forest degradation, soil degradation, water pollution, plastic pollution (did you know most of our cheap clothes are made from plastic?), and our used stuff ends up getting dumped in the developing world, inhibiting growth in those economies.

As a result of my time in my closet, I have broken free from the marketers, gained confidence in my own style, and, in so doing, have dramatically reduced my own environmental footprint. Let true freedom ring.


Add yours
  • Kathryn July, 24 2019, 10:45 / Reply

    Yes yes yes! This is more of want I want to see. The history of PR and the cigarette stunt ?. We have to be stronger! Dore team, truly I realize you make money with the click through links on clothing shop the stories features – but this also is part of our societies problem with too many clothes ( I think). It’s so easy to click and buy because we see an “influencer” (despise this term) or a model in magazine wearing a good outfit and we want it. It’s a viscous cycle and I think some women can sit back , admire an Internet or print look and pause before purchase, but other gals who may not have mastered their impulse control (for lack of a better way to describe the lack of resistance to marketing), and still have that need to fit in, may not be able to resist ,so click click and it just goes round and round. Women are making some man (Forbes) richer , harming the environment etc with our desire to look fashiony/project an Instagram worthy image day in day out. It’s all a silly game. I’d love a huge Revolution against it all! Truly it’s taken me a few decades to realize this and say I’m not playing anymore (80’s excess kid here all grown up now.) I too favor comfort and have found some brilliant companies that make lovely day to day clothes that are eco friendly, are high quality and pretty in understated ways (these may not work for people that need to dress in suits etc for work but for more casual moments – so lovely and .) I hope this message is well received by the younger readers here on Dore. It’s an important message. Step away from Instagram influencers, don’t be swayed by Marketing and get in touch with what YOU truly like. We all must be more mindful with clothing purchases. Thank you for bringing important this discussion to the community. I look forward to more!

  • Angela July, 27 2019, 6:40

    To true, welcome aboard….

  • Intéressant cette histoire de Bernays

  • Could not be happier to see this post, and here. Being intentional and content in what you choose to include in your life is such a source of freedom – I am amazed at how much less stressed I am these days, now that my closet is pared back to the things I love. I take so much more joy in my clothes. I also notice – profoundly – that when my body is in shape and healthy and well, my clothes seem far less important.

  • What a great article and thank you for the history and inspiring personal story.
    I too have realised that I actually have plenty of really lovely clothes that just need to be worn differently and paired with existing items I haven’t put together before. It has opened up my wardrobe so much and I’m very happy with my ‘old’ clothes just worn in a new way. I find inspiration from magazines but not the need to go and consume the way I did before.
    I’ve never been able to spend a lot of money, however, I had so much I wasn’t wearing. Sub consciously that made me feel guilty whenever I bought something new but now I really do think about what I’m considering buying much more seriously and whether it can be mixed with my existing wardrobe.

  • Cass Estes July, 24 2019, 11:17 / Reply

    Thank you for this fantastic and refreshing post!

  • I have found Esty to be a great place to replace worn out closet pieces with quality fabrics and often custom made. Recently had a pure silk wedding dress made for 150.00! I will later shorten and wear to dinners and parties. I also purchase several pure linen pieces again custom for not much money. Linen lasts forever! I am looking forward to many well dressed summers in the coming years. Not everyone can afford designer prices. I find it very difficult to justify paying high prices for synthetic fabrics designer or not. I have had good experiences working with the always women owned companies on Esty. Now if I could just find the perfect white organic cotton t-shirt……..

  • Bogdana July, 24 2019, 5:30

    Hey Tracy!

    On perfect organic cotton white T – check out For Days.

    I subscribed myself and am so happy. I don’t go crazy updating my tees every month, but it certainly is a better option when dealing with those natural-deodorant-urmpit-stains. Send your oldie to them, they’ll recycle it for you, and you’ll get a fresh clean one.

  • Rebecca Coultish July, 24 2019, 6:28 / Reply

    Thank you for such a thought provoking post! More like this please! Love the work of the entire Dore team x

  • Deeyarah July, 24 2019, 8:04 / Reply

    THIS! Articles like this can effect change — in individuals and in the fashion and beauty industries. This was beautifully written and presented. Looking forward to more more more.

  • Bonjour, merci infiniment pour ce beau portrait et cette voix indispensable à porter. C’est un grand pas pour l’industrie que de voir un média de l’ampleur de l’Atelier Doré aborder cette problématique.

    Nous avons publié un article à sujet, tentant d’expliquer pourquoi le bonheur ne se niche pas dans un énième blazer, que l’identité vestimentaire est une quête intérieure et qu’avoir un style et un dressing à soi -consciemment choisi- c’est être durable et c’est vertueux écologiquement.
    Je vous invite à le lire ici si vous le souhaitez :
    Thegoodgoods est un jeune media dédié à la mode et à l’écologie. On y traite des sujets de fond sur l’environnement et l’industrie (les microfibres plastiques, le “cuir vegan”, les soldes) mais aussi sur l’image, l’histoire des vêtements et l’importance d’être soi (avec une part belle faite à la seconde main !).
    Il y a un an, j’ai eu le privilège d’interviewer Nadine Farag, associée à Maxine Bédat sur le projet Zady. Son portrait est également sur notre site.

    Plus personnellement, je suis une assidue du travail de Garance et suis fascinée par l’intelligence de son parcours et sa faculté à communiquer en transparence sur ses transitions personnelles et professionnelles, dont le sujet de la slowfashion fait partie. Je serais infiniment honorée de la recevoir sur notre chaîne de podcasts pour en parler.

    Merci à toute l’équipe et belle continuation,

    Victoire Satto

  • Jorge Alexandre Teixeira July, 25 2019, 9:05 / Reply

    *_* ! And Congratulations G. for your new Gig !!!

  • I grew up with a mum who sewed and I also grew up wearing my 3 brothers’ hand-me-downs. I was a total tom boy, who, as a music student worked in fashion and developed a real appreciation for good fabrics and well cut clothes. I was totally sucked into the consumerism void for a while there, as the music industry is so image conscious. It’s damaging and expensive. When you know the ‘cost’ price of clothing you will NEVER pay full price again! I wait for sales now, buy what I actually need and what really suits my athletic shape and would much rather save my money for equipment and more education! I totally understand how images pull you in and get you spending. It can be addictive.

  • Justine July, 26 2019, 12:31 / Reply

    I’d love to see less consumerism in fashion, however, I’d also like to know the brand of those shoes she is wearing ?

  • Angela July, 27 2019, 6:13 / Reply

    I writing this comment before I even read it, because it’s been a long time coming and I’ve been waiting patiently for you all, while staying active. I might add, our need to compensate and to consume reaches far beyond fashion… That said our desire to be creative, to be a part of something greater than ourselves and to be accepted is real. Style trumps fashion, is more sustainable and just so much more fun…. Looking forward to read articles ?

  • Thanks for adressing this fact. I’m really glad that this kind of information / truth is coming out. The choices we make on a daisy basis have an enormous impact, so we really MUST make the best choices possible, yes also about our wardrobe cause we made already too many fashion victims!

  • Oona Bellam July, 28 2019, 3:07 / Reply

    I applaud Garance & the Dore team for engaging & focusing on the need for sustainability in the Fashion Industry.
    While living in Marseille last year I attended an ‘Anti_Fashion’ weekend as part of Maison Mode Méditerranée led by Li Edelkoort. It was incredibly inspiring to hear & see all the speakers from all facets of the industry.
    #6 of the Fashion Revolution manifesto is very motivating:-
    ‘Fashion conserves & restores the environment. It does not deplete precious resources, degrade or soil, pollute our air or water or harm our health. Fashion protects the welfare of all living things & safeguards our diverse ecosystems.’
    Oona – Nouvelle Zélande

  • Anastasia July, 28 2019, 5:42 / Reply

    EXACTLY. And well done to the Dore team for publishing it

  • Shahara July, 28 2019, 7:38 / Reply

    I’m already practicing this philosophy (I’m 27, but I’be been doing this since I was 21). I curate my wardrobe like it’s an art collection, only beautiful, timeless, elegant and high craftsmanship pieces I love and will wear forever are added to my collection. Sometimes I wait years to find the perfect piece or vintage item, and its amazing once I buy it because I know I will treasure it and wear it all the time. Less is always better(:

  • Want to indulge in something new, of good quality and at a price you can afford? But recycled! I was always a “head straight for the clearance rack” shopper and very value oriented. I have now taken a step further….I buy almost exclusively used clothing. I am able to buy top quality at amazing prices, find basics that I can’t find in a store because they are not trending and get to recycle materials and labor at the same time! I love my wardrobe. I am excited to get dressed every day. And I love that those perfect pair of Cole Haans and Coach bag that look amazing set me back less than $25 each! I rarely pay more than $20 for anything I buy used and get more compliments on what I wear while wearing things that I love than I ever got wearing something I paid a lot more for. And everything is “new to me”! All you need to do is wash or dry clean and it is as fresh as any item already in your dresser or closet.

  • Thank you for this excellent content! I always recommend “The Century of the Self” on YouTube, for an introduction to Bernays and the ways in which we are generationally manipulated.

    I rarely read about fashion anymore because it’s all fluff and banality. But this smart piece here has made my day. I’m loving the direction that you’re going with this type of inclusivity. It speaks to the thinking woman with a true understanding of style and substance over fashion.

  • Amy K. July, 29 2019, 9:35 / Reply

    THANK YOU! this smart, independent and powerful piece inspires me and does make me aware of how buying less, consuming less is tied to freedom—not just my own but others’.

  • I like good clothing with a good design and good (natural) fabrics. I spend more money on fewer clothes, so I go for quality and not for quantity so that I can wear my favorites for a long time. I even have a few items of clothing that are more than 15 years old and feel bad when they get worn out. I usually buy something every season, but just to fit in with everything I already have. And I even do the same with food and the little amount of cosmetics I use. This way of life makes ME feel good too! @fabiduister

  • Merci pour cet article tellement intéressant. C’est en lisant les expériences des autres que l’on enrichit sa vision du monde. Je suis une fan inconditionnelle de Garance Doré :). J’habite dans un petit patelin de l’agglomération d’Orléans, mais grâce à internet je me balade à travers le monde, du fond de mon fauteuil, au milieu de mon salon où les enfants se chamaillent lors d’une partie de triominos. Je savoure les articles et interviews de personnalités loin de mon univers mais qui m’inspirent tout autant ! MERCI encore pour vos articles et rencontres et continuez à nous informer et à nous pousser à nous interroger sur le monde de la mode, cosmétique, cuisine, lifestyle … Je suis certes ce que l’on appelle communément “une ménagère” de moins de 45 ans, mais j’ai un esprit curieux avide de rencontres et de découvertes. N’ayant pas les moyens de voyager et de rencontrer du monde, le net reste ma fenêtre d’escapade quotidienne ;) !!!

  • If you are going to mention Bernays in such extent, maybe an idea to share the source material; documentary on Bernays and his methods:

  • One quote from Vivienne Westwood : ‘buy less, choose well and make it last’

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