A journalist even coined a term for the unparalleled inner satisfaction gained from the purchase of that pristine, unblemished article of tailored fabric which you know was conceived in the designer's mind exclusively for you, sent to production, displayed in store with that absurd number on the tag ever so conveniently slashed and reduced just so you, chosen for such a time as this, would hear it whisper your name and respond with a swipe of your magical plastic credit card… 'Retail Therapy' it is called.
It was from one of these moments of self-satisfied reverie that I snapped back to reality following a recent conversation. I had just bought some items from the main retail outlet of a particular fashion brand and while waiting for my fellow shoppers I chatted with one of the chief executives of the company. Amid the talk of the fashion business, design and production, something stood out to me.
"So what exactly takes place in this building?" I asked.
"The whole company is run from here. The clothes you just bought were designed in that room next to us," he replied.
"Are your clothes made here or overseas?"
"Some are made in China and India and some are made by prisoners in a Bali jail."
"Oh wow! …Do the prisoners get paid?" I naively asked.
"No of course not", he chuckled, "they have to do it. It's not as if they have anything else useful to do in jail."
And with that so flippantly articulated sentence, he proceeded to direct the conversation towards other slightly less thought-provoking matters of business. For some reason, after the conversation, this shopping adventure did not produce quite the same level of therapeutic benefit as previous ones.
Following this superficially harmless activity of acquiring new clothes, I could not stop thinking about the harsh realities of the fashion world, let alone the world itself. Here was a man with a company that capitalised on the confiscated freedom of human beings. Some may call it 'shrewd business acumen'; I call it 'unethical practice'.
After all, who gave us 'Western' countrymen the right to prioritise our selfish and ignorant craving to keep up with the transience of fashion, above the basic human rights of workers in developing nations? Are our fleeting desires really more important than their vital needs?
While we may be saving our money by buying that new pair of jeans at "50% off the marked price", do we ever think about the activities those dollars are funding; whether it be forced work in an Indonesian jail or exploitation of young women and children in an Indian sweatshop? The injustice in our seemingly innocent shopping lies in the reality that our ignorance is destroying people we do not even know exist.
I believe that we, as Christians, are called to be leaders of change in our world. However, this can only happen if we actually know the world we live in and the things that need to change in it.
While we may feel the problems of this world are too big and we are too small to make a dent in dealing with them, just remember that each little piece of the puzzle has a significant part in the overall picture. No individual can do everything, but each person must do something.
We can start with something as simple as considering where we buy our clothes. This could mean doing research into the trade practices of our favourite brands and transferring our allegiance from those with unethical practice, to one that supports a 'fair-trade' program (www.maketradefair.com). Some ideas on where to start include www.etiko.com.au and www.3fish.com.au.
Instead of clothing ourselves in designer-labelled ignorance, let's instead follow the example of Jesus and clothe ourselves in compassion, righteousness and justice.
Jesus exhorts us not to worry about Earthly goods, including food and clothing in his 'Sermon on the Mount' (Matthew 6). Rather, we should keep our eyes on things of eternal value. He tells us that we are worth more than the clothes on our back, and that ultimately, we must "seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you" (Matthew 6:33).
Cherisse Mathew is a student of politics and psychology at the University of Sydney.