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Black Friday: AUAS experts on why we feel the compulsion to consume

By Guest Contributor


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The pile of clothing in the Chilean Atacama desert. Credits: TAKAYUKI FUCHIGAMI Yomiuri The Yomiuri Shimbun via AFP

The 2023 edition of Black Friday, the day of massive overconsumption, is already behind us, but consumers who held back on Friday still have time to spend an extravagant amount of money by midnight today, a 24-hour-phenomenon known as Cyber Monday.

Experts at Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences give advice on how to lose our urge to buy things.

This year’s Black Friday was like any other Black Friday. Wherever you went you saw promotions for products at discounted prices that urged you to buy as many new products as possible.

The origins of this urge to overconsume, and how to combat it, are discussed by four AUAS experts in this field.


Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences (AUAS) is an institution of higher education in Amsterdam, Netherlands. The Amsterdam Fashion Institute (AMFI) is the fashion academy connected to the AUAS. Approximately 430 students are admitted at AMFI every year.

AMFI offers three undergraduate fashion programmes: Fashion & Branding, Fashion & Business and Development and Fashion & Design.www.amsterdamuas.com/

José Teunissen is professor of Fashion, Design and Technology and director of the Amsterdam Fashion Institute (AMFI).

“Fashion is always about ‘the new’. That's what makes it so attractive. With every new trend, you can reinvent yourself. Fashion pretends to capture the zeitgeist, and that was clear in the previous century with the hippies, punk and so on, all expressions of identity, but these were trends that lasted longer and stood for something.

Meanwhile, the Internet, digitalisation and fast fashion have made this alternation of trends completely crazy. Every week, every day, something new comes on the market that is sometimes worn only for a photo on Instagram.

In the end, the question is how many clothes do we need. We need to eat every day, but with fashion, that need is smaller. This overconsumption - clothes in Europe are dumped after being worn only 7 or 8 times - really needs to be stopped.

There is a clear counter-movement from young designers, motivated by sustainability and fair practice, whose ideas include new systems such as renting clothes or altering clothes. The focus of these designers is on the product and the story of how it was made, such as a jumper which shows from which sheep’s wool it is made.

The new European Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) Decree has made companies responsible for taking back and recycling their products since July 2023. As a result of these regulations, we are now also seeing all kinds of initiatives for repair, sustainability and better quality.”

Jesse Weltevreden is professor of Digital Commerce.

“The Netherlands, one of the most prosperous countries in the world, has a clear buying culture, which is deeply embedded in our society. This culture is reinforced by retailers’ and manufacturers’ strategies, which respond to consumers’ wishes with ever-new products and international buying fests such as Black Friday and Singles Day.

Characteristic of the Dutch mentality is the hunt for bargains, visible in our liking of special offers and the convenience of online shopping with free delivery and returns. Together, these aspects reinforce the Dutch appetite for buying.

However, this consumer culture comes with social and environmental costs. Sustainability and awareness about the true costs of production and consumption should be the most important aspect. Reversing this trend requires a two-pronged approach. First, companies should assume social responsibility by producing and selling sustainable products, and by refraining from special, often misleading, offers, and participating in shopping fests.

Initiatives such as Green Friday, the counterpart to Black Friday in which companies such as retailer Dille & Kamille close shop to contribute to social causes, are a step in the right direction. In addition, new European legislation, such as the CSRD (Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive) and The Right to Repair, will play an important part in stimulating the moves companies need to make towards producing more sustainably and curbing our appetite for buying.

How to lose the urge to buy things, according to AUAS experts

Second, consumers need to become aware of a product’s hidden social and environmental costs. The introduction of true pricing, where the full costs of production and its human and environmental impact are factored into the price, can lead to more conscious consumption.

Importantly, the practice of free delivery and returns is also declining in the Netherlands. Good steps in this direction are fortunately already being taken by online shops such as Wehkamp, Decathlon and H&M.”

Marco Mossinkoff is a social economist, lecturer and researcher at AMFI, the Fashion Research & Technology (AUAS) research group and the University of Amsterdam..

“When it comes down to buying behaviour, scientists agree that things are going wrong - we buy far too much. But what need drives this overconsumption and production? This must be a need that is enormously powerful and was apparently previously fulfilled by something else.

In fashion and fast fashion, that need comes down to showing, primarily to yourself, how you are different from others, but at the same time wanting to belong. Fashion is all about this conflict, which has never been resolved, as philosopher Georg Simmel argued in a famous essay (1904). It is all about showing where you belong and where you stand out.

The sociologist Maffesoli argues that in modern society several ‘neo-tribes’ can be distinguished, stemming from older social relationships. Thanks to social media, these groups distinguish themselves even more strongly by what they buy and wear.

Consumption has thus become a source of self-esteem: ‘I am what I buy’. This ‘social capital’, or rather a person’s source of a sense of identity and its corresponding social standing, used to come from a person’s knowledge or occupation. This has been the same with buying for decades now.

How to change this? If only I knew! There are professors who promote social change and try to persuade consumers to take part in this. It is good that they are doing this, but this kind of cultural change takes a long time. And the problem remains that our current fashion system is based on aesthetics and especially on what is in at the moment.

Makers and designers, meanwhile, are trying to design more sustainable garments that last longer. Some people are also actually making more conscious clothing choices. But are they buying less? Unfortunately, there’s little evidence of this, if you look at the statistics.”

Krispijn Faddegon is researcher and project leader at the Psychology for Sustainable Cities research group.

“Most people like to be part of the group, which is their social identity, and at the same time be unique within that group, which is their personal identity. Producers of clothes or gadgets, for example, cleverly exploit this fact. Consumers are constantly tempted to express their identity, such as belonging to a certain group but being unique within it, through certain items.

In addition, these temptations are designed to appeal to people's values associated with pleasure and much less to values associated with caring for other people, society or the planet, values that are also very important to most people. The AUAS's research on clothing shows that consumers find it difficult to control their buying tendencies and resist these temptations which are prompted by for example sales, slick commercials and influencers.

Yet it is possible to belong to a group and be unique without buying more stuff. This is possible if other values such as sustainability and caring for others become more prominent and the values that focus on pleasure, status and money are pushed to the background. This can only happen if companies also start encouraging these values more. However, they will only do this if it fits in their business model.

An example of this would be a clothing company that makes money mainly by the maintenance and repair of clothing. The AUAS is currently participating in a pilot with the Amsterdam Economic Board (AMEC) to move clothing companies in this direction. In this example, consumers would be ‘seduced’ in a completely different way. Within the group, they can, for example, then show with their repairs how well they are doing and express their uniqueness within the group with for instance certain badges they have earned.”

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