Whilst Amsterdam can boast an environmentally-friendly profile in many ways, with its trams and metro lines powered by green electricity, and its minimal waste vegan shops like the Little Plant Pantry in West, the city seems to turn a blind eye to the ongoing promotion of fast fashion. In fact, it seems to incite it.
It’s really no secret that Amsterdam is famous for a few things; the ins-and-outs of so-called shady and über-cool coffeeshop joints is the first cultural practice I’m harassed about when I speak of living here. Followed by the Anne Frank House, cheese, canals, pancakes, stroopwafels, oh yeah and the Nine Little (Shopping) Streets.
Declared the 17th most expensive street in the world a decade ago, the Kalverstraat maintains its motto of “Shop. Never stop.” Never.
I’m now fairly well-acquainted with shopping in Amsterdam as I am lucky enough to live nearby and work as a copywriter for a space listings company. Almost all of my writing has been for retail locations on the 9 Straatjes. This freelance job includes researching pretty much every shopping street in Amsterdam, including the Kalverstraat, which is the most expensive street in the Netherlands in terms of rent prices. Declared the 17th most expensive street in the world a decade ago, the Kalverstraat maintains its motto of “Shop. Never stop.” Never.
The thing is, sometimes I like shopping. It has been ritualised as an activity performed with friends, and it symbolises community and gathering. Of course, the practice is also deeply connected to holidays and celebration. When we are so exhausted, when we are so inconceivably underpaid and virtually impossible 40-hour work weeks are a bitter leftover from wartimes where women stayed at home, most of us glorify days off and count the minutes till our shifts end.
As a practice that also bonds parents with children, it comes in the form of your first pair of heels, or your first suit. It brings friends closer together by way of bracelets, lends itself to couples in search of flowers and jewellery, it proposes sales to its clients, and discounts to its employees.
So when I take issue with shopping, it isn’t the social aspect I think of first – though it holds a reprehensible, elitist, and segregational power which is stronger than its capacity to unite – but the capitalist, consumerist, and frankly, unethical and environmentally-harmful idea that fast fashion is the only way to go. The idea that we constantly need more, that the only solution is to never stop buying. And as many of us truly carpe diem for the Outfit Of The Day at the expense of our future, even the wokest of instagrammer vegans are constantly #gifted fast fashion.
Zahra Fatina writes for VOLTA magazine that the fashion industry is amongst the largest culprits of global capitalism and exploitation. She points out that even thrifting and second-hand shopping is only a thorny indirect alternative, with little means of verifying that the clothing has been ethically sourced or produced.
Kalverstraat welcomes more than 40,000 visitors every Saturday. Its sign sends a terrible message: the only trees we care about are the ones that are no longer standing.
More than just an ethical and financial burden, fast fashion is also bad for the environment: clothing is wasted and pollutes landfills, chemical dyes can seep into the ground, and as of right now, the textile industry is the second greatest polluter of local freshwater in the world.
As more and more critiques of fast fashion surface, people are starting to pay attention to important voices. London-based artist Elizabeth Thilling began her anti-fast fashion campaign Project Stopshop in 2017 during her time at university; what she calls a “visual exploration of fast fashion consumption” highlights the absurdity of extreme consumerism. In a similar vein, Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg also advocates for a “shop-stop“, or, refusing to participate in the practice of shopping unless you absolutely need to.
And yet, despite all of our united individual efforts, despite thousands marching for action on climate change in The Hague, and Amsterdam standing tall and proud of its environmental efforts, the Kalverstraat welcomes more than 40,000 visitors every Saturday. Its sign sends a terrible message: the only trees we care about are the ones that are no longer standing.
How dare you incite us when we are in the midst of an environmental crisis.
We have long been told now that individual choices won’t make much of a difference. Perhaps thrifting or stopshop campaigns won’t be impactful, but the Kalverstraat sign that Amsterdam chooses to hang and light up is displayed to thousands everyday. That sign does have impact.
I’m not suggesting you shut down your shop, I’m not saying I will never buy a t-shirt again. But don’t have the nerve to incite a society that has already plummeted to the depths of consumerism to take it a step further, to continue, or to start its consumerist journey today. How dare you incite us when we are in the midst of an environmental crisis.