The Nudge Theory and Fast Fashion

You’ve probably heard the saying “Not making a decision is a decision” and while it sounds contradictory, it holds research-supported truth. Nudge Theory, coined by Nobel economics prize winner Richard Praler, is the idea that people are more likely to make the good decisions they really want to if there is a system set up to make it easy for them. It seems obvious but we aren’t getting as much out of it as we could be. 

Remember when you got your driver’s license and a stranger was like “Hey, should your organs become available, do you want to save a life and donate them to someone in need?” Many would say yes, they do want to save a life if possible. However, in countries where you have to take the time to opt-in for organ donation, fewer than 15% of people are organ donors. On the other hand, in countries where citizens are automatically enrolled as organ donors but have the freedom to opt-out, over 90% of people are registered (Scheiber 2012). Notice how a little difference in the system allows people to use the same amount of autonomy and energy for a very different result. Since what we care about at Ponybox Clothing is clothes, let’s apply the concept to the fashion industry. 

Popularized by its immediacy and affordability, “Fast Fashion” appeals to our inclination for convenience; successful fast fashion brands have harnessed a business model that revolves around low costs, disposability, and stocking up on the exact trends shoppers are looking for at that moment. Since trends change weekly, this means clothing production is on hyperdrive. There’s been even more growth correlated with social media use and the feeling that you can’t present the same fit in this Saturday night’s post as last Saturday’s. But clothing manufacture is taking a serious toll. 

 His Majesty Tim Gunn himself said about fast fashion, “when we say fast, it’s not going to last in your wardrobe very long.” Before the pandemic, 80 million articles of clothing were being sold per year, with Americans buying the most (Bick et al. 2018). The problem is that about a yearly 3.8 billion pounds of new clothes (that’s 85%!) are sent to landfills in America. (Bick 2018). In addition to environmental detriments, there are a host of social issues wrapped up in the quick mass production of our stylish clothes: child labor, manufacturing wastes discarded in areas highly populated by people of color, and the exploitation of vulnerable workers to name a few. If you ask anyone if they support these evils, they would likely genuinely say no. But unfortunately, it is so easy to buy stylish, cheap clothes if you contribute to ruining the earth and taking advantage of poor people, so fast fashion brands like Zara, H&M, Urban Outfitters, Forever 21, TopShop, Fashion Nova, and the list could go on forever are still thriving. P.S. Many of these companies say they’ve “gone green” but it’s all talk and marketing--you can see here:

The thing is that self-expression through fashion and saving resources like time and money are not evil, and I don’t think our interest in either are going anywhere anytime soon. But what would happen if businesses simply made it easier for people to do good (or not do bad) while upholding these preferences? What small changes can clothing businesses make so that it requires more activity to do the wrong thing than the right one? 

We believe we’ve come up with a pretty good answer. With a circular business model that takes into account shoppers’ time, money, and style, Ponybox Clothing offers a rental-based system. Located in Charlotte, NC, Ponybox does all the work for you--and even faster and cheaper than a store like Zara. Ponybox shoppers can choose which clothes they want to rent online and because we operate at the local level, have them delivered to their doorstep on the same day. So no going to the mall and no waiting 5-7 business days for an online order that you might want to ship back anyway. That takes care of the fashion and convenience. The kicker is that if you rent the clothes you chose, you get to hold on to them for a week before we come back to pick them up from you. So you can spend less money than you might on a fast fashion brand and wear the clothes for the same amount of time, all without letting them amass in your closet or a landfill. That takes care of the cheapness. And the Earth! Plus, because our dream is to eliminate the social injustices associated with globalization, we’ve already done the research to be sure we’re sourcing our products from brands whose values are aligned with ours. So order away! You can see more details on how it works here.

On a more serious note, this mission is related to fashion, but it’s also about something much more. Right now we’re living in a sort of modern day “Gilded Age.” During the one in the 19th century, America experienced extreme commercial and technological growth that gave an appearance of opulence and prosperity. However, this life of luxury only belonged to those who took advantage of the poor and powerless, leaving them even more so. Whether we’re blissfully unaware of it or not in 2021, there is a class of people dressed in cool, trendy clothes made by powerless, horrifically underpaid, black and brown people--85% of which are women (The True Cost). History repeats itself again. The good news is that we have the power to change course and make every little decision so that when our lives become history, we were on the right side.