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AN AGE OF CONSUMERISM WITH ZANE VALUJEVA

Zane Valujeva

Devout optimist Zane Valujeva believes in a society beyond consumerism. As a brand strategist and sustainability consultant, Zane works to support and create impact-driven business models and initiate change in individual behaviours through her work with B Corp and her own endeavours.

Words By Marine Bochsler

November, 25th 2020

Introduced to the world of sustainability through her studies in fashion communication, Zane Valujeva has since become an active member of the sustainability ecosystem and is continuously challenging herself and her work while navigating through the complexities of our global situation.

One of the biggest hurdles to sustainability is the growing culture of overconsumption. We have entered an era where the middle class now forms the majority of the global population (European Commission, 2020). This is only expected to increase, and with it, more purchasing power. Consumerism in itself can be defined as the desire to own products or use services that go beyond our basic needs (Fellner and Goehmann, 2019). But what came first, supply or demand? “There’s this vicious cycle. Demand grows because of constant supply, yet supply is generated by continuous demand,” says Zane. “With the rise of industrialisation and globalisation in the 1980s, companies expanded their business activities beyond their core markets. This was further driven by the interest to produce more goods for less money – companies saw an opportunity that gave rise to what has now become an unhealthy feedback loop of production and consumption.”

mywaste.ie

Fuelled by materialism are society’s Instagram and celebrity cultures, which in turn further contribute to this potentially damaging global mindset. “We’ve involuntarily constructed an idea that we can find fulfillment within our material possessions and that we always need more, twisting the concepts of happiness and success,” says Zane. On her own sustainability journey, Zane has been no stranger to the mental toll material possessions can take. “Once when I was visiting my family during Christmas, I honestly got anxiety from the whole circulation of redundant gifts,” she tells us. “Don’t get me wrong – I’m aware of both my privileged situation, as well as the sentimental aspect of gift-giving. Nevertheless, it was one of those pivotal moments when I personally recognised how much this, and many other holidays have become driven by marketing and consumerism.” Zane surfaced from the clasps of her possessions relatively unscathed, but the same cannot be said for others, with materialism having been linked to social isolation and depression (Psychology and Consumer Culture, 2004). The reality is, the cost of consumer behaviour is not just to the planet but to our health.

 

Often however, when people start wanting to change, whether it be for their wellbeing or the environment’s, it is not always easy. Zane has noticed and personally experienced the judgments we hold against each other when we label ourselves as ‘vegan’ or a ‘minimalist’. We have become so obsessed with fitting everything into a category that the moment one acts beyond their designated ‘accepted’ behaviour, bring on the glares of accusation. This takes ‘holding someone accountable’ to a whole new level. In the end, people are deterred from even trying for fear of being called out and shamed. “I identify as a flexi-vegan – a term introduced to me by a fellow vegetarian. What I mean by this is the flexibility I give myself in terms of the food I choose to eat. For example, when I travel I don’t hold back from trying different foods because it is an integral part of a country’s culture. Overall, I find this to be a much more open and realistic kind of labelling, without the constraints of unattainable perfection.”

Singles’ Day in China, image via VCG

Change may not be easy, but it is absolutely possible. “It is naive to think that we’re going to change the world through small personal lifestyle changes,” says Zane, “however, each individual action adds up and multiplies. And it is having that perspective that matters.” A good place to start is with the three Rs: reduce, reuse, recycle. Zane points out that globally, there is undoubtedly a huge focus on recycling, especially in Denmark where she currently lives. This is certainly important, but it is not enough. We need to “pay more attention to reducing, then reusing, and only then recycling”. With overconsumption, a key barrier to our well-being and the planet’s, reducing the quantity of stuff in circulation should be our first port of call. 


Before the pandemic, Zane travelled to China and witnessed firsthand the magnitude of products available to consumers. Her visit coincided with Single’s Day – China’s equivalent to Black Friday and the world’s largest shopping event. “I sensed a different attitude towards consumption. Not necessarily negative, but definitely different to how I’ve observed it across Western cultures. The biggest difference can be seen in terms of the volumes of items consumed,” she says. “Needless to say, there are causes for the overall growth of the consumer culture – China’s rapidly growing middle-class being one of them. Still, my observations were not only widespread sales and huge purchasing volumes, but also a far more positive undertone of that whole process – the local society having the possibility to fulfill various personal wishes.”
 

If we want future generations to still have a vibrant, healthy planet to call home, a mass cultural shift in our attitudes towards consumption is imperative. “This change definitely can and must start with us as individuals,” Zane says. “As we speak, there are thousands, millions, of bold, driven thinkers and doers. If we look at the masses, however, [sustainability] is still not the common approach. By changing our daily behaviours and reducing our overall consumption, we would be indicating a different demand to businesses, driving the production of different types of goods on the market and pushing innovation across industries, changing the status quo.” With openness and determination, we can find a balance between necessity and desire to outgrow this materialist culture and secure our planet’s future.