Sarah Lazarovic, a 33-year-old Canadian illustrator, writer and filmmaker, recently created an illustrated essay, A Bunch of Pretty Things I Did Not Buy, about her yearlong shopping diet. She spoke with Maclean’s about the consumer’s psyche, fashion as wearable art and the digital siren song of the neon steam punk vintage aesthetic.
Q: So what’s the story of this shopping diet that resulted in the essay?
A: It’s personal challenge I do every once in a while. I did it once six years ago and it went well so I decided to try it again. Then I saw these beautiful Fluevlog loafers that I really liked and I thought “Ok, I’m not going to buy them. But I think they’d make a really cool painting.” There are other things I can get over. I think to myself, “I’m tired of my bathing suit, I want a new one.” But then I will myself not to buy it and two days later I’ve forgotten about it. But I saw these Fluevogs and thought, “These are my dream shoes.” Then I thought about how sometimes I do paintings as thank you gifts for friends and I really needed some kind of creative exercise so I painted the shoes. Then the essay just followed in a flurry.
Q: You also did a yearlong shopping diet in 2006. How does that one compare to the current one?
A: Six years ago, I didn’t have a kid. I was out more and I would just be strolling down Queen St. and see a cute dress, try it on and buy it–all without giving it much thought. This time around I feel the real culprit is the web. Five or six years ago, I really wanted a satchel backpack, like the French school kid style. I looked everywhere, even when I was in France but I could never find the one I had in mind. Then they came into vogue this year and if you go to Etsy or just Google “leather satchel backpack,” you can find thousands in any kind of style you can imagine. You can Google the most obtuse kind of fashion and find it right away.
Q: Did all that accessibility reinforce your shopping diet ideals?
A: Totally. People buy more, how can you not? You don’t have to go into a shop and hope they have your size; now you don’t have to leave your house and you know an online shop will have your size. And it’s not just clothes: You can find your exact sub group and immediately find the purveyors of said style and before you know it, you’ve bought this totally cool thing. “Oh look, here’s this website that specializes in the neon steam punk vintage aesthetic – they get me!” But that accessibility and ubiquity means you’re likely to buy way more than you need or even want.
Q: And this ubiquity steels your resolve to stick to your guns?
A: Yes, the whole thing kind of made me sick. I would be drawn to the same kind of dress or shoes or bag over and over, the same styles that would already be hanging in my closet. I just thought, “I really don’t need anymore clothes, this is getting ridiculous.” If I do buy online, I buy art or music but I keep it to a minimum.
Q: You have a little girl. Do you transfer all that frustrated shopping desire into buying new stuff for her?
A: It’s so easy. There are so many cute kid clothes and they’re so cheap. So I wanted to put the kid clothes buys on a diet, too. I could go online and buy her a whole new wardrobe at Old Navy for $100. But she’d grow out of it in three months, and there’s the grossness of being able to buy it in minutes and then the added grossness of all the ads that pop up on the web pages I visit advertising the Old Navy toddler size sales. I just noticed I was buying crap. Of course I want her to have enough clothes but she really does. She gets hand-me-downs. If she needs, say, new leggings, I’ll always try a second-hand store first.
Q: Do you miss shopping?
A: Not really. When you get older, you really know your style better, what looks good on you. When you’re younger it’s more about the frivolous buy, just the idea of having something new. I remember when I was younger, it was all about having a new outfit for the first day of school. Maybe not the best outfit, just the newest one. Actually, back then, new was the best. And then when you get older, you realize it’s better to have three dresses that I look amazing in than a new crappy dress that I bought just because I was tired of my old stuff.
Q: Well, retail therapy is a saying for a reason.
A: I know and it’s a gross saying. Also after having this kid, I feel like I want to save my money for her. I would buy stuff for me and think “did I really need that?” I’d feel guilty and self-indulgent. Retail therapy is not really therapeutic for me.
Q: What made you think painting the things you wanted would make you feel better?
A: Well, I can appreciate those things as being beautiful; especially looking at Pinterest, I mean there’s so much gorgeous stuff. When you find a cool homemade dress made by some girl on Etsy, you want to buy it out of a good impulse: that’s a beautiful creation and she’s just like me, an artist trying to make a living. It would be perpetuating a cycle of healthy entrepreneurship. But at the same time, I knew I just couldn’t. So I decided to paint these things I saw.
Q: So you don’t need to possess something to appreciate the beauty of it.
A: Or to be inspired by it. I know a graphic web designer who has this cool retro, sparkly dress on the wall of her shop; she says she looks at it for inspiration. And I thought, why not? It’s just wearable art, after all.
Q: When do you think you’ll start shopping again?
A: I guess I’ll see if I need to come January. I know I need to set limits or I will buy mindlessly. But when I come out of this detox, I hope to be more aware of how I shop, like buying one good pair of shoes for fall, not three. I just won’t go into to places like Forever 21 and H&M, in order to avoid that kind of temptation entirely.
Q: How would you inspire others to go on a shopping diet?
A: It’s not just saving money, because with fast fashion, things are cheaper than ever before. You can go to H&M and drop 50 bucks and buy three new things you think freshen up your wardrobe. It’s mainly about being aware how gross it is to buy so much stuff. More like a psychological shopping diet instead of just a wallet one.