Stop buying all those handbags and shoes, Hong Kong – the price is too high

Kelly Yang says the obsession with shopping for ‘stuff’ we don’t need is damaging both our self-esteem and the environment, and we need to liberate ourselves by learning that lasting pleasure can be found elsewhere

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 17 May, 2016, 2:33pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 17 May, 2016, 2:33pm

Why do Chinese women love to shop? Well, because we’re hoarders. There’s really no other explanation for buying 200 pairs of shoes or 50 handbags.

And even though we have so much stuff and nowhere to put it, our No 1 regret when we go on holiday? Not buying more stuff!

It’s got to the point that there are now Gucci handbags for dead people. The streets of Sheung Wan are lined with them, paper replicas of Gucci goods to be burned at funerals for the deceased to carry around in the afterlife. The real Gucci freaked out when it found out; first, it said it was illegal, then did a U-turn and said it was OK. At HK$10 a bag, I have to say, it’s a pretty good deal. I almost bought one for real life.

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Some say the Chinese shopping obsession stems from the fact that we used to have so little and now we can have so much. That certainly explains my relationship with Häagen-Dazs. Others liken it to a type of substance abuse. If you’ve ever read Kevin Kwan’s Crazy Rich Asians, watched the YouTube sensation Ultra Rich Asian Girls, or heck, set foot in Causeway Bay on a Saturday, you know what I’m talking about: the wide eyes, rapid breathing, sweat beads forming on foreheads as shoppers hone in on their prey.

And it is true that shopping gives us a high. New research from the University of Michigan found that the high we get from shopping is similar to the high we get from sex. It’s no wonder that while 40 per cent of Hong Kong men surveyed recently by online travel agency Zuji said they wished they’d had more sex on holiday, only 18 per cent of women felt the same. The other 82 per cent were probably too busy ogling a cute top.

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Don’t get me wrong, I like shopping as much as the next girl. But, these days, my closet is more of a museum than anything else. With three kids and no time, every day I reach for the same old jeans, the same sneakers, the same everything, while my stilettos and boots just sit there, gathering dust, staring back at me, shaking their pretty little heads at what I’ve become. And you know what? I’m OK with that.

Because here’s the thing about shopping: the high doesn’t last. It feels amazing while you’re in the store and 15 minutes after you leave, maybe, but then it plummets. And then what are you left with? A load of crap. Crap that needs to be stored and dry-cleaned and lugged around from one city to the next when you go on holiday, which you’re never going to use because once you’re in the new city, you’re going to buy more crap.

All of this comes at a huge cost not only to wallets but also the environment. According to fashion industry magnate Eileen Fisher, “the clothing industry is the second largest polluter in the world, second only to oil”.

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To raise awareness of the increasing need for sustainable fashion, actress Emma Watson recently wore a gorgeous black and white gown made entirely of recycled plastic bottles to the Met Gala.

I hope more people follow in Watson’s footsteps, buying sustainable fashion or simply shopping less. That may sound dull but, quite the contrary, it’s incredibly liberating. Now, instead of shopping, I read. I go on hikes. I go out to dinner. I might not be the chicest gal in the restaurant, but I’m the most relaxed because I haven’t spent the last two hours obsessing over what to wear.

So, Hong Kong women, try this on for size. Ditch the shopping bag. Spend more time with your man or more time with yourself – you’d be surprised how great you’ll look.

Kelly Yang teaches writing at the Kelly Yang Project, an after-school centre for writing and debate in Hong Kong. She is a graduate of UC Berkeley and Harvard Law School.