Consumers of the 21st century are more conscious of their spending habits than ever before. Fast fashion companies like H&M and Forever 21 are being held accountable for their unethical production, including their impact on pollution as well as the poor treatment of their employees overseas.
With images of dark smoggy factories and underpaid sweatshop workers becoming more accessible and more recognized, the sustainable fashion movement is on the rise. But how much more ethical is it?
Reselling thrift items drives up cost for low-income people, and self-proclaimed sustainable brands are ridiculously expensive.
While conscious spending is definitely better, it is unfair to shame people who don't have the same access. Sustainable fashion has become a marketing term to buy more, when the phrase itself warrants the exact opposite. To minimize environmental impact, we don't need to buy a Reformation shirt, when we can simply wear what we already own.
Sustainable clothing should truly sustain, and not just make the consumer feel better about themselves as they continue to unnecessarily consume.
Ethical or accessible?
Sustainable fashion has contributed to the rise of reselling. Apps like Depop encourage people to buy secondhand clothing from individuals looking to sell their used clothes.
However, this system has resulting in the practice of reselling thrifted clothes, which in turn drives up prices of actual thrift stores.
Consumers who rely on thrift store prices don't have a choice between ethical fashion and what they can actually afford.
But the dilemma is not just between fast fashion and thrift stores. Sustainable fashion companies have marketed themselves as a way to buy new clothes without worrying about the environmental impacts. They offer the variety of H&M with the piece of mind of buying secondhand.
However many of these stores sell their products for hundreds of dollars, citing material and labor costs as the main reason for the price. Sustainability shouldn't be a luxury.
Less is more.
While buying from ethical companies is great, not buying at all is even better!
Not to say that no one should ever buy new clothes, but instead to only spend when they really need to.
While fast fashion companies offer deal after deal on dresses you might already own, sustainable fashion companies do the same thing for double the price. Consumerism is the driving force behind a wasteful lifestyle and that root is the main cause of all the unethical practices we see in fashion production.
Mend — don't spend.
Sewing is a dying skill among Americans today, and this has greatly impacted the way we shop. The mentality these days is to see a hole in a sweater and immediately throw it away. Why keep it when you can just buy a new one for cheap online?
Fast fashion perpetuates this endless cycle of buying cheap fabrics that tear, which are then thrown away, then a new one is purchased, which is made of fabric that will eventually tear and so on and so forth.
In fact, the average lifespan of a single shirt is only 1-3 years.
But this doesn't have to be the case! There are thousands of YouTube tutorials that show basic sewing skills for free and give you skills that will save. Whether it's expensive wool or polyester, clothes that last longer are ultimately better.
You can help.
So what can you actually do?
Wanting to buy new fashionable clothes isn't evil and buying from fast fashion every once in a while won't kill the planet.
This isn't meant to demonize every sustainable fashion company either. What expensive ethical clothing stores offer is better than fast fashion, even if it isn't accessible to all.
The movement towards a more sustainable future will be an uneven collective effort, but collective nonetheless.
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