Sustainability Isn’t Always Affordable Or Ethical
We all want to make the world a greener place—but some people just do not have the resources nor the money to do so.
Disclaimer: This article is in no way putting down people who advocate for the use of sustainable fashion. As someone who is very passionate about protecting the environment and trying to find ways to slow down the effects of climate change, I understand. Trust me. However, I think it is also important to talk about the other side of this story.
I know what you’re thinking. The title of this article doesn’t really make sense, right? Sustainability is not always affordable or ethical? What does this mean?
It seems almost contradictory, but it’s more likely than you think!
In a perfect world, fast fashion wouldn’t exist. Brands like Shein, Forever 21, Pretty Little Thing, ASOS, and Fashion Nova wouldn’t be as popular as they are today. (Or, at least, they would exist only if they had a more innovative and transparent plan to combat the effects that their textile production has on the environment).
The textile industry is one of the most polluting industries in the world; it is responsible for over 10% of annual carbon emissions which leads to poor air quality, future health problems, and severe weather changes through the trapping of heat in the atmosphere.
Clearly, this is not good for us or the environment, but the unfortunate reality is that fast fashion is here. These brands are shopped every day. It is relevant. It is probably here to stay for a while.
And, sometimes, it is all people can afford.
I’m one of these people; I’m a college student that works a part-time job, goes to school full-time, and freelances in what little free time I have so I can one day have a career in content writing or publishing.
I love fashion, but I cannot afford high fashion in the slightest. Fast fashion acts as a dupe to more expensive names like Chanel, Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Dior, and so on.
And then, of course, there are brands out there whose mission is purely sustainability driven. Reformation, Patagonia, Boden, Eileen Fisher, tentree, and even Levi’s are examples of this. They go as far as using recycled materials to produce their products (and the materials must be recyclable as well) so clothing is not dumped in landfills to be burned.
This idea sounds great—beautiful, really. This is exactly what the industry needs so we have a future.
However, there is still a problem.
The prices for sustainable brands may be better than that of high fashion, but they are still not better for the ~barely making it~ college student like me.
I want to support companies that I know are making a difference in the world. But when I can find a similar looking item from Forever 21 for a quarter of the price of the sustainable piece, what am I to do?
There’s always thrift shopping, which we all know has become sort of a trend within the past few years. Thrift stores provide an opportunity for consumers to buy used clothing for cheap. (At my local Goodwill, a shirt and a pair of pants are around $3.00-$4.00 a pop each.)
This is how I usually buy my items—used from a thrift store.
However, I also know there are people who do not have access to thrift stores that are within a few miles of them. Or I’ve been asked on many occasions in the past where I got a piece of clothing I was wearing, and I’d reply, “Oh! Plato’s Closet!” or something along those lines only for the other person to say that they can never find anything that they like at the store they live close to.
Online thrift stores like Depop and Poshmark exist for this reason. It’s an alternative that many people know about. I often get on one or the other and find an item I like.
But the issue here arises when I get on these sites only to come across a user that specifically sells thrifted items for more than five times the price that they bought it for.
Some people call this business, others call it a hustle.
It’s called price gouging. In a way, it’s taking advantage of those that do not have the resources or time to go out themselves and look through clothing for hours on end. This is a negative result of something becoming trendy as people will sometimes post their items at a higher price because they know it will sell.
Maybe it’s a class issue, maybe it’s not. But one thing is clear: there are arguments against sustainability. These arguments are not based on whether sustainability is bad, because we know it’s not.
It’s based on affordability and accessibility, and we should all try to understand this before we judge those that shop fast fashion.