By Ritika Jain
In this day and age, fast fashion is discarded in favor of greener, more sustainable alternatives. As a once loyal customer of H&M, Forever 21 and Shein, it was upsetting to learn the reason why these brands are able to mass-produce affordable pieces that replicate fresh looks on the runway. They are known to exploit their workers, use harmful chemicals in their supply chain and contribute to global greenhouse gas emissions. The push to shop from green, sustainable brands has increased significantly over the years. However, not everyone is able to afford dropping $100 for a sweater they could easily get for $20.
For fashion lovers like myself, changing our shopping habits and relying less on the brands that have fit our curves for years isn’t all that simple. Since it costs more to produce natural fibers and provide fair wages to workers, slow fashion is generally more expensive. Because of the temptation of trendy looks sold at cheap prices, we end up filling our closets with ephemeral clothing we don’t always need. The motto for sustainability is “Buy less, buy better.” The first step is to learn how to read clothing labels, just as you scrutinize the nutrition labels on the food you buy. Experts have suggested looking for a sign of organic cotton and the Fair Trade certification to ensure the production process was human and environmentally friendly.
The next step is to search for slow fashion brands that are committed to reducing waste, reusing materials and caring for their workers. Stella McCartney has created a line of luxurious looks that are all ethically designed. Alternative Apparel offers stylish basics for women, men and children as well as handbags, footwear and home decor. Everlane sells sustainable collections for both women and men and is founded on transparent pricing, which reveals the true price of what their clothes cost to make, from materials to labor. H&M created a clean clothing line called H&M Conscious that produces modern women’s fashion from summer dresses to denim separates made from organic materials. Black owned brands like Taylor Jay, Gracemade, and Galerie LA are unique and individually reflect the founders’ cultural backgrounds in their clothing.
Although sustainable fashion has good intentions, there is an underlying exclusion of those that aren’t privileged enough to devote their time and money to shop from pricey brands. It invites a mostly white, upper-middle class demographic that are able to afford such expenses and slap the eco-friendly label on their back. This doesn’t provide a solution for financially disadvantaged people of color, who are often exploited in the industry of clothing retail. The fashion industry has a long way to go, and that starts with welcoming diversity not only among customers, but brands as well, and standing up for workers of color. While the issue is more nuanced than it seems, the sustainable movement as a whole caters to privileged populations. For those whose default brands are Old Navy, Gap, Zara or Forever 21, you can limit your consumption without breaking the bank by turning to thrifting and resale apps.
You can find quality, classic pieces in your local thrift store or Salvation Army. The word “secondhand” may be unappealing to some, but it can feel just as new to you and prevent landfills from further piling up. According to the EPA, the average person throws about 81 pounds of clothes per year. Speaking from observation, many people find pieces in their closet they bought but never really wore and end up selling them on resale apps like Depop or Poshmark. The availability of apps like these allows people to trade globally and enforce the idea that fabrics shouldn’t be wasted, but shared and reworn.
You can also expand your shopping network and follow sustainable brands on Instagram that you like. Join mailing lists as well to stay updated on flash sales and retrieve items that catch your eye at cheaper prices. Sustainable clothing isn’t accessible everywhere, but any effort to protect our ethos by reducing waste and supporting green brands can go a long way. Attaining long-lasting pieces that can be dressed up or down is better than buying similar tops or dresses that lose their quality in a matter of months. The expansion of slow fashion will hopefully encourage people to grow more conscious of the way their actions affect the planet and work to make it accessible and fair for everyone.
Ritika Jain is an editorial writer who focuses on all things fashion, pop culture, and important social events. Follow her on Instagram.