In recent years, the environmental and human cost of fast fashion has become more widely understood. This has led to a move away from conventional fashion brands, with a rise in sustainable brands, claiming to allow the consumer to be ethical whilst still fashionable, and also a renewed interest in vintage stores, charity shops and clothes sale apps such as Depop. Although this increased interest in sustainability and an understanding of the damage of fast fashion is encouraging, problems with accessibility still mean sustainable fashion is only open to a privileged few.
The shunning of fast fashion brands due to the human exploitation and environmental damage associated with the industry has caused people who continue to purchase fast fashion to be shamed and berated. Buying second hand or sustainable clothing is viewed by some as a choice which any decent human being must make.
However, it is not even an option for certain people. If you work a minimum wage job your budget is unlikely to stretch beyond being able to afford Forever 21 and Primark. When a pair of jeans from sustainable brand House of Sunny costs £90 or a bra from sustainable underwear brand Organic basic costs £36, even if you are aware of the issues with fast fashion, choosing to avoid it is near impossible.
Furthermore, despite charity shops being far cheaper than the average sustainable brand, they also have their fair share of problems. Having the time to rifle through racks of clothes is a luxury; I love charity shopping but finding a piece which fits right and you want to wear is very hit or miss. You’ll never find more than a few items each visit. Not everyone has the time to go to multiple charity shops every few weeks and risk coming away empty handed. Fast fashion is far more reliable and less time consuming for many people.
Aside from money and time, an often overlooked barrier to sustainability is size inclusivity. Some of the biggest sustainable fashion brands including Reformation and Everlane have very limited size ranges, with Reformation only including extended sizing on certain items. Similarly, the aesthetics and models of sustainable brands often perpetuate the narrative that sustainable fashion is reserved for white, rich, thin women, while ignoring that the environmental damage of the fashion industry disproportionally affects non-white communities.
The recent allegations against Everlane and Reformation of racism, hostility towards diversity and toxic work environments seem to provide evidence that this is exclusive narrative is one sustainable brands want to push forward.
So, it is clear to see that moving away from fast fashion is not as simple as it first seems. The problems with accessibility, that I have mentioned, highlight that it is much easier for some than others. I believe that rather than hoping to completely destroy fast fashion as an industry we instead need to change our relationship with clothes and consumption.
The trend led nature of the fashion industry means that the life cycle of clothes has become worryingly short. We buy an item of clothing because it fits with the trends of the moment but a few months down the line the trends have moved on and that piece of clothing gets discarded. This, along with the stigma of outfit repeating and the pressure to always be seen in something new, needs to change if we are to reduce the impact of the fashion industry.
Of course, as I have mentioned it is unfair and unrealistic to expect everyone to be able to suddenly stop buying fast fashion and shaming people for not doing so does not help anyone. If you have the privilege to not buy into fast fashion then do use your money to make sustainable choices, but if buying less in general, even if from fast fashion brands, was normalised and sustainable brands were more inclusive in terms of size and skin colour than sustainability as a movement could become a lot more accessible.
We need to shift our definition of sustainability from buying a £1,000 haul of ethically produced clothing and instead view sustainability as prolonging and loving what we have, whilst also taking into account how individual circumstances affect people’s abilities to be completely sustainable.
By Louisa Hanton
Image: by Social Cut via Unsplash