The complexities of the fashion industry go deep beyond the clothing we wear and are once again in the spotlight – not for good reason. Clothes have transformed from being valuable possessions we hold dear to items that we quickly dispose of. This never-ending cycle is killing the planet, the throwaway fashion mindset we grew up with is undoubtedly unsustainable. We’re becoming more conscious as consumers, and many of us are turning to ethical brands to get a stylish fashion fix. However, responsibly made clothing has been accused of being elitist. With more of us keen to change our shopping habits, is conscious consumption a privilege only the elite can afford?
Ethical shopping has often been seen as a luxury, because the price points of ethical brands are up there with luxury price tags. Sustainable shopping has been wrapped up in a middle-class millennial lifestyle, something that only those with a disposable income can enjoy. Which brings to question, are ethically produced clothes a privilege for the wealthy? If you have bills to pay, family members to care for, and food to put on the table (which most of us do); the choice is clear – you pay to put clothes on your back often without questioning the price tag. But should those on lower incomes be made to feel bad to avoid buying things that are harming the planet? And how can anyone who isn’t middle class shop responsibly, whilst remaining within their means? Clothes have always been a symbol of wealth, status, and power – fashion has always been a class issue.
Sustainable and ethical have become buzzwords, and there’s a lot of confusion around the language of responsibly made clothing. With the fashion industry finally waking up to the impact it has on the planet, it can be difficult to know what’s a step in the right direction and what are the correct questions to be asking. How can we as consumers know which are the right issues to care about, and what psychological impact does this have? You’ll never be able to please everyone, and more than likely than not there’s always going to be a conflict of interests. Information on clothing labels can be misleading, and you need a considerable amount of money to be able to shop responsibly. Making sure you’re not destroying the planet is close to impossible, even more so when you don’t have large funds and sums of money at your disposal.
There’s a lot of advice on how to shop ethically, some good some bad. With the environmental crisis we are now facing, we know some of the work we can do to help. Choosing to consume clothing consciously will mean ending our relationship with throwaway clothing culture and buying better made longer-lasting products. Shopping in vintage and charity shops as well as up-cycling has great value and is a good way to make an impact – however small. A lot of time, effort, and resources are going to need to be taken to make responsibly made clothing more accessible to the wider public. Buying less and buying better and finding worth in our waste is the way forward.
Conscious consumption covers a wide range of things, there’s no clear definition of right or wrong when it comes to consuming clothing in this way. Is it our responsibility to buy less, or the responsibility of companies to make clothes more sustainably? There are many systemic flaws to be overcome in fashion, but with consumer awareness on the rise it’s an exciting time for sustainability. Buying clothing that doesn’t hurt our planet shouldn’t be a luxury, it should be available to everyone wherever you are in the world. Conscious consumption isn’t something you care about based on how much you get paid each month; it matters to us all.
Written by J’Nae Phillips