I was once attending an online seminar and asked the speaker how to get started with a sustainable fashion brand. And he replied, “if you truly care about sustainability, don’t start a sustainable fashion brand. Don’t start a brand at all. We DO NOT need any new clothes, we need to take care of what’s already existing.”
We all love the idea of saving the planet and buying from conscious brands (not H&M) like Reformation until a pair of jeans costs $100. Sustainable fashion is costly. It may help the environment, but it is certainly not very accessible. Before we dive into solving the problem, we must understand what is the cause of the problem.
1. Cost of the new fabric: Sustainable fabrics are fabrics that are naturally cultivated. Unlike synthetic fabrics, they do not require chemical processes for development. Cultivating a fiber and turning that into yarn is expensive. Fair paying the farmer and the cost of transportation increases the cost of fabric.
2. Cost of recycled fabric: Okay, producing new fabric has its own set of problems, but what about recycled fabric? Well, recycled fabric is not mass-produced yet. Since there is very little demand for recycled fabric, it has not reached a point where mass production can take place, therefore the prices remain costlier compared to cheaper, synthetic fabrics.
3. Cost of labor: One of the biggest problems with fast fashion is unpaid labour. Huge fast fashion companies like H&M, Zara, and many more choose to underpay their labour in order to maintain prices. Under the Sustainable fashion umbrella, labour is protected, too. So in the process of fair paying the labour, the final cost of the garment goes up.
4. Sustainable fashion is a small market: Everyone buys clothes. But only a fraction of us can afford to buy from sustainable fashion brands. Therefore, it remains a small market, and unlike fast fashion, cannot mass produce.
5. The problem of thrifting: Thrifting means buying second-handed items. This is great because it means to increase the life of clothes and give them more meaning. However, thrifting has its own set of problems. For instance, thrifting as a concept is not widely popular in a country like India. While there are many Instagram thrift stores, they are privately owned and earn off thrifting, making second-hand garments a tad bit more expensive, compared to what we would usually pay at local stores and to hawkers for new clothes. Moreover, thrifting is even looked down upon. Everyone who has had a conversation about thrifting has heard the classic “I would never wear anybody’s second-handed clothes” and explaining the benefits to the environment has no effect on these thick-headed people.
This now brings us to the golden question: how can sustainable fashion be more accessible?
The answer lies in more than what you or I could do. The answer is what WE can do. If we want to truly make fashion a sustainable space, we *collectively* have to focus on solutions.
First off, we have to address the fact that we do not need any more new clothes. Some of us have wardrobes with no place, and yet we compulsively go on buying clothes. The rise of social media or the fear of repeating an outfit or simply our hobby of playing around with different styles or colors or fabrics etc. has now resulted in: you know all that.
Even if you say you don’t have the budget to buy from ethical brands, I need you to hear this: Sustainable fashion isn’t just buying sustainably produced new clothes. Sustainability is mending your clothes, exchanging, upcycling, thrifting, or getting hand-me-downs. But let’s admit, we are going to need new clothes. Your t-shirt will become a pocha two years from now.
The quality of fabric that existed 100 years ago does not exist today. At least not within the budget. So my plea to anyone wanting to buy new clothes: buy local. Please. Support your country. Support your people.
Go to that shop you always drive by. Shop something from that small business that your sister’s friend owns. Because even though you’ll be buying new, at least you’re supporting someone trying to pay for their kid’s school. Or is saving up for a better house. And by buying local, you’re not supporting some rich businessman who certainly has the money to pay their labour and provide safer working conditions but choose otherwise (*cough* owner of Inditex, the company that owns Zara *cough cough* is the richest man in Spain and the third richest man in Europe).
Disclaimer: The views and insights expressed in this article are those of the author. This article was not written or edited by Empireweekly.com; it was published on June 14, 2022.