I’ve seen a lot of talk on Twitter and Instagram about ethical and sustainable fashion. I believe that working-class people are not an issue when it comes to fast fashion. But, we still have to be aware of the fashion we’re consuming. People tend to say that it’s completely okay to buy whatever you want from fast fashion brands regularly. Buying from sustainable brands is way too expensive. This is where the problem with ethics comes into play. Should we just buy from fast fashion brands without acknowledging the fact that it was probably a woman of colour in an Eastern nation who made these clothes for less than minimum wage?
This blog post is mainly a discussion about how we, as consumers (and me, as a working-class student) approach the ethics and sustainability of fast fashion. It’s important to remember they are very closely linked but are not the same. This is not a post to shame people who buy from fast fashion brands. I aim to encourage being thoughtful about the way we approach buying from them.
What is Ethical Fashion?
Ethical fashion is mainly concerned about the workers who make it possible for clothes to be sold on the shop floor. This ranges from the farmers who grow the material for garments and the garment workers who make the clothes. Are they all getting fair pay? Are the garment workers working in safe conditions? In the case of fast fashion, the answers to both of these, unfortunately, is no. An example of this is Boohoo. There have been recent allegations about BooHoo contributing to modern slavery in Leicester garment factories. Garment workers in these factories stated that they were getting paid as little as £3.50 an hour. This is below the legal minimum wage in the UK. Also, social distancing orders due to COVID19 were not taking place, risking workers’ health and safety. This issue occurs worldwide as well and often in much worse conditions.
What is Sustainable Fashion?
Sustainability acknowledges that resources are limited and should be used wisely and conservatively. So, sustainable fashion is concerned with the production, consumption and use of fashion that conserves ecosystems whilst protecting the human rights of people. How clothes are manufactured, water consumption, the use of pesticides and herbicides and how long pieces of clothing can last are only a few examples of how to determine the sustainability of a fashion piece. Fast fashion does not pass the sustainability check. The industry is the second largest polluter in the world. They also use mass amounts of water, pesticides and herbicides to produce cotton crops. This decreases crop yields and water supply and causes ecosystem decline. Furthermore, the polyester material in fast fashion clothing requires a mass amount of oil to be produced, which is not biodegradable.
Necklace – Foaki
Top – Hand Made by me!
Trousers – Brixton Vintage Kilo Sale
Fast Fashion and the Working Class
The working class are given a considerable amount of pressure to stop buying from fast fashion brands. Many privileged people who talk about ethical and sustainable fashion sound elitist when discussing this topic. They ignore that working-class people can’t always afford a plain t-shirt for £30 or a £90 pair of jeans. The fact that parents have children who grow quickly and can’t afford clothes from sustainable brands to fit them at every stage of growth doesn’t get acknowledged. Additionally, sustainable and ethical brands are rarely size-inclusive. These are only a few reasons why working-class people buy from fast fashion brands and they’re completely valid.
As a working-class student who was horrified by how fast fashion is unethical and unsustainable, I decided to consume fashion or ethically and sustainably. I encourage that if you have the means to do the same, go for it. This shows brands that we don’t agree with their problematic practices, along with going to protests, joining the Fashion Revolution and understanding why we need one. For me, I consumed more ethically by cutting out fast fashion clothing and thrifting occasionally. For consuming fashion more sustainably, I re-wear the clothes I buy again and again.
On Consuming Fashion
Even though working-class people are not to blame for fast fashion I think it’s still important we should be thoughtful of what fast fashion brands do. Modern slavery, declining ecosystems and pollution are issues with fast fashion that we can choose to stand up against. It can be as little as wearing a piece of clothing more than 5 times before throwing it away or fixing your clothes that have a tear in them. Thinking holistically about why it’s important to decrease fast fashion consumption can make an impact, whether you are working-class or not. And for the privileged people who don’t consider the struggles of working-class when it comes to fast fashion, it’s important to reflect and change how you approach this topic. I promise there’s a way to discuss ethical and sustainable fashion without sounding elitist.