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Equity in Sustainable Fashion

Updated: Aug 18, 2021

The fashion industry is an ever-evolving reflection of our culture. Fashion is wearable art, meant to be admired, and is indicative of our identities. However, despite its iconic place in society, the fashion industry is harming the planet. This is where “sustainable” fashion takes shape.


There are some brands that have started labeling themselves as environmentally conscious due to increased sustainable efforts and awareness. However, this often comes at a hefty price tag, and rightfully so. These brands source eco-friendly materials, minimize waste, utilize renewable sources of energy, and prioritize employee rights. Ethical and sustainable goods are expensive—often times they are made by hand and thus are not mass produced. The material is more expensive and so is the labor. Although the implications of a higher price brings both environmental and humanitarian consciousness into production, it also creates a deeper economic divide. It sends the message that to care about the planet, you have to have money to spend.


For example, oftentimes when shoppers can’t afford sustainable fashion, they are tempted to turn back to fast fashion for the cheaper price tags and easier access. Recently, however, there has been a shift from fast fashion to purchasing items secondhand, often culturally referenced as “thrifting”. Climate concerns have propelled this thrifting surge, as it promotes the reusing of goods.


Yet, thrifting is not a perfect solution. Its rise in popularity—especially from members of the middle and upper classes—has promoted its gentrification. Prices have risen to the point where purchasing a shirt secondhand can be more expensive than purchasing one from a fast fashion chain. The second hand fashion market was a reliable and affordable option but prices have been on the rise and the selection is quickly picked over— it is harder to find quality items for a decent price.


Furthermore, baggy and oversize clothes are in style right now and are being consumed at a higher rate than fitted clothing. This takes away from the plus size community, and those that are not sizes 00 - 6. This has made the search for affordable second-hand clothing more difficult, as there is a lack of control, production, and supply within the industry. Fashion is not equitable— it never has been—but as wealthier individuals infiltrate the second-hand market, it is important to consider a more equitable and sustainable means of consumption.


A way to combat this is to be even more conscious in our sustainable shopping (thrifting) by limiting overconsumption. If thrifting is just seen as normal shopping rather than deal hunting, consumers will buy fewer clothing items, and the supply will be made more inclusive for different sizes and income levels. While it is important that we continue to be conscious of our clothes’ sourcing, it is also important to acquire items at more manageable rates to ensure the longevity of the industry for all consumers, and to carefully consider the items we choose to add to our collection.


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