In recent years, society has become increasingly more concerned with climate change and how we often absentmindedly harm the environment in our day to day lives. Therefore, steps have been made to reduce our carbon footprint; one of which being sustainable fashion. Considering approximately 3,000 litres of water is needed to produce one cotton shirt, it is evident as to why people have become increasingly more conscious of the impact of buying brand new clothes; the rise of apps like Depop and Vinted, which allow users to sell old and unwanted clothes, reflects this progression.
Even so, ‘fast fashion’ sites such as Shein, Missguided and Pretty Little Thing are still very much thriving; their cheap, average quality yet trendy clothes offer buyers the opportunity to mimic runway trends without the high-fashion price tags. Companies like these have detrimental effects on not only the environment but also on workers in developing countries, who are egregiously underpaid.
An increasing amount of responsibility seems to be placed on the consumers of fast-fashion brands – who are usually working-class – rather than the brands themselves. Whether intentional or not, this outlook is incredibly classist. As the environmentally-conscious working-class teenager I am, I of course have tried to invest more money in shopping with sustainable fashion brands. However, I can vouch for those that argue that it is incredibly difficult to find sustainable brands within a budget and I consequently then regrettably turn to sites such as Shein as they’ll have a cheap but closely matching alternative. Simply shifting the blame onto the working-class consumers turns a blind eye to the privilege required to invest in sustainable brands.
Working-class people have often turned to charity shops (or ‘thrift stores’) for incredibly cheap clothes and, thanks to the internet, this cheap shopping hack has trended, spreading like wildfire. Now, many people from more privileged middle-class families are hopping onto the bandwagon and shopping at these places. It may not seem like a bad thing because, after all, aren’t they helping the environment by doing so? The answer is of course they are, but what this does is disadvantage working-class people further; these middle-class people can afford to shop at sustainable brands, and leave the second-hand shopping for the working class.
Thrift stores, like any other business, have had to respond to the increase in demand and in some cases increase their prices. It’s not to say that middle-class people cannot shop in these places at all, but many fail to realise how they are potentially put working-class people, whose only means of buying clothing sustainably was through those very thrift stores, at a disadvantage -especially if they are more than capable to afford actual sustainable brands. With this opportunity now gone, working-class people are then forced once again into buying from the aforementioned fast-fashion websites because of the low price tag – it’s an endless cycle, really.
Simply put, the true issue lies in the way the rise of sustainable fashion just reinforces the class divide in that it stigmatises those that invest in fast-fashion when they are often left with not many other options due to their economic status.
- The Lexington Line, ‘Is the Sustainable Fashion Movement Classist?’
- Just Irenic, ‘The Intersection Between Sustainable Fashion, Privilege, Classism and Colonialism’
- Business Insider, ‘How fast fashion hurts the planet through pollution and waste’
Written by Charleigh Sharp