Before COVID-19 hit, industry insiders already agreed that the fashion system was ‘broken’. It has been for a while. Between the sheer speed and volume of the fashion cycle, to widespread discount culture, ethical issues surrounding garment workers’ welfare and the environmental impact, the industry has become unsustainable in more ways than one.
And with fast fashion coming under increasing scrutiny we, the shoppers, are starting to take a more considered approach to what we buy.
But there’s a problem: no matter how much you might want to shop sustainably, for many, the question isn’t a matter of wanting to be involved, it’s being able to afford to.
The ‘sustainable’ price tag
A recent Cosmopolitan UK Instagram poll asked followers about their shopping habits and found that two thirds of respondents (1,696 votes) don’t buy from sustainable fashion brands. Of those who don’t, 80 percent (1,448) said it was because sustainable brands were “too expensive”.
On top of that, 88 percent (2,223 votes) cited price as a more important factor than environmental impact when clothes shopping.
Let’s face it: even if they wanted to, not everyone can drop £64 on a pair of sustainable jeans, no matter how long the warranty says the item will last. For those who live paycheque-to-paycheque, the upfront cost simply isn’t possible.
Meanwhile, more affordable brands are venturing into the ‘eco-friendly’ space but often find themselves accused of ‘greenwashing’. There’s also the ‘all-or-nothing’ argument which asks, if a brand isn’t 100% sustainable, should you shop it at all?
Yep, doing ‘the right thing’ can be a complicated and intimidating issue to navigate, especially if you have a smaller budget.
So where does that leave us?
Well, forking out on pricier investment pieces isn’t the only way to be sustainable. Buying from a select few ‘approved’ brands is only one piece of the proverbial pie. If we take a step back, there are two other elements to consider, sustainable:
Rethinking how we shop
One of the biggest issues facing the fashion industry is how much waste it generates. According to The Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP), 350,000 tonnes of used clothing goes into landfill every year – and that’s just in the UK.
In the same way we recycle your empty rosé bottles and beauty boxes, it’s time to extend that attitude to our clothes.
“From a sustainability point of view there is a rise in fast fashion, throwaway fashion and amongst the youth that’s just not accepted anymore,” explains Fashion Retail Academy Director, Beverley Imrie. “The resale market is so prevalent now.”
While second-hand clothing stores and resale sites, clothing swaps and even fashion rental apps aren’t particularly ‘new’, they offer practical ways to shop sustainably and affordably.
“People are truly beginning to realise that simply by buying second-hand and extending the life-span of a piece of clothing, they can make a huge difference to the environment,” explains eBay’s Head of Preloved, Emma Grant.
“I think that people are much more aware now of the damage that fast fashion can cause than they were a few years ago. Even since 2017, there has been a 31% increase in the number of second-hand items listed on eBay, which proves there is a real changing attitude and movement away from fast fashion.”
Instead of throwing away unused clothing, you can quickly turn your ‘toss’ pile into a handsome little sum. “I was shocked to discover that the average household is sitting on as many as 42 unused items, worth a huge £2600, and I am keen to encourage people to not just throw these away,” adds Grant.
Adopting sustainable habits
Since lockdown started, chances are your shopping habits have changed. Maybe you’re only buying clothes you ‘love’ from now on or perhaps you’re avoiding fashion stores in general. 67 percent of respondents to our Instagram poll said they would shop less when high street stores reopen.
But the question is: why? Is it because we don’t have occasions to buy new clothes for, or is it because we’re realising that we actually don’t need so many clothes? Well, it’s likely a bit of both.
“I think it’s counts per wear. I think it’s value. I think it’s making that piece work hard in your wardrobe,” adds Imrie. “And it could be at trend item, it doesn’t have to be something classic”.
In addition to giving our bank accounts a nice little boost, buying fewer clothes also gives us the chance to rework some of our older purchases.
As Fashion Revolution says, “the most sustainable clothes are the ones already in our wardrobe”. This means getting creative with mending, repairing or reimagining your clothing.
Whether it’s taking the time to clean your tatty white trainers, instead of just replacing them with a shiny new pair, or fixing the broken zipper on that party dress, fixing what you have is perhaps the most sustainable (and affordable) option of all.
Repairing items used to be something you’d try and hide but now visible mending has become a trend in itself, inspiring dedicated Instagram accounts like @visible_creative_mending teaching followers how to take up the eco-friendly art. Cool huh?
So next time you’re feeling priced out of the sustainable fashion movement, remember: making a difference isn’t just about where you spend your money, it is, arguably, more about how you save it.