Simple answer: No – and here’s why!
Conscious fashion can’t be sold at the same price points as fast fashion
One of the biggest qualms that many people have with conscious fashion is that they feel that it is sold at too high a price point, and they either can’t afford it or don’t want to spend that much money to dress themselves. But what many people don’t realise is, this is the result of a so-called ‘normal’ price-range of clothing which was instigated and has been championed by the high street, when actually clothing should never have been at such low price points in the first place.
What is being compromised to do this? A survey of Bangladeshi factories which supply a popular UK brand found that workers’ average basic monthly pay was 6,500 taka (GBP £62) and their average take-home pay, including an average two hours a day of overtime, was 8,000 taka. This is actually more than the majority of workers in the industry get. However, the average estimate of what workers consider is enough to live on and support their families is 15,000 taka a month – twice as much as they are being paid. And for this wage, garment workers are under a huge amount of pressure by the factory, who are in turn put under a huge amount of pressure to reach higher and higher targets, working incredibly hard to produce garments which are flimsily made out of cheap materials and are causing significant damage to the environment.
But what about brands that are offering ‘affordable conscious fashion’, how does that work?
Recent years have seen the rise of so-called ‘affordable conscious fashion,’ being sold across the board – from famous retailers doing ‘conscious’ ranges to those who claim that all their products have been ethically and sustainably produced. However, in all of these cases, they are still selling their clothing at high street price points! Something here isn’t right, because realistically, if these products really were as conscious as they say they are, there is just no way they would be operating at a profit.
This predicament usually comes down to something that has been coined ‘greenwashing,’ the idea that a business appears to be ‘green’ as a result of clever marketing tools, the right buzzwords or generalisations. Although these companies may be making steps towards a more conscious supply chain, or more ethical standards for the workers who make their clothes, they often exaggerate to what extent they actually do this. For example, they may be ‘better’ than other retailers but it still doesn’t mean they have minimised their impact to the extent that they are suggesting. Basically, they are commodifying the idea of eco-fashion, using it as a tool to sell their products but not actually following up their claims with real action.
Often, if you do even a tiny bit of research into their ethical and sustainable practices you will find that they are quite vague on what they are actually doing to make themselves more ethical and/or sustainable than other fast-fashion retailers. Usually, if a company really is trying to reduce their impact and create a better fashion world, they will provide all the information on their website, as 100% transparency is a key factor in conscious fashion.
One great resource for double checking and investigating retailers claims is https://projectjust.com/, which gives you information about many brands, including their sustainability and ethical policies.
Conscious fashion will never be able to offer the sheer amount of product choice
But is this really a bad thing?
Clothing is our way to express ourselves and our identity, and we should be investing in pieces that we will love and cherish forever, that will stand the test of time and truly represent who we are. I think we can all agree that there is honestly, just too much choice out there! I for one am constantly overwhelmed by the ever-increasing turnover of so-called ‘fashion’, and the pressure to buy into all of the latest fads – and this is before looking at the implications for ethics and sustainability.
In the words of Vivienne Westwood, we should ‘buy less, choose well, make it last.’
Realistically, it is not feasible to produce such a huge amount of clothing to a decent standard, in ethical working environments, using sustainable practices and sell it at the prices it is being sold in many of our high street stores. The thing is, companies with a focus on ethics and sustainability should never be expected to offer cheap clothes at such a high turnover, and it’s up to us as the consumers to recognise that if we want to shop in a more conscious way then we can’t continue compare it to and measure it against fast-fashion.
What are they doing differently?
Conscious fashion brands are making a stand against the things that are being compromised to produce ‘fast fashion’ and invites us to re-consider the way we as consumers think about fashion and clothing! This isn’t just about changing how our clothes our made, it is about changing the way society values fashion and clothing and reconsidering our expectations.
Ethical fashion brands are committed towards giving everyone, throughout the supply chain, a decent quality of life. This incorporates everything from fair wages, consideration of employee rights, eliminating exploitation and reducing the possibility of disasters like the Rana Plaza factory collapse.
In order to do this, brands are either selling products which are made in house such as Brighton Lace, supporting small scale local artisans like Raven and Lily, or making a huge effort to ensure that clothing is made in fair trade certified factories and the materials are also sourced fairly, like People tree and Veja Trainers.
Paying workers throughout the supply chain what they deserve, and making sure that there is no room for exploitation, may mean paying a bit more for an item of clothing – but this surely is the true value of clothing.
There are also many brands going beyond this and using fashion to make a difference. Many are also social enterprises, such as ethical and sustainable swimwear brand Ruby Moon, which gives microfinance loans to people in developing countries through lendwithcare.org.
What is sustainable fashion doing differently?
Every garment has a carbon footprint and sustainable brands are working to make sure that this footprint is lessened by reducing their impact on the environment. The fashion industry is the second biggest pollutant after oil, with a huge carbon footprint, and through our excessive consumption of clothing we are pumping toxic chemicals into the ocean, using up precious resources, as well as filling landfill across the world – and this is what companies with a focus on sustainability are aiming to solve.
Many sustainable companies use materials and manufacturing processes that lessen the damage on the environment. One example is companies that make their garments out of recycled materials like plastics. Swimwear is a good one for this as there are many brands that are creating their bikinis and swimsuits out of recycled plastic waste and fishing nets, therefore helping clean the oceans, protect the environment and using that waste to make something amazing. A company doing something similar is Insane in the Rain, whose rain jackets are made out of recycled plastic bottles, a material that is also utilised by underwear brand Proclaim.
Other companies are designing and manufacturing clothing that is made to last, more time is invested into making it, more money is spent on using stronger materials and also using alternative materials and production methods that aren’t as polluting to the environment.
One popular trend that sustainability-focused brands have introduced are systems to encourage circular fashion, focusing on elongating the lifespan of a piece of clothing and the materials it is made out of. For example, Mud jeans offer a subscription service; you pay a small fee per month, get your pair of jeans, and when they wear out you can trade them in for a new pair. Mud jeans then recycle the jeans, using the materials again or upcycling them to sell them on.
Changing our mindset
Although these processes inevitably cost more, what they don’t cost is the earth and the well-being of the people who make the clothes. In order for a more ethical and sustainable fashion industry to flourish, we have to replace fast-fashion with a slow fashion mentality. Although you will be spending more initially, 1) you’re paying the amount that a piece of clothing is really worth and 2) you’re investing in quality products that will stand the test of the time. So in the long term, you’re spending a similar amount to what you would have spent originally having to replace the item.
On a more personal level, initially it might seem great to be able to buy 5 items for the same price as one. But realistically, do you want as much choice in your wardrobe? Katie Yarde, who we interviewed about her experience with the 6 item challenge, felt like a weight had been lifted off her when she cut down her wardrobe choices considerably. Obviously this is extreme, but how often do you stare at the pieces hanging in your wardrobe, try on 20 different outfits and then go back to your favourite go-to dress, or pair of jeans and top?
The idea that conscious fashion will never be able to compete with fast-fashion is a fact that, for many of us, is hard to accept. We have all become so used to clothing being sold at lower and lower price points to the point that this has become so normal that the idea of having to spend more seems terrifying. However, we have all been known to splash the cash on branded clothing, the latest pair of trainers or a piece we’ve really wanted ‘that’s great quality, so it will last’. Why not transfer this mentality throughout your shopping habits?
Conscious fashion will never be able to compete with fast-fashion, but shouldn’t have to… clothing should really never have been made this cheap at such a high turnover in the first place.
We would love to hear your thoughts on this! How do you think ethical fashion compares with fast fashion? How can we comunicate the differences? Leave us a comment or tweet us @revival_collect!