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Activism and Fashion
By Kelly Taylor Osborne
One of the defining traits of today’s younger generations are their care and concern for the environment around them. As a member of Gen Z, this has always been the trait that has given me the most pride and joy of my generational identity, however it is also trait that has been the most abused and cast aside both by members of the younger generations as well as others.
As the generations who grew up with access to the internet and much more easily and quicker gratification then ever seen before, the issue of fast fashion and its negative impact on the world around us has plagued the fashion industry and the younger generation’s environmental impact. Even sustainable trends within the fashion industry have been overlayed with incredible amounts of greenwashing, and a high rise in micro-trends have skyrocketed fashion waste to the point where attempting to sustainably purchase clothes while also continuing our participation in the identity of our generations is futile.
One may ask themselves if it’s even possible to sustainably shop for fashion in the world we live in, and while there are a number of setbacks and issues plaguing many alternatives, it is definitely possible.
In order to understand how to sustainably navigate the fashion industry, it is important to familiarize yourself with why this is such an important issue. The biggest causes of individuals utilizing fast fashion brands opposed to slow fashion brands are social media, pricing, and the rate at which the consumer receives their product.
First discussing social media, the discourse around the consumption rate is both vital to slowing it down, however with videos such as several hundred-dollar hauls gaining content creators millions of views, they have become increasingly popular. This is only supported by infamous fast fashion companies creating marketing approaches via social media where individuals can enter sweepstakes to receive hundreds of dollars in gift cards for their company that sells incredibly inexpensive clothes made by workers who are paid minimal and put through incredibly hard labor.
Not only are these marketing tactics promoting an incredibly environmentally damaging practice, but they are also further exploiting their workers that are already pushed enough every day without these sweepstakes. Finally in terms of social media, with the ever quickening public discourse where trends and controversies are prominent for a day until they are thrown away for the next thing to entertain the masses, the same can be said about the fashion industry, where a large influx of micro-trends have taken over social media, leading to individuals purchasing these clothes to stay on top of trends, only for them to be out of style the next day, the individual throws the clothing piece away, and repeats the same process with the next trend.
These three main factors of social media and fashion have created the perfect storm for fast fashion businesses to continue their unethical and environmentally damaging practices without mass backlash. While there absolutely is an enormous amount of discourse against these practices, there is also enough revenue coming in for these businesses where reputation is cast aside because their methods still work.
Next while discussing this issue is that of pricing. As mentioned previously, a big allure to potential consumers with these sweepstakes are the incredibly inexpensive prices for these products. Why buy a $200 dress when you can buy one that looks the same but is made more cheaply for $20, allowing you to also buy accessories and other items along with that dress.
While the inexpensive price point for these products is inherently a good thing, as it creates much more accessibility for these brands than otherwise; especially considering that a lot of these brands also have a wide range of sizes which only furthers its accessibility, it has a deep-cutting con in which it incentivizes individuals with more resources to abuse the low price points and spend their money on hundreds of pieces at once, only for many of them to be thrown out after wearing them once.
Finally, in regards to the root causes of this issue are the rates at which consumers receive their products. Because of the popularization of day of delivery with huge corporations, consumers have come to expect that through all online delivery service.
If it is above a two day wait, that has become a serious issue with many online based consumers, so when these fast fashion brands promote quick delivery on top of their trendy clothes and low-price points, it greatly incentivizes individuals to chose them over smaller businesses or slower fashion companies who don’t have the ability to ship their products as fast as their competitors. Not only do these fast delivery services and instant gratification expectation incentivize individuals to shop fast fashion over slower alternatives, but it also creates great strain on the delivery crew who work to get the products from the business the individual’s home in such a short time.
In understanding why this is such an issue and what causes it, the conversation turns to what can be done about it. This includes spreading awareness to the companies and industries that fuel this issue, alternatives for shopping fast fashion, and how to change the conversation regarding fashion to a method that is more sustainable.
First off is raising awareness, unfortunately with greenwashing plaguing the fashion industry, especially these brands with such damaging practices, it’s hard to find sources that show particularly what brands are telling the truth about their impact. An incredible resource collaborative that has been introduced in the last few years, Good On You, provides a resource for those invested in both the environmental movement and the fashion industry to ensure that they are getting not only an environmentally sustainable experience through their fashion, but one that also holds brands accountable for how they treat their employees as well as animals through their practices.
On top of that, a huge way of being aware of a brand’s impact is knowing how to read sustainability statements. An incredibly vague or complete lack of a sustainability statement is rather clear in the company’s perspective on their environmental impact; however, there are also a lot of other companies who do more to hide their damaging practices. Statements that avoid pointing towards specific practices, vague wording, and denial are all methods utilized by companies that utilize their sustainability statement to appear more sustainable than they are in reality.
While many times it is quite clear when a company is being less than honest in regard to their impact, being able to tell when a company is lying about your impact won’t just help you navigate the fashion industry but can help those around you as you become a resource for navigating environmental communication.
Next while discussing what can be done against fast fashion practices is knowing the alternatives to these practices. The best way to explain these alternatives can be through utilizing the incredibly well-known statement of utilizing the three R’s of the environmental movement. You can reduce the amount of clothes you own and buy on a regular basis; purchasing and receiving new items can be an incredibly pertinent addiction, and in fighting off the urge to purchase an intense amount of unnecessary goods it can help in the long run of normalizing only buying clothes when necessary.
In terms of reusing, the most obvious example is wearing the same piece time and time again, instead of wearing it once and exchanging it for another, but another method is through both donating, selling, or purchasing clothes through either online or in person thrifting services. While there are definitely cons to re-selling such as mass purchasing items to sell the pieces at a higher price and make a large profit, largely the thrifting industry is a much more environmentally friendly alternative to purchasing clothes new.
Finally, you can utilize recycling by taking advantage of pieces you no longer want to transform them into new, uniquely yours, pieces of clothes. While refurbishing clothes has become more and more popular in the recent years as individual, artistic trends have taken hold of younger generations, either recycling clothes yourself or giving them to someone else who can recycle the materials can help transform your unwanted clothes and turn them into something new, preventing them from ending in the landfill as they would be otherwise.
Finally in terms of changing the landscape of sustainable fashion is that of changing the conversation both in person and online to one that is more sustainable in terms of the fashion industry. One of the reasons that fast fashion and micro-trends persist through our generations despite the emphasis on environmental sustainability is because of the discourse related to and promoting instant gratification and fast fashion practices.
Doing your part to avoid promoting, watching, and supporting media and conversations such as the aforementioned haul videos and sweepstakes for fast fashion companies will slowly but surely turn the algorithm and trends away from these negative practices and to supporting more sustainable practices. Also, allowing your personal fashion identity to be formed not from the trends happening but more from your personal preference can help you to avoid and ignore micro-trends and the quick turnover rate of pieces that come along with them.
In changing your own practices in both in person and online conversations regarding fashion, you can help push those around you to change their practices as well, and lead to a more sustainable atmosphere in the fashion industry.
In conclusion, the fashion industry and its relationship with environmental sustainability is one riddled with greenwashing and inaccessibility; but with knowing how to navigate your way through the discourse of the industry, how to tell what companies are being more truthful than others, and practices to avoid the negative impacts of the industry, you can continue expressing yourself through your fashion while doing the least amount of damage to the environment around you.
While the slow fashion industry is far from perfect, with its issues of accessibility limitedness to many individuals without the funds to shop sustainably, pushing the fashion industry to becoming more truthfully sustainable will help incentivize companies to focus more on creating accessible fashion while being mindful to the environment around them.
About the author
Kelly is a climate activist from Southwestern Ohio and an advocate for living life to its fullest potential. Her ultimate goal is to be able to say that she was one voice in a million that helped come together to allow our planet to be cherished to its full potential for generations to come.