There has been a lot of talk recently about how to make sustainable fashion accessible. While this community’s goal is ultimately to create a better industry for the planet and its people, there are many who are being left out of the conversation.
Before we discuss how to make sustainable fashion accessible to all, we have to unpack why sustainable fashion isn’t accessible at the moment. The two most prominent factors which have commentators reeling are high price points and lack of representation. In order to pay workers a fair living wage, it’s going to cost more than a Forever 21 t-shirt to produce. In addition, natural fibers, dyes, and finishings are more expensive to use within production. These elements make it incredibly difficult to create cheap sustainable fashion. There are a good handful of brands which have a more moderate price point, though the majority are quite pricey and unattainable for the average consumer. The other complaint is that sustainable fashion lacks diverse representation – of various races, of gender fluidity, of the LGBTQ+ community, of a range of sizes, and of a variety of styles. Much of sustainable fashion currently looks the same and it is leaving a large swath of customers behind. While this type of fashion is not exclusive to the western world, you wouldn’t always know that by looking at each brand’s social media page. This community, which has the goal to create change for the entire world, has alienated many who could be fighting alongside for healthy and fair sustainable fashion. This may seem a bit depressing, yet all hope is not lost as there is still time to change the way that this community operates in order to provide for all, instead of just a few.
What Businesses Can Do
Small sustainable fashion brands make up most of the current options for transparent supply chains. While these brands have little wiggle room when it comes to price, they do have the agency to change how their high-quality clothing is sold. To make sustainable fashion accessible – these businesses must find more diverse models, advertise in more inclusive spaces, and style their clothing in new ways. By bringing in new voices to their brand, they will be able to reach far more customers who feel that the brand’s clothing was made for them, not just skinny minimalist white girls. To make sustainable fashion accessible, brands also need to use their marketing to represent various different types of people and lifestyles. Inclusion is slightly less of a problem for these brands with a larger platform since they’ve had more widespread pushback from customers. However, their prices are still steep. While I’m not advocating for these brands to cut costs at the risk of losing quality and ethical practices, I do believe that it’s the job of bigger brands to find ways to provide more affordable options. If this isn’t at all possible, buyback programs, complimentary mending services, and consumer education are close seconds. Patagonia’s infamous “Don’t Buy This Jacket” campaign comes to mind. Even though it was partially a marketing tactic, it was also a way to inform their customers that they don’t need a mountain of clothing. Quality should last a lifetime.
What Influencers Can Do
While brands themselves have a huge impact on the industry, the role of influencers has become massive within fashion in general. Whether they are only on social media or have a blog as well, influencers can use their platforms to promote diverse voices, bodies, styles, and brands. Through their online spaces, these sustainable fashion advocates can showcase thrifted alongside their other content, in order to give a more complete picture of what it means to be a sustainable shopper. In addition, influencers can make sustainable fashion accessible by filling their feeds with bloggers, models, and advocates of color. Or they can highlight brands which are run by women, made with the LGBTQ+ community in mind, or simply have innovative style. It, unfortunately, requires more effort to find these brands and individuals because of the way the fashion industry currently works, although, when influencers use their popularity to shine a light on others it is magical!
What Consumers Can Do
I have a somewhat controversial opinion that at this stage in the move towards a better industry: it’s the job of those with privilege who must invest in businesses doing good which aren’t affordable for all. I truly believe that the burden of supporting sustainable fashion should not be put onto those who are already struggling financially. However, the rhetoric around individual impact has often made it seem like it is every single citizen’s job to make a life-altering shift in order to change the sustainable fashion industry. Though I wholeheartedly believe that individual impact is important in keeping the sustainable fashion community in motion, it absolutely does not make or break anything. You can invest in a few quality pieces which will be staples in your wardrobe for life, and then do your best with the rest. Thrift shopping is a wonderful option if you don’t have the money upfront for investment pieces. There is a huge excess of clothing in the world and secondhand shops are now gold mines! If you follow trends then you’re in luck since fashion is cyclical. This means that clothing which was popular in previous decades is back so staying up to date can be as easy as finding a vintage pair of pants online. Another option is going headfirst into personal style and taking time to find the items which speak to you in a crowded secondhand shop. Whatever you choose, remember to find the kind of quality which will last you for several more fashion cycles.
There is a multitude of ways to make sustainable fashion accessible, and to be a part of the sustainable fashion community though we’re all still discovering how to let them coexist. A fool-proof plan has yet to be outlined for complete accessibility and inclusivity, though we can continue to try our best to learn from our mistakes.
Audrey Stanton was born and raised in the Bay Area and currently based in Los Angeles. She works as a freelance content creator and manager. Audrey is incredibly passionate about conscious fashion and hopes to continue to spread awareness of ethical consumption.