One of the biggest debates I get into with people over conscious fashion is the perceived cost.
Clothing that is produced ethically, with quality materials and workers who are paid fair wages, does of course cost more than clothing from a fast fashion retailer (or even just a mass-market retailer). I’m not going to deny that one.
But in reality, conscious fashion isn’t actually as expensive as we think – cheap clothing is what is really costing us. It’s costing us the planet and human rights. We have to be willing to change our mindsets, and redefine what we consider to be “expensive.” While cheap fashion might personally save us a few dollars, is also has a horrific impact on the world around us that we may not even recognize.
Clothing production has been dramatically scaled in the past decade or so – 150 billion items are produced annually. Yet, despite rising production costs, clothing is cheaper than ever (learn more here.) If companies are making money, and consumers are getting a great deal, then the cost of producing clothing has to be absorbed somewhere. And that’s where the labor comes in. Some workers are expected to sew 1,000 garments per day. Their daily wage: less than $3. We shouldn’t be proud when we say we bought a shirt for $5. We should be embarrassed.
But that being said, I do acknowledge that participating in conscious fashion also has a lot to do with socioeconomic status. I am aware that all the above is easy for me to say because I can afford to buy a consciously made sweater, and I feel fortunate to have that luxury when I do really need clothing. Not everyone has that ability. So, conscious fashion is much more complicated than “buy better.” It’s not a bad mantra, just an oversimplification of the issue and a lack of understanding about people’s access to the type of clothing that it may seem the conscious fashion community is always promoting. Sometimes, you really need a new coat, or a new pair of jeans, and you have a budgeted amount and it just doesn’t equate to what a consciously made item costs. And that’s okay.
Conscious fashion doesn’t have to be expensive. You can participate in so many ways, beyond purchasing from conscious brands. It has just as much to do with your actions around clothing as it does with the clothing itself.
Here are some ways to be a more conscious consumer, without breaking the bank:
Search pre-owned before new. Check out thrift stores, consignment shops, Tradesy, Poshmark, The RealReal and the host of other sites that resell garments. You may be able to find exactly what you need at an affordable price.
Repair and wear what you already own. We all own clothing that isn’t consciously made. That means it’s on us, as the consumer, to get the most we can out of a particular item. Keep things for longer than you usually would. Learn how to sew a button. Buy a good stain remover. Repurpose items.
Take time to appreciate what you do have. Look in your wardrobe and think about all the adventures you’ve been on with the clothes you have! Think about the people who made them. Care for your items by washing them by hand (or at least in cold water) and letting them air dry.
Borrow. Borrow things before buying, especially for special-occasion wear.
Buy less. Instead of buying the same shirt in a few different colors because you like it, just buy one. And take really, really good care of it. By purchasing fewer inexpensive things, you may find you do have the budget to buy one really nice thing every now and again. (I know I discovered that).
What are the ways that you participate in conscious fashion on a budget? Did I miss anything?