Recently, a well-established women’s clothing store, The Limited, has closed their in-store businesses after 54 years. Why? Because consumers are showing a preference for cheap, fast fashion retailers that can keep up with yearly trends. The Limited was known for making multi-purpose, business casual clothing that never went out of style. This used to be a successful business model, but now a days, consumers prefer to purchase an abundance of clothing at cheap prices and then dispose it, once the trend is deemed unfashionable. While being able to purchase 3 dresses for $30 at Forever 21 might sound like a deal you can’t pass up, the consequences are detrimental for factory workers and unsustainable for the environment.
Factory workers are paid on average 3 dollars a day and given few legal protections. Many of these workers are exploited and forced to work 12+ hours a day. A sector of these factories don’t even given their workers a day off. One would like to think that this is a rarity or an exaggerated statement, but it’s a reality. Only 2% of suppliers pay their workers a living wage and the workers, often female, can barely support their families. In addition to the fast fashion industry being toxic and dehumanizing for workers, there is currently 11 million tons of textile waste in landfills. This textile waste takes over 200+ years to biodegrade.
While I can’t control the fact that Donald Trump wants to get rid of the EPA, I can control what I choose to buy. I understand that buying from more ethical, sustainable companies is more expensive and difficult when you’re on a tight budget. As a college student, I can’t be the perfect sustainable/ethical fashionista 100% of the time, but I do believe that my awareness of the issue helps. Here are some things I do to avoid the fast fashion industry when I can on a college student budget, that you can do too!
1.) Shop at thrift, consignment, or vintage stores: Thrifting is one of the number one things we can do to be sustainable when it comes to clothing. Reusing clothing instead of throwing it into the landfill, is so important, as it extends the life-cycle of an object. It can be hard to sift through the racks, as some of them are filled with grandma sweaters that grandmas wouldn’t even want to wear. However, you can also find some true gems at thrift/consignment shops. The prices are also extremely compatible with a college student budget, often surpassing discount fast fashion retailers. While the majority of the clothing in these thrift/consignment stores were probably made from conventional clothing stores, you are not supporting their fast fashion practices. Instead, these funds go to the store owners or charitable causes.
Vintage stores are also a wonderful place to shop! Not only are they fun to look at, but back in the day, clothing was made to last for multiple decades. Even though vintage stores cost a bit more money than thrift/consignment stores, I find everything there to be of high quality . The shop owners, also, often know the story behind the item. For instance, I got this red hat at a vintage store in Providence, Rhode Island.
The shop owner told me that this beaut’ was made in the 70’s and apparently had never been worn before. It is incredible to me that this stunning item would’ve spent its whole life-cycle never being worn. In today’s fast fashion industry, something like this would’ve been tossed in the landfill, but vintage stores give these items a second chance at life. I, 40 years later, am able to give this hat a story. An upside of wearing vintage clothing, you get a plethora of compliments as what you’re wearing is so unique. Whenever I wear this hat, I get, on average, about 3-5 compliments in a day.
2.) Etsy: I pancake flipping love Etsy and browsing their website. For those of you who don’t know, Etsy is a website where independent businesses can sell their products, similar to eBay. I can literally spend hours looking at all of the eclectic, unique products on their website. I can’t say that I’ve shopped a lot on Etsy, but what I have gotten from their sellers has been superb. I once, got an abalone ring that only cost $33 that was handmade by a woman in Florida. It is my favorite ring and I wear it all the time.
If you’re curious, the hand-chain I got is from Ten Thousand Villages, a fair-trade boutique store.
Best of all, it isn’t some cheap piece of jewelry made of questionable materials and no one’s human rights got violated making it. Since they are made by independent sellers, many of the products can be customized, which you can’t get at your local Forever 21. .If you want something unique and hand-made, but reasonably priced, shop on Etsy!
3.) The Sales Section of Sustainable/Ethical Fashion Websites: There are so many great sustainable/ethical fashion brands out there, but the prices are usually not friendly for the college student wallet. Look at the sales section of these websites and you’ll see lots of reasonably priced, beautiful clothing. For instance, I’ve had my eyes on this beautiful, eggplant, stripe skirt from Synergy Organic Clothing for only $37 and this gorgeous bamboo aubergine colored tank top from Thought Clothing for only $12.21 US Dollars. Also, if you can’t afford to shop for main pieces on Sustainable/Ethical Fashion Websites, buy items that tend to be less expensive like socks, scarves, hats, or underwear. For instance, you can get these adorable thigh high bamboo socks from Thought Clothing for only $9.76 US Dollar or this beyond cute, hand-made panda hat from People Tree for only $18.24. While you are still probably going to pay more for sustainable/ethical clothing on sale, what you will be getting will be of much higher quality and last you for years, while helping the Earth/your fellow citizens.
4.) Buy Less: It is of my opinion, that it is better to buy less and instead, buy versatile items that won’t fall apart by the time the trend is over (items are usually designed to only be worn 7x). If you think about, the $100 dollars that you spend at Forever 21 for disposable clothing, that you’ll hate later on, you can also spend on a hand-made wool coat that will last you a lifetime. I am very picky in what I buy, and even if I do shop at a conventional store at the mall, I have to **love** and be head over heels for the item before I buy it. This year alone, I can count on one hand how many things I’ve purchased (albeit, I do have a wardrobe that I’ve built up over the years that is mostly from conventional retailers). Through selective shopping, most of what I’ve gotten has been under $100 dollars. A part of becoming more sustainable is adopting an attitude where if the object doesn’t add any lasting value to your life, you shouldn’t get it. It is easy to forget that stuff is just stuff. That is why I think it is so important to feel a positive connection to the stories behind these objects. I, personally, feel a lot more connected to a scarf from a company who supports women by paying them a living wage, while also giving them other benefits (education, healthcare, etc.), than a scarf that was made in a sweatshop by an abused worker. That is why I’d rather shop less, but more sustainably, rather than having a new outfit to wear everyday.
I get that it is isn’t always possible to shop sustainably/ethically 100% of the time, especially if you’re a college student or are struggling to make ends meet. It is hard when you want to do the right thing, but don’t always have the funds to do so. In my opinion, though, it is most important to be aware of the problems with the clothes we wear, and to help if you can. Even if only 20% of your wardrobe is sustainable and ethical, that is certainly something. Every little bit helps and matters, and it is vital to keep that in mind.
I’m curious, what do you guys do to shop sustainably/ethically in an affordable way? Let me know in the comments down below!