In this article, Candice explores and discusses the idea of conscious consumerism.
“Is it worth it?” As consumers, we’ve most likely asked ourselves this a thousand times when debating over that cute Summer one-piece swimsuit or that button up maxi skirt. In this uncertain and ever-changing economy with prices and wages dropping up and down, it’s understandable to have a Scrooge-like mindset, but when looking at the cost of a product, does that price tag really sum up the WHOLE cost of the product? This applies to higher-end pieces, as well. With couture or name brand clothing costing an arm and a leg, the affordability of these highly sought after and often limited items are just out of the common consumers’ reaches, but we still find ourselves splurging or finding imitations to keep up with the trends. When thinking about the worth of a product, most people tend to think if the item is worth their own money, but rather than only referring to the retail cost of the product, this one phrase, “Is it worth it?” questions the morality and ethics of the product, company, and consumer.
For those on a budget, which is the majority of consumers in the market, including myself, we’re always looking for the best deal. Fast and cheap fashion has such a big presence in our society today. According to Wikipedia, fast fashion “is a contemporary term used by fashion retailers to express that designs move from catwalk quickly to capture current fashion trends.” What this means for us is cheap, accessible, and trendy clothes without the runway price tag or limited availability. Brands, such as H&M, Primark, and Next, are among the more inexpensive brands, whereas ASOS, Topshop, and Zara are the pricier ones.
Now, fast fashion doesn’t automatically mean killing the environment and sweatshops left and right, but that is the stereotype and general assumption. The nature of these companies makes it hard to assume otherwise, with new collections and bulks of products being churned out every couple of months or even weeks. The production of these clothes is repetitive and fast-paced with cheap labor and materials playing a major role, which often explains the low price tags. With cheap labor, workers often work in unbearable conditions for long hours and little pay. With cheaper materials, the synthetic fibers can make it difficult to repurpose, so if there are leftover fabrics or unprofitable products, they go to waste and are either discarded or burned. The dying processes also use tons of water. Because of this, the fashion industry is undoubtedly the second most polluting industry in the world after the oil industry, which speaks volumes.
Ethical and sustainable clothing, also known as slow fashion, has an ethos more centered on the wellbeing of the Earth and people. Fair wages, good working conditions, natural process, and fabrics, and high-quality and long-lasting products are the focal points. As a living wage employer, Lucy and Yak is just one of the few notable brands that produce responsibly and ethically, but the list can go on and on.
Compared to Primark prices or Forever21 prices, sustainable fashion brands’ price points can seem more expensive. With some clothes costing as little as a sandwich, it can be easy for some to compare sustainable and ethical fashion prices to fast fashion prices and prefer the latter over the former. As an international student in a foreign country, financials are definitely tight. I can’t always splurge on more expensive, higher-quality items, but what I can do is be a more conscious consumer.
Coming from a designer’s perspective, Rebecca Morter, the founder, and CEO of Lone Design Club explained the costs that a designer has to think about when putting that price tag on their products: the real costs of the materials and manufacturing and the availability of the product. Items are generally more expensive as a result of either the hours of manual labor put into producing the product or the materials used. A limited edition silk scarf will have that thousand pound price tag because the silk used is hard to come by and the manufacturing costs are higher as a result of the lower volume production. Advertising and a brand’s means of selling also factor into the costs, which is why some clothes sell for more depending on the company or collective that they sell under. Brands that sell under LDC are selling directly to the consumers at fair margins, which factors out the high boutique cuts.
Ethical and sustainable fashion is becoming more and more accessible, as well. With it being 2018, the year of awareness and movements, fast fashion retailers are also moving forward with more ethical and environmentally responsible production practices. H&M’s Conscious Exclusive line features materials, such as recycled silver and ECONYL®, a 100% regenerated fiber from fishnets and other nylon waste. With its launch on the 19th of April this year, this is the seventh collection in this line, and they have committed to only using 100% sustainably sourced cotton by 2020 and 100% sustainable materials in all of their products by 2030.
Launched in 2010 by Ellen MacArthur, the British charity, The Ellen MacArthur Foundation, aims to transition the fashion industry into a more circular economy, which means reducing pollution and waste by recycling, upcycling, reusing, and redesigning products so that they’re more repurposeful or compostable. H&M is a core global partner, as well as other brands, such as Nike.
As another core partner of the foundation, Stella McCartney has been a longtime advocate for sustainable and ethical fashion since even before the opening of her fashion house in 2001. Although the price ranges for her products are not the most financially feasible for the everyday consumer, it’s fairly reasonable considering the techniques and materials used. Cruelty-free, ethical, and long-lasting are aspects of her pieces. During the 2018 Copenhagen Fashion Summit in May, Stella McCartney had said, “We arrived at a place where doing things in a conventional way is outdated and unsustainable. For instance, using animals is, in my opinion, not relevant or fashionable anymore.”
At last year’s summit, ASOS also promised to be more eco-friendly by introducing a sustainable sourcing programme aimed at educating their designers on circular design techniques practices. Their recent ban on cashmere, silk, feathers, and down by the end of January 2019 shows their commitment. They’ve also been in collaboration with SOKO, which is a clothing workshop in Kenya providing fair employment and training for the country’s poorest communities, resulting in the Made in Kenya brand. This is the flagship brand for their Eco Edit platform for shopping for sustainable fashion from multiple brands. They’re progressing in the right direction with these steps, not to mention their recent praise-worthy steps towards inclusivity, which is just the icing on the cake for this brand. You can see the more extensive list of their commitments on the picture above.
“IT’S OUR MISSION TO KEEP FASHION MOVING FORWARD IN THE MOST SUSTAINABLE WAY, ENSURING THAT CUSTOMERS NEVER HAVE TO COMPROMISE ON CHOICE.”
Sustainable Fashion and Fabric Manager, ASOS
The fourth pillar that ASOS had on consumer engagement on sustainability is what stuck out and resonated with me the most. Not only are they educating their workers but they’re also educating their consumers, which is vital if we want to rework the fashion industry and knock it down from being the second most polluting industry in the world.
Supply and demand are what keeps unsustainable and sustainable brands running. This mutualistic relationship powers our economy. At the end of the day, businesses are trying to make a profit, so if a product is made unsustainably but consumers are still purchasing it and helping the company profit, it will continually be produced until the demand goes down. This applies to ethically and sustainably made products as well.
This is such an important concept that a lot of consumers need to be educated on because not many people understand that we’re are also a part of the problem. If we were to consciously make better choices when making purchases, that would be such an impactful, positive step forward towards a better industry. One can say that they’re against sweatshops or harmful production techniques, but when they make a purchase from a company that utilizes these, they are powering and continuing this vicious cycle of supply and demand.
Is having more items in your wardrobe worth the increased workload for a sweatshop worker? Is saving a few pounds worth the deterioration of our planet?
Ethical and sustainable fashion being more expensive is a big misconception. As mentioned before, it isn’t just about the price shown on the tag. The manual labor and human thought have to be factored in the costs, as well. If compared to fast fashion prices, it can seem expensive, but, as cheesy as it may sound, our Earth is priceless. It’s the only planet that we have right now, so we should do our best to protect it. This doesn’t have to mean buying your own shovel and planting trees everywhere on the daily, but just being more selective, mindful, and responsible of your spending on clothing items can make a HUGE difference.
“OVERALL, I’M FOR FAIR PAY TO ALL INVOLVED AND YES THAT MIGHT MEAN YOU PAY A FEW HUNDRED POUNDS FOR AN ITEM – BUT AT THE END OF THE DAY IF YOU CHOOSE WELL AND BUY FEW GOOD ITEMS YOUR WARDROBE WILL REWARD! YOU WILL HAVE EVERLASTING CLOTHING ALL ETHICALLY SOURCED AND MANUFACTURED FAIRLY.”
CEO and Founder of Lone Design Club
Its very easy to get into the victim mentality of “I can’t afford this, so I have no choice but to buy that.” or “I need to follow this trend, so I have to buy this.” When you’re shopping at companies that don’t have fair wages, good working conditions or are big contributors to polluting the Earth, it is a choice that’s being made.
This isn’t meant to be a guilt-trip but an encouragement for empowerment. We should always have a voice and a choice when making decisions that will directly affect us. That is our right as consumers and as humans, so the next time you go shopping, ask yourself, “Is it worth it?” If making our Earth better means having 3-5 pairs of well-made shoes instead of 20 that will only last a year or two, I, for one, am willing to make that choice.
“I THINK THE POINT TO REMEMBER IS THAT WE SHOULDN’T BE IN THIS MENTALITY OF FAST CHEAP FASHION. WE SHOULD BUY LESS AND CHOOSE WELL AS VIVIENNE WESTWOOD SAYS, THEREFORE BUYING ITEMS THAT ARE MORE EXPENSIVE OR FAIRLY PRICED BUT BUYING FEWER OF THEM AND APPROACHING OUR WARDROBES SUSTAINABLY AND TO LAST.”
CEO and Founder of Lone Design Club
You can see more of Candice’s work on Instagram by following @Candice_x9.
Sources via Lone Design Club, ASOS, H&M, Stella McCartney and Lucy and Yak