As someone who enjoys clothing shopping, I am always conflicted over whether I should splurge on sustainable brands or stick to affordable fast fashion pieces. With ever-changing clothing trends and the desire to constantly look trendy on Instagram, I am always tempted to buy mounds of inexpensive clothing just to have variety.
However, people should be mindful about the amount of clothing they buy and how much they consume in general, regardless of the brand. The best way to be a sustainable consumer is to make sure you wear what you buy for a good while.
The debate over whether people should buy from fast fashion brands or sustainable brands is usually rooted in classism. It is unreasonable to expect people with financial constraints to buy sustainably made, often expensive clothing; fast fashion may be the only affordable clothing option for many people. For this reason, I cannot ask people to ditch popular fast fashion companies like Shein if their budget does not allow them to.
Beyond just unsustainability, in recent years it has become clear that most fast fashion is produced by underpaid workers in horrifying working conditions. The companies that produce fast fashion must be blamed for how they treat their workers.
While it is difficult to blame consumers for buying fast fashion, especially if it is the only clothing that fits their budget and is convenient, we can all do a better job at simply wearing what we buy for as long as possible. If we are going to buy from unethical and unsustainable companies, we should at least make complete use of each item that we purchase instead of wearing it a few times and tossing it away.
Over time, Americans have bought more and more clothing that often stays in the back of their closets unworn. The most reasonable approach to being an ethical consumer is to simply use the items that we buy. If someone buys a $50 sweater from a sustainable brand and does not wear it, they are still not an ethical consumer because they are not making use of the material they bought.
The social media influencers that frequently post huge sponsored Shein hauls on their YouTube channels foster an environment that normalizes overconsumption. They use their platforms to influence impressionable viewers to buy large amounts of clothing just so that they use their special coupon code during checkout. And, with the trend of “fit checks,” other influencers also implicitly push the idea that people must wear new and different outfits in all of their Instagram pictures, when in reality, there is nothing wrong with posting pictures in the same nice outfit multiple times. Influencers often perpetuate the idea that buying new clothes all the time is the only way for people to be trendy.
Obviously, influencers push their audience to buy clothes using their coupon codes because they want to make money. However, influencers can and should do a better job of reminding their audiences that they do not need a massive wardrobe in order to be stylish.
Some may argue they constantly buy new clothing because they enjoy fashion. While there is nothing wrong with wanting new looks, there is also nothing wrong with reusing and formulating new looks with the same clothing pieces. Fashion is inventive and can go hand in hand with responsible consumption.
Most of the time, people buy clothes because it is fun and exciting — I’ve definitely fallen victim to this mindset. Instead of impulsively buying clothes, we should make careful selections. When shopping, buy clothes that will fit the way you want, envision what you could wear them with and select colors that you see yourself wearing.
5C students have the ability to take part in this reasonable form of being an ethical consumer. Just wear what you buy, and do not be afraid to show off the same outfit multiple times. Be proud of the combinations you can make with all of your clothes, and try not to leave anything unworn.
If you live in an area with thrift stores, this is also a great option for finding inexpensive clothing without forcing the production of clothes. Thrift shopping is also exciting because it allows people to search through a large volume of often unique clothing to find pieces that they love.
However, it is important to be a considerate thrift shopper. There has been a rise of online secondhand clothing sellers who use the app Depop to create their own shops, scouring thrift stores for inexpensive items and selling those items for unreasonably high prices. Due to this issue, thrift stores have started to raise their prices — making their items less affordable for people with financial constraints.
Being an ethical consumer begins with having the mindset that you buy clothes in order to wear them. Buying piles of clothes is tempting, but do not be afraid of saying, “I have enough clothes already.”
Mishaal Ijaz SC ’24 is from San Diego, CA. She likes starting random arguments for fun.