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As the pandemic has seemed to calm down and life has returned to normal for most, another crisis has hit the country which seems to be impacting people’s lives in an insidious but equally drastic manner. This is of course is the rising cost of living, and the crisis that has come as a result. Arguably a direct result of the pandemic, among other factors such as lasting impacts of Brexit and rising taxes, it’s a perfect storm that has well and truly caused chaos. The fear and confusion over the best next steps, how to get out of the current struggles and what is going to come next, whether better or worse, is eerily reminiscent of the feelings felt by the public during the height of covid.

Rather than concerns over health though, the fear this time comes from a financial standpoint. Many households are seeing prices and taxes rise simultaneously, putting pressure on people to assess their budgets to find the places in which they can cut costs to help them get through this period of inflation. For many, the place they turn to to save money is through changing the way in which they shop for clothes.

Done correctly this assessment and decision to spend less on fashion can actually be positive for the environment. If more people are deliberate about each clothing purchase they make, they will make less of them. By extension, there will be less clothing that gets mindlessly bought and worn minimally, before ultimately ending up in a landfill. Giving pause and considering if you need to buy another tank top, or skirt, can help the environment simply by cutting down the amount of impulse purchases which end up being unnecessary and unworn.

Image Courtesy of Harvard Business Review

The heightened attention to budgets and where money is going to, can also benefit sustainable fashion through an increase of consumers turning to second-hand clothing and charity shops. These offer a cheaper alternative to buying new, helping households save money while simultaneously expanding the lifetime of clothing garments which would otherwise be overlooked in favour of buying new.

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That’s not to say the rising cost of living is a guaranteed win for sustainability; there are also significant dangers to sustainable fashion that are caused by it. For many, the need to lessen the amount they spend on fashion may not impact the amount they buy, but simply push them towards purchasing fast fashion brands over sustainable ones. This is largely due to the widespread association of sustainability with luxury, and by extension higher prices. There is some merit to this, as the manufacturing process and system in which sustainable clothing is made does lend itself to higher prices per purchase, but that does not mean consumers will always end up spending more in the long term.

One of the main reasons sustainable fashion can cost more is because eco-friendly brands will normally have lower production volumes, and use higher quality materials than those of fast fashion companies. This is down to the fact that they are investing highly into a smaller selection of pieces, which they have made to last a longer time. As a result, they are then expecting consumers to mirror this behaviour; invest more money into fewer clothing purchases with the intent for those items to last and thus eliminating the need for them to purchase a replacement product for a long time. This longevity means that while buying sustainably can cost more in the short-term, in the long-run it is actually the method that will save consumers the most. Consequently making it all the more attractive given the rising cost of living.

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Alongside this, they also produce clothing that largely ignores current trends in favour of timeless looks that people can wear everyday. Thus removing the need to keep making new purchases to keep up with ever-changing trends. Rather than encouraging excessive consumerism, sustainable brands will push for looks which withstand the ebs and flows of what’s “trendy” which can fluctuate week-on-week. Ultimately, they push the belief that if something is high quality and kept in good condition, it will produce a timeless effect and it will look better compared to cheaply made products that keep up with each trend.

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With the rising cost of living causing people to assess their spending habits, there is the potential for both gains and losses for sustainable fashion. Really, whether the financial reflections being made by consumers will be a good thing for the environment or not is down to what actions they decide to take to combat their financial woes, and how driven by sustainability those actions are.