There’s no argument: sustainable fashion is becoming trendy. In large part this is due to its increasing support by more and more famous faces. Even Kim Kardashian jumped on the bandwagon when she sported a second-hand dress previously worn by Marilyn Monroe at the 2022 Met Gala in a particularly eye-catching example of reusing vintage clothing. Not to mention the rising number of stars (Miley Cyrus, John Legend, and Chris Hemsworth, to name a few) who have financially invested in sustainable fashion. They’ve done this through helping push through environmentally friendly product launches in their collaborations with brands.
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Although it may sometimes seem like the only problem causing people to continue to invest in fast fashion is a lack of knowledge regarding the industry, the reality is actually a lot more complex. Even when consumers know fast fashion can have negative impacts on society and sustainable fashion is a better industry as a whole there are other factors that will prevent them from changing their spending habits. Financial pressures, convenience and feeling distanced from the problems driven from fast fashion can all contribute to someone continuing to buy fast fashion. At this point it is the role of sustainable fashion brands, and those who want to help promote them, to encourage knowledge and awareness of ways in which sustainably clothing purchases can be made despite these barriers felt by consumers.
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Given that some of the most influential names in the world are publicly standing with sustainability and showing its a cause worth supporting, you’d think the mass public would be following in their footsteps without a thought. Yet, fast fashion is continuing to rise. According to Cisions Fast Fashion Global Market Report, the global fast fashion market is expected to be worth $99.23 billion by the end of 2022, and $133.94 billion by 2026.
So the question that arises here is, if so many well-known figures are supporting sustainable fashion, why and how is fast fashion still thriving? The issue cannot simply be down to lack of awareness anymore. These celebrity endorsements ensure the necessity for sustainable habits is becoming widespread knowledge. Instead, there are a slew of other personal reasons why individuals are still leaning into fast fashion brands over their more ethical counterparts.
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One of the biggest reasons for the reluctance of consumers to purchase from sustainable brands is down to money. As there is a reputation surrounding them that they will be the more expensive option when searching for new items of clothing. In fact, according to a 2021 survey conducted by Statista, only 35% of consumers are ready to pay more for sustainable clothing. Clearly there is a huge hesitancy of shoppers to spend more on their clothing, regardless of if they know the messaging and practices of the brand are more ethical than a cheaper competitor.
It can be simple for sustainable brands, or those 35% who will spend more on sustainable clothing, to criticise the other 65% for being more concerned about spending more than they are concerned about how ethically products are produced. However, it is not the answer to this problem. Given the current state of the economy and the financial hits taken by many during Covid, it is understandable if people are concerned about consciously choosing to spend more money. Especially when there is an easy alternative which will help keep their spending low.
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It would be idealistic if those supporting sustainability were to simply demand everyone spends more money on sustainable fashion now and damn the consequences to their personal finances as a result. Many of those buying fast fashion are young students or those early in their careers who won’t have a large budget to spend on their clothes. They’ll simply be trying to get their money to stretch out for as long as they can. Likewise, for those with families to support, spending more on fashion will not seem like a realistic option when having to account for the expenses of the rest of their household and bills.
Instead of condemning those who purchase fast fashion due to the financial benefits of its cheap pricing, it is far more constructive to approach it highlighting the alternative sustainable options that exist which also promote a cheaper cost to consumers. For instance, second hand shops boast a range of affordable pieces which by being pre-loved, are more ethically friendly than pieces coming directly from fast fashion brands. If shopping at a sustainable brand directly is above a consumer’s budget, it’s important to highlight there are other options which will allow them to keep their expenses low.
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Of course, there is the issue of ease when it comes to these pre-loved shops or online platforms like Depop or eBay. While you can flick through all sizes when shopping directly from a retailer, buying pre-loved severely limits the choice of both size and specificity of what you can purchase. You can only get it if it happens to be in stock. Though, it is worth noting, even when buying from fast fashion retailers online, it is often the case that things can be bought in the correct size for you and yet still not fit and have to be returned. For instance, Primark has gotten into trouble countless times for the unreliability of its sizing. On the surface buying second-hand may seem more inconvenient than fast fashion due to the limited scope of product available. However, looking at it more in depth and considering the unreliability of fast fashion, it’s not necessarily a straightforward purchase buying direct from a fast fashion retailer.
Finally, there is a huge problem of dissociation by consumers when it comes to issues such as the consequences of fast fashion. Most people will have heard about how sustainable fashion is much better for the environment, and the widespread mistreatment of workers that is a pandemic among fast fashion brands. The problem is that these kinds of issues are easy to dissociate from when you’re not seeing the direct impacts in front of you. Though consumers may have heard about the negative carbon impact of fast fashion production, it isn’t something that feels tangible in everyday life. This often prevents the severity of the issue from sinking in.
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Although it may sometimes seem like the only problem causing people to continue to invest in fast fashion is a lack of knowledge regarding the industry, the reality is actually a lot more complex. Many consumers know fast fashion can have negative impacts on society, and that sustainable fashion is a better industry as a whole. The issue is that there are other factors that will prevent them from changing their spending habits. Financial pressures, convenience and feeling distanced from the problems driven from fast fashion can all contribute to someone continuing to buy fast fashion. At this point it is the role of sustainable fashion brands, and those who want to help promote them, to encourage knowledge and awareness of ways in which sustainably clothing purchases can be made despite these barriers felt by consumers.