October 3, 2020
Shopping is a process riddled with decisions: where, at what price, style, material and on and on. With so many choices at our fingertips, is there truly a way to remain completely ethical while shopping?
Most people can agree fast fashion lacks ethicality. Fast fashion is low-priced clothing that is brought to market quickly and imitates current fashion trends. These trends are usually created by luxury brands or small, independent designers like Tuesday Bassen or Mère Soeur. Popular fast fashion stores include Forever21, Shein, and H&M. The ethical standards of these brands, and many others, have recently been challenged due to their alleged connection to inhumane working conditions, child labor and the mass production of textile waste.
Sustainable brands commit to fair trade and environmentally conscious production practices. Having high ethical standards inevitably increases the production costs of these brands, resulting in a steep contrast between the prices of their products and the prices of fast fashion retailers. The increased quality of a product can contribute to its longevity, but costs more for consumers. For example, a pair of black joggers from the sustainable brand Alternative Apparel cost $54 but can be purchased from Romwe for $10.95 — a fifth of the price. For most college students and young professionals, this price difference is an invitation to inadvertently fund unethical practices.
To combat this, savvy shoppers were quick to announce thrifting as a budget-friendly, sustainable, and unique alternative:. It was the perfect solution… until it wasn’t. Whether on TikTok, Twitter or blogs, criticism of thrift stores has been popping up more and more for a number of reasons. In an article by Mitsy Fritz for Medium, she discusses how impossible it can be to shop at thrift stores as a plus-sized woman. Not only is the selection scarce, but it is depleted due to a new craze of buying oversized items and using them for upcycling or reusing old clothing to construct contemporary styles.
Thrifters are also criticized for buying more desirable items, leaving individuals who rely on the thrift stores as their main source of clothing with the less favorable ones. Although plausible, the validity of this argument is debatable. A lack of clothing options, and even a lack of good ones, doesn’t seem to be an issue. According to Fashionista, only 20% of donated clothing gets sold to customers. The majority is sold to developing nations to resell or carted straight to landfills.
So can consumers ever truly do the “right” thing? Unless they have a relatively large disposable income, probably not.
This conclusion goes beyond the clothing industry and reflects every facet of our everyday purchases. With little power or control over big businesses, consumers don’t get to call the shots. They must count on the few companies that align with their values while crossing their fingers in hopes that the government supports those companies with subsidies and tax breaks, making products more affordable.
So, how can you be a more ethical shopper? The best solution is to shop less and refrain from constantly revamping your wardrobe. But with the fashion industry constantly growing, cutting back on shopping seems unlikely. With the constant pressure to fit in and wear what’s trending, it is not easy to escape the clutches of fast fashion. Until the fashion industry slows down or our society calls for change, all shoppers can do is decide how to answer the questions of where and how to shop based on what values matter most to them.
Lacie Kunselman is a second-year student pursuing a double major in professional writing and public relations. She aspires to one day be managing editor for a magazine or be a PR executive at a sustainable fashion or lifestyle brand. Her less-academic pursuits include beach volleyball, macrame and thrift shopping.