How To Support The Ethical Fashion Movement When You’re Broke

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Do you want to support the ethical fashion movement, but your bank account says no? Don’t worry, here are seven impactful steps you can take to take action against fast fashion and support garment workers across the globe.

Ethical consumer spending has swelled to over £41bn a year, as UK consumers’ shopping habits increasingly reflect their concerns about the environment, animal welfare, social justice, and human rights.

This ethical market has risen almost fourfold in the past 20 years. The options available to ethical shoppers have kept pace with this growth, with more choices available to sustainably-minded consumers than ever before.

The Barriers to Shopping Ethically

Despite this growth in interest in ethical shopping, shopping ethically can be tricky. Particularly so when it comes to clothing. Whilst there is a growing proliferation of ethical clothing brands that create clothing made responsibly and fairly from sustainable materials, there are a number of barriers in place for would-be ethical shoppers.

As a starter for ten, the ethical clothing market lacks a range of inclusive sizes. If you’ve above a size 16 or 18, your options rapidly diminish. And that’s before the issue of cost is raised. Unless you are shopping for secondhand clothing, sustainable fashion tends to come with a higher price tag compared to its fast-fashion counterparts. It’s often asked why is ethical clothing so expensive?  A better way of looking at it should be asking why fast fashion is so cheap.

How to Support The Ethical Fashion Movement When You’re Broke

How to support the ethical fashion movement when you're broke

While the cost of fast fashion is easily a topic for a whole other blog post, cost remains a significant entry barrier to shopping for ethical clothing for many. The good news is that you don’t have to buy ethical clothing in order to support the ethical fashion movement. There are many other impactful ways to support the ethical fashion movement from the bottom up without denting your budget. Here are seven to start you off:

Look After The Clothes You Have

The single most sustainable clothes are the ones you already own. When it requires 2700 litres of water to produce a single t-shirt, keeping a garment you already own in use for longer will do far more for the environment than any new purchase you could ever make. And looking after our clothes, and in turn, buying less diminishes the power of the fast fashion industry.

It’s simple to prolong the life of your clothes. Washing your clothes less is the ultimate lazy way to do so. When you do need to wash them, simply wash and dry your clothes according to their care labels. Treating stains when they arise, rather than letting them set also helps prevent our clothes from becoming unwearable.

Another key aspect is repairing our clothes when rips or tears arise. Nadia Piechestein, the sustainable fashion designer behind TLZ Movement, uses offcuts from her work in alterations and repairs, to create zero-waste patches for people to mend their clothes with. 

Nadia says it’s important to mend the clothes we own because it helps minimise our impact on the planet. Her easy-fix advice is to use patches to cover up holes. Nadia says “It gives a personalized style and you can go out proudly saying that your garments were reworked”.

Be An Outfit Repeater

The rise of social media has seen our thirst for new clothing reach extreme levels. Instagram’s insidious “outfit of the day” hashtag (#OOTD) encourages dysfunctional clothing consumption levels. We’re now at the point where one in six young people say that they don’t feel they can wear an outfit again once it’s been seen on social media.

Lianne Bell, author of the book How On Earth Can I Be Eco-Friendly attributes the problem to the cost and availability of fast fashion. Bell says in this article for Moral Fibres: “We’ve come to think of clothing as disposable and easily replaceable. When something is so readily available to us, it devalues the whole item.” 

Rewearing the clothes we have seems hardly revolutionary, but it’s a key way to help halt the rise of fast fashion. Simply committing to re-wearing the clothes you already own for as long as possible can disrupt the fast fashion industry, an industry that relies on people buying new clothes as often as possible.

Sell or Swap or Donate Your Old Clothes

In an ideal world, we would all wear our clothes until they were no longer repairable. However, life never stays the same. Body sizes change, lifestyles change, tastes change. In these instances, selling or passing on our clothes helps disrupt the fast fashion market. 

It’s never been easier to do so, and there are many sites where you can sell clothes online. Alternatively, you can swap clothes with friends, or through organised clothes swaps in your local community. This is a great way to keep clothing out of landfill, build an ethical fashion wardrobe, and reduce our reliance on fast fashion.

If you are donating clothing, remember that charity shops aren’t waste disposal units. Charity shops want clean, good-quality clothing from desirable brands. Before donating, ask yourself if you would honestly buy the item you are planning to donate. If not, recycle the item of clothing instead.

Shop Secondhand

Buying second-hand is one of the easiest ways for consumers to understand that they are choosing a more sustainable option than buying new. It’s also one of the most affordable ways to take part in ethical fashion. 

Shopping secondhand does have its barriers. It can be tricky to find inclusive sizing on the rails of your local charity shop. Meanwhile, men’s options can be limited. The good news is that there is a proliferation of secondhand shopping sites online – from eBay to Depop and everything in between. You can even shop Oxfam Online. Here proceeds support their work on fighting poverty and injustice across the globe. You do tend to find more options online, with many sites having healthy plus-size and men’s clothing sections.

Support Garment Workers

Garment workers have been negatively impacted by the COVID-19 crisis. When the pandemic hit in March 2020, and stay-at-home orders closed stores across the globe, many big-name fashion brands cancelled their orders placed before the crisis. This included some orders which had already been shipped. This financially devastated factories since they had already paid for fabric and other production costs for these orders. Many were left with no money to pay workers’ wages, and garment workers were left to go without. 

According to the Workers Rights Consortium, many brands have still not paid for these cancelled orders. To date, the brands that haven’t paid for cancelled orders include Matalan, Urban Outfitters, Anthropologie, Esprit, and Oscar De La Renta.

Through their #PayUp campaign, The Clean Clothes Campaign is pressing the global fashion brands that have refused to pay for over $16 billion worth of goods ordered since the start of the outbreak. With Twitter templates that you can use to tell brands to pay up, supporting garment workers’ rights and encouraging fashion brands to adopt more ethical practices is as simple as sending a tweet. 

Have Conversations Around Ethical Fashion

Having conversations with fashion brands that you think should be doing better is another key way to support the ethical fashion movement from the ground up. 

Fashion Revolution’s Who Made My Clothes campaign, for example, encourages people to ask brands via email or social media, who made the clothes they are wearing, or the fabric their clothes are made from. This challenges brands to protect the people in their supply chains. It also encourages them to take responsibility for the human rights and well-being of everyone involved in the manufacturing process, from farm to factory to finished garment.

Conversations don’t have to stop there. Chat with your friends and family about why supporting ethical fashion doesn’t just mean buying a pair of jeans made from organic cotton. When we take into account the entire supply chain and life cycle of a garment, through to a brand’s business practices, and to our options for recycling when the item we’ve bought reaches the end of its life, do we see that ethical fashion extends far beyond just what our clothes are made from.

Call Out Greenwashing

Greenwashing is when a brand conveys misleading information that its products are environmentally friendly. It’s rife in the fast fashion industry. Here, brands like H&M, BooHoo, and Primark, which are rooted in promoting hyper-consumption, have all launched lines with a sustainable facade. These often small collections – in the case of Primark, their ‘sustainable range’ comprises of just 8 items – are partly made with recycled or organic materials. They’re then sold alongside these brands’ standard options. 

The problem is scale. At the time of writing, H&M, for example, has 9416 women’s items of clothing for sale on its website. Of these, 1337 are new arrivals. This rate of manufacturing simply isn’t sustainable for the planet. Rather than cutting back on manufacturing levels, H&M instead launched their Conscious Collection – their “sustainable” range. Here at least 50% of each piece is made from more sustainable materials, like organic cotton or recycled polyester. However, a t-shirt made partly from organic cotton isn’t going to save the planet. H&M ditching its fast-fashion model would. 

Call out this kind of greenwashing when you see it. This helps other people realise that this type of greenwashing is a hollow facade and that there are better ways to help support the ethical fashion movement than buying a “conscious” t-shirt.

Final Thoughts on Supporting Ethical Fashion

If we want to change the systems that exploit communities and the environments that we live in, then it’s important to understand that what we buy is only one tiny element of that. Our actions and conversations that we have with others can have a much bigger impact. These can create ripples into the greater world that can bring about positive change to the ethical fashion industry from the bottom up. From change that supports garment workers, increases their wages and improves their working conditions. To change that reduces both waste and the rate at which we buy new clothes. It’s a win for people and for the planet. And it doesn’t have to hurt your bank balance.

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