Written by Mariana Aguilera
Upon looking at a sustainable made clothing item that screamed quietly, “Take me” to the next thought being “I can’t afford this without costing me a month’s rent” The low income consumer too wants to enjoy healthy clothing and be part of the movement to fix the mess we’ve created in humanity and the environment through fast fashion, but why does it have to be so damn expensive? Currently, consciously made garments are more widely available to those who can afford organic and Made In Texas $220 pair of pants—that’s food on someone’s table for the week and even a sale can still cause one to save up for it. Where does this lack of inclusion begin at? While that’s being figured out, how does one on a low income get started on being conscious about fashion while yet limited with fast fashion shopping options? Well, first thing to take note of is that being conscious about fashion goes beyond a sustainably made outfit. It’s starts with forming a mindset empowered by informed consumer knowledge and using our purchase power to make decisions for a greater good.
Know Your Fashion History
Changing a few times a days to attend different activities through the day was a custom for upper classes in Europe and America from part of the 20th century and before, but for everyone else, people actually wore the same item throughout the week. Clothes were worn until its fabric death to only be refurbished into a new garment, but all this changed with the use of the sewing machine leading to the industrialization of fashion to then leading to the development of the ‘fast fashion’ concept followed by its complications of human and environmental disasters—slave labor, health issues, animal endangerment, unethical business practices capitalizing on human emotion of desire.
Which Type of Fast Fashion Shopper Are You?
It’s important to recognize where one comes from to know how to move forward. From the consumer perspective, fast fashion feeds off three types of shoppers. The privilege one; she/he is of high income and has the money to shop all price points of fashion. Due to the collaborations between fast fashion and luxury brands, it’s now culturally cool for high income people to wear low price items offered by fast fashion retailers to even making thrift shopping a privilege for them, because they don’t need it; it’s just desire and their shopping reinforces fast fashion. The second type of shopper is the one who can only afford the fast fashion price point, but if they save up occasionally, they can buy better built items, but due to poor shopping habits and lack of economic knowledge, they don’t and also reinforce fast fashion. The third shopper is the one that can’t afford major fast fashion retailers and has no other option to shop but at neighborhood shops who sell clothing that use fast fashion practices and the thrift stores out of need. The focus here will be on the latter two.
Shop Like An Investor
It’s all in the mentality. Know your economics! We are living and walking businesses. Everywhere we put our time, money, and knowledge, we must have an exchange of value unless we make it a decision to give it in charity. A business sells something to make money; we provide ourselves as a service and in return get a pay check. The economics are that simple. When we are out exchanging products and services, we have to make sure all boxes important to us are checked, not just the ‘I like’ or ‘It’s cute’. We have a right to a fair exchange. Who’s selling us this? Do their business ideals align with our personal values? Is the product really worth the price offered? Who’s behind the brand? And are their personal values aligned with their business? And how does the item and price compare to other businesses? We all care and value something—that’s the foundation of conscious commerce. Businesses know how to manage their cash flow, so should we as individuals. Their goal is to make a profit so should we as individuals. By looking at our yearly wages; how much do we want to save should be the first question before we diversify our cash to expenses and investments. If saving is not an option, where do we want to rightfully put our money in? The end goal is to develop strong and informed consumer habits.
Develop a Conscious Consumer Attitude
Stop minding what culture has to say about shopping. One has to walk into a shop with a business attitude—get not just your money’s worth, but also your personal value’s worth. All these signs ‘70% Off’, ‘Shop Hauls’, and ‘Shopping Therapy’ are but marketing strategies to take our hard earned money with no care to us—follow cautiously. With social media, we have to be conscious on who’s pushing products on us. Do they know their economics? Do they know what the brands they’re pushing stand for? What type of influencers are we following? Do their influential values align with our personal values? Develop a when you need clothing, not when you want shopping attitude, but doesn’t mean one can’t treat thyself either occasionally. We’re all creative beings; work that skirt in different ways and disregard what people have to say. No one pays our bills, but ourselves darlin’! And surely opinions that don’t add value aren’t going to make us richer either. Be conscious of the energy you let in through culture.
Shop Local, Choose Consciously
This one is tricky because as much as we want to invest our money in that organic Made in Texas pair of pants costing $220, we have survival expenses and there’s also a bigger socioeconomic problem to deal with by those on the other side of the economic gap. So, we’re left with the option of supporting that disenfranchised woman of color selling dresses to bring food to the table and whose clothes are made with fast fashion practices or support a shopping system that supposed to be a greater good for humanity and the world but is inconsiderate of the lower income consumer. At this point, shopping local is subjective to our personal conscious priorities because conscious fashion is not just about the garment, but also being conscious of who is behind the garment. Perhaps answering the question of where is the least damage and more good being done can help aid in defining our shopping local.
Know the Behind The Scenes of Fabrics
Some of the most common fabrics used to make fast fashion clothing are polyester being the number one, Acrylic, nylon and faux fur. They are causing health problems through the toxic chemicals found in garments, an environmental disaster due to their lack of not being able to break down into earth and toxic fumes through the release of making such fabrics. The key is to aim for biodegradable fabrics, which are flax, silk, hemp, cotton, leather and currently new developed fabrics made from fruit—as is the case with orange peels. But of course it doesn’t come without knowing that just because they are biodegradable, at the time of production from the amount of water used for cotton to knowing if the fur comes from free animal cruelty still occurs.
Be Conscious of Your Shopping Power
Being conscious about fashion also means being conscious of where the consumer is being taken advantage of. Fast fashion feeds itself on greedy and unethical business practices. These practices also don’t exempt conscious fashion brands either. It’s important to invest research time in knowing about the transparency of conscious fashion brands. And it’s fair to ask about their sustainability and mark up, If it’s not clearly stated on their site. And it’s also fair to look into deeper practices like if they are targeting cheap labor in disguise of paying ‘market labor price’ to disadvantaged communities of women outside the U.S. Being conscious about fashion is about asking questions, lots of them—that’s consumer shopping power.
There are lots of boxes to check to be a conscious fashion consumer and when on low income it becomes harder. But, we can still check-off the most important boxes through empowerment of an informed consumer approach and using our purchase power to make decisions delivering powerful results to the greater good of humanity and the environment. And if there’s one important takeaway that appplies to all income classes as an evolving conscious fashion consumer, it would be that conscious fashion is a learning process and it consists of gradual changes—replacing items and more important changing the shopping mentality. Also, the fault of fast fashion can’t be put on low income people by no means as fast fashion vultures on a basic of survival—the ‘need to dress’. Rather the participation of low income conscious fashion consumers is a dual empowering initiative; contributing towards a greater good entitled to all and pushing sustainable fashion to what it should be, accessible to all.