Written by Mariana Aguilera
It doesn’t make sense. How is it that ‘ethical’ ‘sustainable’ ‘conscious’ fashion brands trying to do good for the world are only available for people who can afford a pair of ethically made pants costing anywhere from $150 up to but not limited to $300? Unless, it was saved up for or a major sale, this is a far reach for below poverty level and low income shoppers whose options are cornered to fast fashion and shopping from thrift shops out of survival not of privilege like the majority of the conscious fashion consumer community does. There’s a clear difference between shopping fast fashion out of need to put clothes on one’s back and having the economical means to splurge on fast fashion every weekend—that’s privilege, for the consumerism culture and undisciplined shopping habits.
Another question I can’t avoid to ask myself upon being told ethical fashion is priced higher; how is it when brands are using less water, less pesticides, less energy? Is it that brands are adding a premium price for scarcity as it happens in the fashion luxury sector? I understand the fair labor pay aspect can drive up costs, there’s no argument on that except maybe the employees still can’t afford conscious fashion as an everyday lifestyle. Is this where their contribution towards conscious fashion ends? And is making job opportunities enough?
The aspect I do deeply question is the elitism that is involved in conscious fashion because of the use of income-marginalized communities catering to the higher-income class and ending in the same cycle whether as employees or shoppers still at the disadvantage, which is contradictory to the whole concept of ‘conscious fashion’. It’s no surprise the fashion industry is built on elitist practices—look at its history. Trends and inspiration have always trickled down from royalty but only meant to stay within the upper crust causing social discrimination. For example, sumptuary laws in Europe made fashion consumption of certain fabrics like that of velvet exclusive to people with high social rank and privilege—punishing everyone else’s attempt. Something in my opinion, is still alive and well today, not the illegal use of velvet, but the concept of social discrimination through fashion. So, does it cost that much to make an ethical garment or are brands setting their profit margins really high? Or even worse, are conscious fashion brands intentionally being elitist?
Human astrocities like the Rana Plaza factory building collapse in 2013 and environmental disasters from fast fashion with the commonly used textiles like that of Polyester which 60% of clothing is made from and whose production in 2015 released 1.5 trillion pounds of greenhouse gases affect everyone and everyone in the social hierarchy should have the human right to contribute towards the solution. I believe hence conscious fashion brands are the driving force right now and if we are to end fast fashion practices threatening our human and environmental lives, they have to be conscious in making their product available to all members of society. In addition I also believe that if a brand is to be full ‘ethical’ ‘sustainable’ ‘conscious’, it can’t just stop at making an ethical garment or providing a job(one less where employees can’t afford the product), it has to tackle down the social discrimination aspect fashion is built on and what fast fashion operates on.
Surely, there are creative business ways to make conscious fashion for everyone—maybe through employee wearing programs, meeting below poverty and low income community members at a percentage of the way through a buy a garment and help someone else wear a sustainable clothing. These are just random solution thoughts. Otherwise, is conscious fashion reinforcing fast fashion through the lack of inclusion?