You enter the mall, and almost immediately, you’re greeted by bright red signs with “SALE” written in huge typeface letters. You enter the shop almost unconsciously without any intention except to look around, and before you know it, you’re inside the fitting room with about half a dozen clothes to try on.
You fit them on, and although there’s something not quite right about it, you buy it anyways cause heck, it’s on sale right? You get home, place it in your closet, and before you know it, it’s deep inside the dark recesses of your closet, never to be seen or worn again.
In today’s world, we are spending less money on clothing than we ever did, and owning more garments than ever before. This can be attributed to the rise of fast fashion. Fast fashion, which has been described as “low cost clothing collections that mimic current fashion trends” has received much scrutiny over the years. Only recently has a wave of consciousness taken over hundreds and thousands of consumers thanks to the release of documentaries and journalistic exposés that emphasize the inhumane conditions suffered by labor in developing countries at the hands of multi-million-dollar clothing companies.
Fashion: Ethical or unethical?
In an ideal world, the solutions to the problem at hand could be solved if the fashion industry would just change the supply chain, pay the workers fair wages and improve their working conditions, that way we wouldn’t have to make the choice between ethical or unethical. But the reality is most fashion corporations are rarely made responsible for the repercussions of fast fashion. The lack of transparency in the manufacturing processes of many companies leads to them deflecting the blame, and keeping hush about the maltreatment of the factory workers. That’s when the responsibility finds itself on our shoulders–the consumers.
Despite the greater awareness of the issue, we still find ourselves purchasing from shops like Forever 21, H&M, Zara and even Uniqlo, but are we really to blame? After all, we’re just university students, and at the end of the day, we just want to be able to get the best deal on our clothes while still having some money left over. Also with fashion’s quick turnover and trends coming and going every month, buying from fast fashion stores seems like the ideal way to go. This leads us to question, as a university student, how can we make ethical fashion a part of our lifestyles?
I remember entering the new H&M store when it first opened in our local mall in Cebu. Not only was it the first H&M branch in the region, but it was also claimed to be the biggest one in the country. At that point in my life, I had been trying to be a more conscious shopper. After watching the documentary, The True Cost, which can be streamed on Netflix, I had made a decision to stop buying any new clothes and I was two months deep into it, but that particular day, it was especially difficult. The sight of racks and racks of clothing everywhere, lined up neatly into rows and the endless sea of colors with a multitude of collections can be overwhelming to say the least. It was in that moment that I got it. I realized why people are so captivated by these fast fashion stores.
When we come across clothes that look like they should be priced for a lot more than they actually are, we perceive it to be something like a lottery win. After all, there is nothing more pleasurable than that wave of joy you get from bagging a bargain, but while fast fashion is definitely the faster, easier, and cheaper way out, it doesn’t justify it being right and we must take responsibility.
The problem is, being ethical can turn out to be quite expensive. Just take a look at the food we eat. As much as we would like to adopt organic food into our diets, the reality is ethical equals expensive, so we settle for food in Agno or fast food joints. Meanwhile when it comes to fashion, sustainable fashion brands tend to be thrice more expensive than their fast fashion counterparts due to the stringent flow of production, and usually with fewer choices to choose from. So what then are we left with?
Capsule wardrobes, thrift stores, and Carousel
Shopping in a slow and sustainable way can be challenging, and it doesn’t come without effort and consciousness.
One of the ways in which students can incorporate ethical fashion in their lifestyles is by adapting a capsule wardrobe. A capsule wardrobe is ideally a compact wardrobe composed of a few staple pieces which are in coordinating colors – making it easy to mix and match outfits on the go. By downgrading to just necessary pieces, we are helping fight the problem of overconsumption, and it makes us more mindful when we shop. It makes us stop and think before we buy a piece, forcing us to think if we can see ourselves using it more than once.
Another way we can become more conscious shoppers is to buy from second-hand stores. Although thrift shopping can be quite difficult, it is recommended for those that don’t mind the hunt. It definitely is a lot harder to find wearable pieces compared to just going to a fast fashion shop, but it’s a whole lot more fun, cheaper, and ethical. Also, that sense of accomplishment you get when you actually find something that you can see yourself wearing for days on end is something you just don’t get when you buy in fast fashion retail stores. There are also apps created for clothes swapping such as Carousel.
Lastly, students can choose to only invest on pieces that we can see ourselves repeatedly wearing. Yes, we mentioned that sustainable brands are often more expensive, but they have a heftier price tag for a reason. Not only will the quality be a whole lot better, but in the long run, it will probably last longer than something we could have bought in Forever 21.
While it’s nearly impossible to boycott fast fashion completely, we should at least make a conscious effort in working towards a more sustainable and ethical fashion lifestyle. Individually, it may not make much of a difference, but collectively, we can all take a part in fueling the development towards more sustainable fashion in the future.