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28th Mar 2024

Is sustainable fashion only accessible to the wealthy?

Anna Martin


Sustainability has become a sort of buzzword in the fashion industry

It’s in the hashtags on TikTok, your favourite influencers use it and most of us are trying to move towards making sustainable choices.

Yet sometimes it seems that the only brands able to truly be both sustainable and responsible cater to the “high-end customer”.

While we, regular folks, often feel torn between what we’d ethically prefer to buy and what we feel we can afford.

So is sustainable fashion out of grasp for us people on a budget or is this a misconception?

Style on a budget

Credit: Canva

Let’s start at the top, yes there are sustainable brands that are meant for those who have the luxury of spare change.

Well-known brands such as Zady, Reformation and People Tree are noticeably more expensive than Penneys or Shein for example.

Of course, this is for good reasons: they guarantee an ethical and sustainable peace of mind for the buyer.

Yet cast your mind back to just a few decades ago when we bought less and clothes lasted longer, clothes were an investment and made to last a lifetime.

Part of the issue with our consumption of fashion comes from poorly made clothes falling apart and our need to replace them.

Investing in new ethical or even designer pieces from sustainable fashion champions like Vivienne Westwood will set you back a bit but they will last a lifetime – and you will more than likely take better care of them.

Fast fashion isn’t going anywhere

Some people believe that we’re being priced out of being sustainable or being excluded from making a difference.

Though it doesn’t mean you can’t try to be more eco-friendly, a lot of the time it does mean it will affect just how much you can commit to it.

“Your social and economic background is going to affect the way you practice sustainability,” says Adama Lorma in her YouTube video about why we can’t cancel fast fashion.

“We don’t want items to be cheap; that’s not the point. But if they are so expensive that… the average person has to save for months and months to buy them then it can cut a lot of people out of the sustainable market, and that’s not what we want to do.

“You want to find the balance between not too cheap and not too expensive.”

Second-hand shopping is an option

Credit: Canva

Buying sustainably doesn’t have to mean buying something brand-spanking-new, second-hand is an option and there’s absolutely no shame in it.

Teanna of Fab Socialist talks about this in her YouTube video on elitism in sustainability.

“You might say ‘well, you know, we don’t have a lot of money, so we need these cheap clothes.’ When in reality, I don’t think so because you can buy second-hand. That is a cheap way to get things that you want…It challenges us to be smart consumers.”

Though even then this isn’t a perfect solution, charity shopping offers both limited styles and often isn’t size-inclusive, providing another hoop to jump through.

So how can I change things?

In my humble opinion, sustainable fashion isn’t necessarily elitist, but it definitely just is easier for people in a higher tax bracket.

We can still do things to make a difference but it requires more brain power and patience.

Should it be this way? Arguably no, but this is just where we’re at right now as a society.

Let’s not fear being excluded from the green revolution. Instead, we can engage in ways that tackle the root causes of environmental issues in a way that suits your socio-economic footing.