IS SUSTAINABILITY AFFORDABLE FOR ALL? - A Shift
Thoughts, Discussion Time

IS SUSTAINABILITY AFFORDABLE FOR ALL?

Posted in Thoughts, Discussion Time — 25. November 2020 — Written by Mona

Have you ever wanted to buy something sustainable and ethically produced but decided to not do it because of the price tag? Often sustainable fashion is way more expensive than what we are used to from the fast fashion industry. While the pricing is definitely reasonable for high quality fibres and hard labour not everyone can afford sustainable fashion. Others just don’t seem to look into it. Today we want to talk about the affordability of sustainable fashion, inclusivity and what we can do about it.

Just recently I had a conversation with a good friend of mine about what I do at my job here at ASHIFT. We then started talking about how difficult it can be for students to shop as sustainably as many young people of our generation would like to. Pretty quickly we went into a deep rabbit hole with each other about a debate that has taken place for many years now. We asked ourselves: Is sustainability affordable for everyone? Are ethically produced garments a privilege only reserved for a few? Could sustainability even be classist? As we talked more about the socio-economic issues of our society in regards to everything that has been going on this year (where to even start?) we realized that for many people living a highly eco-friendly life isn’t always as easy as we may think. So, the short answer to the title would be a simple no. Maybe that simple no is way more complex than we think though. Let’s dig a little deeper and see why this is often the case. 

Environmental classism and privilege

There are many articles and research papers talking about environmental classism. This means that often the less privileged people of society are most affected by climate change. While this is an issue in itself we want to focus more on the part of fast fashion being a possible class issue. We want to ask ourselves if sustainable and ethically produced fashion is a privilege for the wealthier people in our society. When we look at the eco-friendly lifestyle as a whole it is pretty easy to detect a few issues that go hand in hand with privilege or rather the lack thereof. 

We decided to take the debate online and asked you some questions in an Instagram poll to see what you think. 

Is sustainability really affordable for all? Is this movement inclusive or is it classist? 

To start we asked you a few Yes or No questions about you and your consumer habits. We were thrilled to see that you are a pretty balanced mix of students and people with full-time jobs.

Most of you told us that you sometimes buy sustainable clothes. Maybe even more interesting is that most of you think it is difficult to find affordable sustainable clothes. 73% of you – the majority – believes sustainability is not affordable for all. We wanted to know more! 

So, lastly we asked why you think sustainable fashion might or might not be affordable for all in an open question and you delivered! Let’s have a look at your more in depth answers with some research sprinkled on top:

It starts with food

Maybe you remember the comparison that was made long ago between a famous fast food chain’s burger for 1 Euro and a salad at that same chain for triple that price. This analogy is often used when talking about the privileges of a healthier diet but let’s take this a step further by adding the altruistic wish of wanting to help the planet, animals and workers of the fashion industry. Not everyone can afford a falafel salad with avocado on top. We should also consider that in some more areas there are even less available options. Take a rural town in Alaska (yes there are people that live very close to the arctic – brrr). How much do you think is a bag of apples there? $6? $7? All wrong – in some places a bag of apples can cost around $18. We were shocked, too! So, can we blame people for doing the best they can with what they have in a society in which worse options are often more normalized and cheaper?

And continues with influencer culture and fast paced trends

With influencer culture on Instagram and other social media platforms rising as a form of advertisement, fast consumptions and wanting to be trendy become a bigger focus. Could it be that in a time of Amazon Prime, Netflix and online shopping we are so used to instant gratifications that we believe clothing is disposable? Have we reached the point of believing everything that comes with it – the hard labour, the strain on nature and animals – is a fair price others have to pay for our fast consumption? Due to this high demand of fashionable and trendy garments over 60% of fabric fibres are now synthetic and therefore not decomposable. This creates a great issue for our environment, especially since each consumer throws away around 70 pounds of clothes annually.

Cultural conditioning or privilege? 

While the above answer intuitively makes sense we realized the second part of this answer is a privilege. We believe it is important to become aware of one’s position. Equally as important is not forgetting that there are a lot of people who – even when buying less – can still only afford the cheap fast fashion options. Other than that, yes we agree, many of us have been conditioned to consume excessively. Fortunately, learned behavior can be unlearned again. Especially now with more information coming our way and more people showing a bigger interest in environmental issues and sustainability. It will take time though – a lot of time – especially if governments, institutions and big fast fashion players are not starting to actively work towards this goal and shift people’s mindset. 

Privilege or an option for all?

Even though sustainability is being talked about more and more, especially on social media, we often tend to forget the inequity of this movement as mentioned before. Some of us can slowly afford more sustainable options and consume less, but then making us ask the question why others aren’t doing the same. This, however, ignores that some people are not in the position to make sustainable choices. Besides the money aspects of sustainable fashion, it can be extremely time consuming to research brands that fit your idea of sustainability and do things right. Again, time is an aspect that not everyone can afford to put into sustainable consumption. 

The issue of convenience 

Studies have found that many people believe that shopping for more sustainable clothes is important. However, the issue is that most people are not willing (or not able) to pay the higher prices that come with more eco-friendly options. Often we tend to want the easiest option. Who doesn’t love online shopping? Unfortunately, online shopping conveniently at fast fashion brands that are just more known has a severe impact on the environment. Due to the rapid change of our climate some suggest that sustainable fashion has to become more affordable which could lead to more people consuming eco-friendly options. 

Affordable sustainability and inclusivity

Many of you mentioned that thrifting and buying vintage clothes are great options to shop more sustainably. Buying second hand clothes means no additional pollution or use of chemicals. As those clothes already exist no additional resources are needed, either. Plus, there are many amazing online and local shops for thrifting. 

However, one person also pointed out: “Second Hand shopping isn’t always size inclusive so it’s tough to find plus size:( vintage shopping is quite time-consuming and you can’t do online e.g.”

The good news: You can shop vintage online! If you are interested in buying more second hand and vintage clothing check out this article of our favorite vintage online shops

However, it is true that this is not the most size inclusive option when shopping sustainably. As you can see, many different aspects play into this and we have to understand each other’s positions in life. Sustainability is overall not always the most inclusive, from privilege, to life situations, self-actualization and sizes. Sometimes things are a little more complicated. It’s important to keep in mind that a lot of people are already doing their best and we shouldn’t come at each other for not being or doing everything perfectly yet as there is probably a reason for it.

What it comes down to – information and privilege 

Information is often still lacking and we often want things to be convenient. Who doesn’t like when things are easy, right? That’s why informing ourselves and each other is key. As we – together – normalize a sustainable lifestyle more things will hopefully become easier. Thankfully, more and more people are informing themselves on the internet. That’s what you have us for, too! 

Privilege, as discussed before, is also an issue due to the socioeconomic divide according to experts. It’s time to start talking to and understanding each other, as well as exert pressure on the big fast fashion companies who play a big role in this. If you are in a position of privilege, always remember: your consumption is more powerful than you think! 

This article aims to show that sustainability is not affordable for everyone. It is on us to find out why and create a better future together. In the meantime we are here to help you find the perfect brands for you in our brand index. In case you ever have questions or topic recommendations feel free to dm us on Instagram or comment on here.

Thank you to everyone who participated in our little survey on Instagram. Of course, we read every single reply and were super excited to see you so engaged! We can’t wait to talk to you all more about sustainability and the topics that come with it. 

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