The New Wave: Ethical Fashion

By Sally Chun

For decades, the fast-fashion phenomenon has dominated the global consumer market with cost-friendly and quickly overturned trends. Not surprisingly, there is an overwhelming surplus of unworn clothing everywhere – and this number only continues to grow. Regretful consumer choices, impulsive purchases, and the lure of sale item advertisements contribute to the culture of a fast-fashion marketplace.

The $24.99 cost of a cheaply-made, Peter Pan collared shirt seems hardly burdensome at the time of purchase, but reality strikes when it is packed up and routed to Goodwill just 6 months later. For clothing that is worn just once or twice then tossed, where is the ethical limit? In recent years, a growing number of consumers have shown interest in sustainable awareness, and many are looking to switch gears to more long-lasting, durable fashion in their closets. Now, a new wave of ethical fashion is on the rise – and here is our breakdown for a more sustainable world of fashion.

Now, a new wave of ethical fashion is on the rise...

Level One: Start where you are.

Take care of the clothes already in the closet. This is perhaps the climax of ethical fashion – because long-term sustainability is directly linked with proper care. Showing careful concern for already-produced items gives it its maximum life in your closet.

Level Two: Shop less. Choose better. (Only buy pieces you love 100%).

This is perhaps the most difficult one. Personally, I admired bloggers who made smart, quality purchases and supported ethical brands, but assumed the lifestyle to be too expensive for a (then full-time student) gal like me. What I failed to realize, however, is that purchasing more in quantity of cheaply-made clothing in contrast to buying fewer but of quality items is less effective, and often more costly in the long run. Check out this scenario: You visit the mall (claiming retail therapy) and spend $100 on 5 items from Store H.

  1. You wear the $19.90 swimsuit to the beach, but the padding falls out and becomes irretrievable.
  2. The $7.99 denim jeans you put in the dryer comes out two sizes smaller.
  3. You go out wearing a set of $5.80 earrings, and lose the left pair.
  4. The $2.80 ring turns your finger green.
  5. You save the $58.00 fur coat to wear in the winter, but unfortunately it’s only May.*

*To be fair, it was on Final Sale.

Six months later, you don’t recall any of these purchases because they are all either lost or unwearable. Whatever is left of the purchase gets shoved in the back of the closet, or in a donation bag to Goodwill.

Honestly, this scenario isn’t foreign for most of us. We’ve regretfully purchased smaller sizes on sale, vowing to one day fit in to those ultra-skinny jeans. We’ve had clothes shrink in the dryer, beads fall out, and strings come loose. Most often with low-quality clothing, the hassle of mending, fixing, and replacing heavily outweighs the benefits of spending a few bucks “less” in the moment.

Thus, the key to sustainable fashion is to 1) shop less and 2) choose better. Buy with intention, thought, and love. Only purchase items you 100% love, not chosen because of menial factors such as sales, discounts, trendy (for a minute), etc. Your closet is a life-long investment, and items that slip away after a short while gains you no interest or profit in the long-run.

Buy with intention, thought, and love.

Level Three: Buy second-hand. Upcycle.

My solution to maintaining style and closet sustainability is thrift shops. Second-hand, consignment stores are incredible gold mines with rare vintage, modern, and stylish gems everywhere. Products are a fraction of the retail price, which allows customers to choose items without considering luring variants such as sales and seasonal promotions. Select thrift shops also guarantee style and quality: Wasteland, Crossroads, and Buffalo Exchange. For true discounts, visit the local Goodwill or Salvation Army.

Fast-fashion has owned the spotlight for decades, but in recent years, sustainability-savvy consumers are growing more alert and aware than ever before. Splitting ways from cheaply-made, low quality products, consumers entering a new wave of ethical fashion is planting roots in the fashion industry. These essential steps toward a more sustainable closet is to 1) Start where you are, 2) Shop less and choose better, and 3) Buy second-hand and upcycle. By adhering to the standards of ethical fashion, it creates lasting and impactful change in the current and future world of fashion.

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