Comment Writer Danielle Murinas discusses the continuous criticism against fast fashion, arguing that for those on low incomes, fast fashion is the affordable option
Fast fashion has become a staple of society and acts as the norm through which members of the public engage and purchase their clothing items. The fundamental premise is that clothing brands offer a swift form of purchase, and with quick production rates, high-end fashion items can be affordably procured in-store and online almost immediately. However, there is a significant level of criticism against this aspect of the clothing industry. Environmentalist group Extinction Rebellion even staged a funeral at London Fashion week in 2019, labelling it as a major issue for the climate crisis. Many see fast fashion items as being garments that are scarcely worn before being abandoned. Through following swift trends in fashion, it is widely argued that fast fashion is encouraging unnecessary waste and models of unsustainability.
While this is undeniably true in some cases, fast fashion can offer a dependable and affordable way of shopping for people on lower incomes. This does not mean to say that individuals who use fast fashion as a way to interact with fashion trends, before repurchasing items only months after buying them, are not promoting and contributing to the environmental crisis. Simply that fast fashion does have a use for those who are less financially fortunate. If someone were to need a specific item of clothing for work or everyday use, brands such as Pretty Little Thing and Primark can be relied upon to provide such items. Although there are affordable alternatives such as charity shops, these do not provide consistency. Shopping at charity shops when in need of specific items, relies on shops having the necessary stock or having time available to search different shops for things, neither of which are definitive options.
As well as the matter of reliability, fast fashion is fundamentally affordable compared to sustainable clothing stores which are understandably more expensive. Brand People Tree is an online retailer, and although easier and more reliable than second-hand stores, clothing items are substantially more expensive. For example, a black wrap dress costs £75, compared to a similar black dress costing £15 from Primark. It is understandable why people on lower incomes are more drawn to fast fashion stores such as Primark, as they fall into their price range. Absent of ethical obligation, due to finances, lower-income families are pushed to shop in stores that are less sustainable.
Underlying this is a wider issue in environmentalism, and environmentalist campaigns. Fast fashion represents a practice that although may not be highly sustainable, is affordable and accessible. As noted, sustainable clothing brands are often more expensive, but this issue extends beyond the realms of fashion. Many other environmentally friendly products are significantly more expensive than alternatives and thus are not accessible to those on lower incomes. Reusable sanitary products such as menstrual cups and washable sanitary pads can cost from £8 up to £20 and above on Amazon, compared to a pack of sanitary pads or tampons costing an average of £1 or £2. Similar pricings also often relate to shampoo or conditioner bars compared to store-bought bottles. Although in the long term sustainable products will be cost-effective, as their reusable nature means not having to repurchase, this would take roughly a minimum of eight months to be seen. For some, this may not seem much, nor the initial cost of a one of purchase, but for those on lower incomes, this is an extra expense that may not be affordable, and one that can be avoided.
There are many people who live off a month to month salary, so will look to see real savings in that month, without looking to the future. Encouraging people to only look at sustainable products without recognising the financial aspect is a type of environmental classism. Some people do not choose to shop in unsustainable places but are made to by their financial situation. It is important for groups and individuals campaigning for the environment to recognise the difference between large-scale corporations knowingly partaking in unstable practices, and individuals who are forced to through socio-economic factors. Of course, this is not to say that all fast fashion brands are acceptable because extensive research has shown that their increasing presence in society is having detrimental repercussions, simply that affordable clothing offered by them does offer accessible products for some. Retailers should instead work towards making fast fashion more environmentally friendly, encouraging people to repair items instead of replacing them. Until this is widespread, and large-scale capitalist companies recognise its importance, we should be wary of judging individuals based on some actions that are often the only option. Instead, we should encourage smaller ways of being environmentally friendly, and ways which can prove cost-effective within the space of a monthly wage. This will go some way to making environmentalism more inclusive to those on lower incomes.
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