The Sustainable Issue

By Emma Jepsen
Copyright: Rookie via. RookieMag, Lawrence Chard via. Chards
Image caption Copyright: Rookie via. RookieMag, Lawrence Chard via. Chards

DEAR SHE, Sustainable fashion is all the rage at the moment, all the big blogs and influencers are recommending organic and ethical brands to buy into – but they are all out of my student budget. I feel guilty when I buy from fast fashion brands, but I can’t afford anything else.

Sustainable and ethical fashion has (finally) entered the public eye, and fast fashion brands are being held accountable for their impact on the environment and neglect of basic human rights. But saving the earth one fashion item at a time comes at a high cost, one that many young people aren’t able to afford.

According to a ThredUp survey of their buyers, 77% of millennials (18-24-year-olds) want to buy from environmentally friendly brands, however, millennials are also the biggest consumer of fast fashion.

Shopping at second hand or vintage stores would be the most obvious solution to not being able to afford newer ethical brands, but they too have come out of a young person’s budget and will continue to do so in the next couple of years. Fashion search engine, Lyst, has had a 447% increase of traffic to luxury resale products in 2018 – in 2017 they had an increase of 9 million women buying, not just browsing, second hand clothing.

Second hand stores, sustainable t-shirts, and organic shoe recommendations can be found everywhere from Vogue to ManRepellar to Refinery29, but often the prices are sky high: for example, Refinery29 recommends the sustainable sportwear company ‘Starseeds’ where a pair of leggings costs £68. Sustainable brands aimed at young people like ‘Reformation’ sells sustainable dresses for around $198 (£153.27), and popular French online second hand store ‘Imparfaite Paris’ sells vintage dresses for €59 (£51.63) – all these prices is excluding any shipping costs and taxation.

The average student will probably work around 18 hours a week for a pay of £7.50 an hour – that’s £135 a week and £540 a month to cover rent, bills, grocery shopping, social activities, and any miscellaneous costs like grabbing a coffee or a snack. A student living away from home can expect a maintance loan of £600, also meant to cover rent and bills.

According to Save the Student’s 2019 report – the average cost of living comes up to £770 a month, well over any student budget; The average rent is £406, which leaves a whopping £134 a month to cover all other costs a student could have. Unless a student is picking up extra shifts or working full-time besides their studies, where are these students going to find the spare money to also pay for ethical, organic, and sustainable clothing?

It is not enough that ‘sustainable’ ‘ethical’ and ‘organic’ have become fashion buzzwords in an attempt to make saving the planet cool and trendy, if there is to be any real impact, these sustainable products should be accessible to the general public in order to replace their harmful counter-part. The issue is less about a buyer not buying, and more about how production and execution of these organic brands is so costly that only a few people can afford it.

If you feel like you need something from a fast fashion brand then get it, but the fact that you are watching and thinking about what you buy already shows that you are at the very least trying to do better with the resources you can afford.

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