Do you ever feel morally conflicted by environmentalists, social rights advocates and finance gurus who take the fun out of fashion by telling you it’s unsustainable, unethical or imprudent to buy the clothes your heart truly desires?
Well get ready for your daily dose of self-serving validation, because I’m here to tell you the exact opposite. It’s my opinion that buying the premium piece you’re lusting after is GOOD for the planet, GOOD for humanity and may even be good for your wallet (with a small caveat).
Sound too good to be true? Hear me out.
We live in a grossly unsustainable period of fast fashion. Today, the typical American buys hordes of poorly-constructed, chemically saturated clothing and then quickly turns around to throw more than 80 pounds of textiles in the trash each year.
This statistic makes one thing crystal clear: the clothes we’re buying are little more than trash to begin with.
Trashy garments filling up landfills is just the beginning of the problem. Our incessant demand for disposable pieces is depleting natural resources at an alarming rate. The fashion industry is the second most polluting in the world, second only to oil.
Then there’s the humanitarian cost of fast fashion which forces people with limited options to work in unsafe conditions for slave wages. Working conditions can be fatal, as in the Rana Plaza factory collapse where 1,129 people died and another 2,515 people were injured when they were forced to come into work despite signs structural damage to the building.
So what are non-sociopath style-lovers supposed to do?
As far as I can tell, there are two paths to sustainable shopping: the ethically uncompromising path and the buy less, buy better path.
Let me explain the difference:
The ethically uncompromising path involves researching the manufacturing practices and fabrics of every item prior to purchase. The more you learn about the crimes of fashion, the more disgusted you’ll become until eventually you’re forced to shop only at your local health food store and a half dozen internet-based companies who you’re confident live up to their fair trade promise. Male or female, you will live in $75 bamboo t-shirts and the majority of your wardrobe will be unbleached beige.
You may turn down invitations to the theatre, conferences and weddings because you’re not willing to comprise your deeply entrenched ethics to dress for the occasion (and you can’t afford a couture hemp gown).
I applaud those who take the ethically uncompromising path, but for those who lack the willpower, energy or resources to do so, I suggest this alternative:
The buy less, buy better path is about getting more joy out of less clothing. Followers invest in quality over quantity and only buy exceptional pieces they will long love and care for.
This path doesn’t prohibit you from researching the manufacturing practices of brands or blacklisting the worst offenders. You may still explore consignment shopping, clothing swaps or sustainable brands to become a greener consumer, but the only hard and fast rule is to:
Only buy exceptional pieces you will wear for many seasons.
Garments you feel this way about will cost more money, but splurging on them is one of the most sustainable options in today’s fashion landscape (with the aforementioned caveat being that you buy less garments overall).
To be splurge-worthy an item must be “exceptional”, however you personally define that, be it a designer label, great materials or your own unique style.
If you make “exceptional” your standard, you’re not going to be persuaded by 2-for-1 sales to buy heaps of textiles you don’t need.
If you make “exceptional” your standard, you won’t buy many pieces that were produced in sweat shops.
If you make “exceptional” your standard, you may save money, because exceptional pieces take time and effort to find, and you won’t be as quick to replace them.
If you make “exceptional” your standard for garments, you won’t throw away 80 lbs of them a year.
In summary: Buy less and splurge on what you truly love.