Sustainable fashion has become a recent reoccurring trend in online fashion communities. Namely, the fashion communities on social media such as Instagram, Youtube, and TikTok have seen an uprise in discussion regarding the importance of shopping ethically. However, people use these buzzwords quite often without much context as to what they mean for the everyday consumer.

What is sustainable fashion?

Sustainable fashion, sometimes called ethical fashion, is a broad term used to describe the ethical production, sales, and purchasing of fashion. V&A Museum describes it similarly as “an umbrella term to describe ethical fashion design, production, retail, and purchasing. It covers a range of issues such as working conditions, exploitation, fair trade, sustainable production, the environment, and animal welfare.”

Opposite of sustainable fashion is “fast fashion.” Fast fashion, according to Investopedia, is “a term used by fashion retailers to describe inexpensive designs that move quickly from the catwalk to stores to meet new trends.” Think Forever 21, H&M, Shein, and places like that. Fast fashion retailers often come out with new styles and trends more often than designer brands, who usually release collections by season. Some fast fashion retailers come out with hundreds of new pieces a week.

Fast fashion retailers have come under fire in recent years due to their persistent use of labor exploitation in their factories and warehouses. Most workers do not receive a livable wage and can work up to 16 hours a day. You can read more about this here.

Why does this matter?

The discussion of fast fashion vs. sustainable fashion is definitely an important one to have. To help with environmental upkeep, it is a good idea to shop sustainably if you are able to do so. However, what makes fast fashion so dominating in the fashion industry is its appeal to poor people. Fast fashion is often cheap, in trend, and easy to find.

Similarly, certain fast fashion retailers are primary sources of clothing for fat people. With a shortage of plus size stores and options, this leaves fat people with a small pool of reliable retailers. Brands like Forever 21 and Shein are cheap and provide a variety of clothing types for people who cannot shop at straight size stores. Additionally, thrift stores undoubtedly cater to straight size shoppers. The plus size sections of a your local Goodwill is usually limited to unflattering fitting tops and outdated silhouettes. Fat people deserve to dress cute too!

While there are some sustainable plus size brands, their prices are often extremely high for the average fat person. This is especially problematic in our current economic situation. As a fat person, spending $100 on a dress is not practical for me. Though it is possible for some to shell out sustainable fashion money, that is not the case for everyone. We should not shame people for this.

It is important to share what we know about fast fashion factories and their exploitation of their workers, yes. It is important that we try to donate our clothes and buy secondhand when we can, of course. But it is also important that we do not fault the consumers, especially poor and fat consumers, who might not have a choice. It is important we remember that shaming underprivileged consumers for surviving in an exploitative society does nothing to change the society. We can do our part, but we can do it with empathy and understanding. 

What Else Can We Do?

If you are able to buy sustainably, that’s great! If you are not, that’s okay too! It’s good to be aware of big issues in capitalism, even if it is not practical for us to implement solutions just yet. If you are able to thrift, that is a good option for finding cheap clothes. Though it can be hit or miss, you might be able to find some gems. Instagram also hosts a variety of small business fashion brands that offer handmade and curated secondhand clothing.

Let’s be kinder to each other and find ways to uplift each other.

Read also:
Fast Fashion: Is It A Feminist Issue?
The Problem With Palatable Fashion
So You Care About Fat People’s Health