Altering the Standard
By: Sarah Mejia
Illustration by: Haven Jovel Morales
In a capitalist society, companies adopt differing values to distinguish and establish themselves within niche communities. The fashion industry is no exception—leading some companies to prioritize uniqueness, quality, and net profit.
Most companies that prioritize profit engage in unethical practices such as; low wages, dangerous working conditions, child labor, and even animal cruelty. Additionally, there is little conversation about the negative environmental impacts these companies impart: from how companies source their raw materials, to the microfibers and plastic used to synthesize the readily available textiles, and even the burning of excess product, the fashion industry produces too much pollution to ignore. Unsustainable companies are deemed as “fast fashion” brands, defined by their cheaply mass-produced clothing that replicates high-end trends and is quickly disposed of.
In an article by Vogue Business, it was revealed that only two popular brands are adhering to the UN’s Paris Climate Change Agreement: Levi Strauss and American Eagle. Even more unsettling, “over 70 members of the Sustainable Apparel Coalition, a group of companies that claim to care about the environmental impacts of their products, haven’t set any meaningful climate goals” reports Rachel Cernansky.
If the sustainable movement is anything like the dissent around animal testing, large-scale boycotts and tainted company images would cause the fashion industry to change their habits and invest money into finding sustainable alternatives.
In an article by Vogue Business, it was revealed that only two popular brands are adhering to the UN’s Paris Climate Change Agreement: Levi Strauss and American Eagle.
Young adults are traditionally at the forefront of sustainability movements: as such, UCLA students too had opinions around sustainable production practices. Third-year Computational and Systems Biology student Sandhya Rajkumar admitted that because the negative impacts of fast fashion have become more publicized in recent years, she has become deterred from engaging with those brands. Now, she opts to buy more expensive clothes with the promise of a longer life span, or to thrift shop instead of buying new, but cheap quality clothing.
Similarly, Serena Chang, a third-year environmental science student, said there is a lot of misconception around sustainable fashion. It does not have to be from expensive, exclusive brands; instead, sustainable practices can be as simple as shopping at a thrift shop, or even taking care of low-quality articles so that they do not go to waste.
Lorance Aung, a fourth-year computer science student, did not share this urgency for sustainability. He said he considers more expensive clothing to be inherently better, and that knowing that a brand imparts negative impacts on the environment would not influence his decision to buy from them if he likes their products.
Despite knowing fast fashion’s negative impacts, it is often the most affordable option available. For low-income communities, many being Latinx, this poses a dilemma since it is the only choice they have.
But is it necessarily the case that low-socioeconomic people have to continue supporting fast fashion to clothe themselves?
Like environmental activism in any industry has proven, being eco-friendly is not cheap. Sustainability in the fashion industry means utilizing environmentally friendly materials which Willets Design and Associates defines as “fabrics that have been made with minimum use of chemicals and pesticides, best land management practices, sustainable farming, and animal-friendly practices; they follow fair trade practices, and have been eco-friendly certified.” Having to adhere to these conditions means the supplier must invest more money into responsible habits subsequently raising product prices to ensure a profit is made. As a result, sustainable fashion seems unattainable as it becomes branded as a luxury item, only debuted on runways and available at high prices.
But is it necessarily the case that low-socioeconomic people have to continue supporting fast fashion to clothe themselves? No.
Coming from a lineage of immigrants means that older generations had to pack purposefully: traveling and arriving with the clothes on their back, some home necessities, and scarce valuables. As a result, they utilized their resources carefully.
Shopping for clothes can seem irrelevant when considering the budgets of immigrants due to their unlivable wages and their long laborious days. As a result, when clothes were needed pre-existing clothing items were altered at home, or new pieces were acquired through the practice of hand-me-downs.
When it was deemed essential to buy new clothes, whether, for an event or interview, these communities turned to thrift shopping. With the charitability it afforded the upper classes, thrift shops were filled with gently used yet higher-end brands at a cheap price, ideal for anyone who could not afford them at their typical prices. Moreover, with the sewing skills individuals deemed as a necessity in the past, buying unfitted pieces from thrift shops was not a problem because they could be easily altered at home.
The Latinx community learned the importance of conservation and not letting things go to waste. Yet, our community is one of the most likely to suffer from environmental discrimination, as discussed in one of our previous articles “How Communities of Color are affected by Environmental Injustice.”
Though society has begun to address more issues surrounding environmental sustainability, it is clear that a conversation is not enough; consumers must internalize these attitudes in order to make more conscious decisiones and have a larger impact. By taking the Earth’s well-being into account and realizing the injustices of the fashion industry, it should be easy to become disapproving of these companies and the commodities they produce.
It is important to remember that consumers who care more about keeping up with trends allow fashion companies to neglect sustainability goals since they feel confident they will not lose customers. By shopping at fast-fashion companies, our preference for instant savings fuels the Earth’s concerning condition. By abstaining, however, we show that we care more about our environment and future generations, so walking past a “SALE” sign will not be as tempting as it once was.
Changing the unsustainable practices of the fashion industry is possible: but not without changing our habits and priorities first.