I've loved diving into the deep end of sustainable fashion, but the reality is, there are a lot barriers (some real and some perceived) preventing others from doing the same. Not everyone has the time or interest to dive deep, so today, I want to address not only the most common challenges in supporting ethically made brands but also how you can overcome those barriers if you are interested in shopping more consciously.
- Cost - This is the major barrier for most. Because you are supporting companies who use high quality fabrics and responsible manufacturers (that pay workers a sustainable wage), the price of your garment reflects this. But not all ethically made brands are out of reach for the average consumer. You won't find Forever21 prices, but stores like Everlane and Alternative Apparel offer reasonable options that should last longer than your average fast fashion garment. And if those are still out of reach, check out your local thrift stores. By shopping second hand, you are helping to eliminate the amount of clothing that ends up in landfills while scoring some major deals.
- Limited Size Options - Because this is a smaller industry (with over 95% of manufacturing happening overseas), we are still waiting for main stream fashion to catch up. Therefore, there are not an endless supply of options, especially if you are plus size/petite/tall/anything outside of the size 2-12 range. But there are skilled seamstresses all over the country. So if you can't find the right fit, support their craft and have something made for you. You can buy patterns online, choose your own fabric, and have a custom dress made for less than the price of the average Nordstrom dress. And if that's too much effort, visit your local thrift store (you're going to start noticing a pattern here). Thrift stores are full of clothing from women of all shapes and sizes.
- Lack of Style - Ethical clothing has a reputation for having a "hippy" vibe so it can be hard to find more modern options. But designers have done an amazing job in the last several years offering more updated, stylish, and sometimes even trendy, solutions. Check out brands like Reformation and StyleSaint for options that don't look like they belong at a Woodstock festival. And if you're really looking to try out an of-the-moment-trend, again go thrifting (told you there was a theme). Thrift stores are filled with items from trend driven, fast fashion stores. So if you can't completely give up your Zara addiction, buy your pieces secondhand and give those items a second life. And to make it even easier, online consignment shops like ThredUp allow you to search and filter through inventory making it even easier to find what you're looking for.
- Lack of Clear Information - This is something I have really struggled with. Most companies, even ethically made ones, fail to disclose all the information. So even if a company prides itself on being made in the USA by fair trade workers, they may be lacking information on the fabric and toxic dyes that are used in the fabrics. It's hard to find a completely clear picture. And the reality is, the idea of "ethical fashion" isn't black and white. And trying to get to the bottom of a brand's fair trade policy can be exhausting. But more sites are emerging to make it easier to navigate the sustainability of your favorite stores. Check out Project Just to find out how ethical your go-to mainstream stores are. And if that requires more time than you're willing to commit, then yep, you guessed it... thrift! The items at thrift stores may not have originally been ethically made, but rather than supporting the production of more clothing, you are giving new life to a previously discarded garment.
- Time - Shopping ethically can be time consuming. You can't hop in your car and head to your nearest TJ Maxx to pick up a new outfit. And you can't buy your tees at the same place you buy your toilet paper. And most of us aren't in areas that have a lot of sustainable brick and mortar options nearby. Which means most of your shopping has to be done online and you then have to wait for items to ship. It also means you have to take the time to research different brands and designers. This means you can say goodbye to impulse purchases, which is not a terrible thing, but sometimes you just want to hop in the car and shop. By now you can probably guess my solution: thrifting! This has become my go-to shopping choice when I'm just really in the mood for some good old fashion impulse buying (although I still wouldn't recommend regularly buying for the sake of buying - a major part of shopping ethically is making thoughtful choices and buying items you will love and treasure no matter where you decide to shop.).
Now it's your turn: What are the predominant challenges and barriers that you face when thinking about shopping ethically?