What People Are Getting Wrong About The Debate Between Fast and Sustainable Fashion

Source: Wikimedia Commons (left) Brit + Co (right)
In recent years, individuals have become increasingly conscious about one's impact on the environment, resulting in a shift in contemporary lifestyle seen in the form of the growing proliferation of reusable water bottles, the increasing prohibition of plastic straws, and the expansion of alternative travel methods. However, the one area in which environmentally conscious change has yet to gain a stronghold in is the fashion industry. 

Source: Luevo
Despite the growth of sustainable fashion brands over the years, the fashion industry remains one of the most polluting industries due to the failure of sustainable brands to gain the same traction as fast fashion brands. The debate of fast fashion vs. sustainable fashion is often framed as one of environmentalism with those who participate in the fast fashion industry labeled as anti-environmentalists. However, this is unfair as most individuals who participate in the fast fashion industry are unaware of its vast consequences. 

While the debate over fast fashion vs. sustainable fashion is primarily focused on environmentalism, it is a multi-faceted topic that concerns socioeconomic inequality as well. Although the detriments caused by the fast fashion industry such as its environmental unsuitability, labor exploitation, and its overall short product cycle are serious it is worth examining what draws individuals to the fast fashion industry. So instead of painting those who participate in the fast fashion industry as anti-environmentalist, individuals should instead try to reconcile the benefits of fast fashion with the benefits of sustainable fashion while educating shoppers.

Source: Huffington Post
The number one factor of the fast fashion industry's success is its affordability. The origins of fast fashion trace back to the nineteenth century when the sewing machine was first patented in 1846 by Elias Howe. The invention of the sewing machine allowed for the large-scale production of cheap clothes, thus revolutionizing society norms by granting the masses the opportunity to blend in with the elite. Fast fashion's impact on today's society remains the same as it continues to allow individuals to dress how they want to regardless of income.

Source: Reformation
Conversely, the number one factor that's hindering the sustainable fashion industry's growth is its high cost. A pair of jeans from Reformation, one of the most well-known sustainable brands, can cost upwards of $100. Additionally, many of the basic tops sold by Reformation average $50, a price that a majority of individuals aren't willing to pay for a simple top. 

Though many argue that society needs to change its mentality towards purchasing clothes and prioritize longevity over affordability, this solution will take many years to achieve as it can take several generations to change society's mentality. Sustainable fashion advocates should instead try to reconcile fast fashion's affordability with sustainable fashion's benefits. Although this would ultimately result in a bump in clothing prices, in order to accommodate fair wages for laborers, this issue would be solved through the proper education of the harms of the fast fashion industry to society.