Sustainable Fashion Isn't Just For Rich People. Why This Lifestyle Is For All Of Us

July 20, 2017
A version of this article previously appeared on StyleWise.

Sustainable Fashion Isn't Just For Rich People. Why This Lifestyle Is For All Of Us

Sustainable fashion, ethical shopping, and conscious consumerism are all phrases that describe a movement in eco activism that admittedly gets a mixed rep. Here, I address a few misconceptions about the lifestyle–and share why this way of living can be truly wonderful (yes, even if you love shopping!).

1. We’re elitist.

Yes, ethical fashion (often) costs more. And yes, lifestyle changes must take place in order to make more conscientious choices. And…yes, some conscious consumers are annoyingly smug. But being pretentious and ignoring privilege are not essential parts of being a conscious consumer.

Most of us who claim conscious consumerism do make sacrifices to achieve the lifestyle we strive for, foregoing throwaway purchases, saving up for more expensive ethical purchases, and thrift shopping to fill out our closets. This certainly isn’t true for everyone, though, and those who promote an aspirational lifestyle on social media often fail to mention that a lot of what they promote was given to them for free, or that the glamour on the outside doesn’t match the messiness and stress of real life. Conscious consumers are not inherently elitist, but we do need to be clear about who our message applies to, because if we’re telling people living in poverty that they need to only buy non-GMO produce and stop shopping at fast fashion chains, then we are making a judgment call we’re not qualified to make. It’s just a fact that having the mental energy and financial flexibility to shop “ethically” is a privilege, so the solutions we advocate must be clear and compassionate.

Hannah discusses this issue eloquently in her post, Is Ethical Fashion Elitist, so I’ll quote her here:

Middle-class to wealthy Americans consume far more resources than the rest of the world’s population. Honestly, I think changing the fashion industry starts with the global 1% because the global 1% is the problem. We’re the ones consuming the majority of the cheap goods that contribute to the exploitation of people and the planet. We’re the ones who can afford to pay more for an item to ensure that fair wages are paid, and don’t. I’m okay with my blog and my advocacy speaking mainly to people like me because we’re the ones who need to change our habits the most.

Now, this does not mean that only people with disposable income are allowed into the conversation. To the contrary, anyone who is ready to take on the challenge or seeks ways to shop with greater purpose is welcome. There are so many economical ways to shop ethically!

Conscious consumers know that consumer choices are tied up in privilege and choose to advocate for better, not perfect.

2. We’re fundamentalists.

Fundamentalists are people who are black-and-white thinkers, the ones who know that “right” is knowable and know that they are right. If you’re in social justice circles, it’s really easy to find your power in knowing you’re right. But this is also dangerous, not only because sometimes what we think is right takes away the rights and ignores the dignity of other human beings, but because if we always think we’re right, we’ll never grow in essential and beautiful ways.

Conscious consumers are, by and large, not fundamentalists, at least not in my experience. We ask hard questions and judge ourselves by extremely high standards, but we’re much more likely to place blame on ourselves for not being good enough than to transfer that guilt onto others. Sometimes people see our intensity and think we’re going to judge them, too, but really we’re just obsessive idealists who are trying to fix the world by fixing ourselves, and that’s a lot of pressure.

Conscious consumers know that we don’t have all the answers.

3. This lifestyle is easy for us.

Nope, plain and simple. Granted, things have gotten a lot easier over the 4 or so years I’ve been on this journey. But, at first, it was dang hard to stop shopping at H&M and Old Navy. I loved the thrill of good deals, the stress-reducing quality of mindlessly walking around the mall. I loved shopping dates with my friends where I didn’t have to look for the “Made in…” designation on all of the tags before making a purchase.

Those days were ripped away from me when I determined to only buy ethically sourced items. All the carefree fun was gone. For more than a year, I still justified a fast fashion purchase here and there. Even now, I’ll pick up the occasional J. Crew clearance item or over-packaged makeup. It’s hard to totally opt out. It can be very isolating.

But things really aren’t bad now. In fact, they’re really good. If I want the thrill of the hunt, I peruse thrift shops or snoop around online stores. If I want a trendy item, I see if there’s a way to upcycle what I already have, swap with a friend, or save up for an ethical purchase if I can justify it for the long term. Being intentional has a learning curve, but it’s got its perks, namely that I no longer feel hollow after a day of binge shopping. I am healthy.

Conscious consumers struggle like everyone else, but we find fulfillment in shopping smarter, not harder.

A version of this article previously appeared on StyleWise.

Are you working on transitioning to sustainable fashion? What has been the most challenging part?

Also by Leah: These 5 Resources Make Ethical Shopping Way More Fun (& Less Stressful)

How To Embrace Sustainable Fashion Without Depriving Yourself Of Trends (#ForTheWin)

Related: 8 Vegan Sandals To Make Your Sustainable Fashion Dreams Come True

Get more like thissign up for our newsletter for exclusive inspirational content!


Photo: Found on StyleWise

Leah is the founder of Style Wise, a space to celebrate, discuss, and discover fair trade and sustainable fashion. She lives in Central Virginia with her grad student husband and their super cute pet rats, Mercury and Pilumnus. Follow Leah on Instagram @stylewiseblog.


always stay inspired!