No Longer Grey

The sartorial experiments and ramblings of a girl named Sarah

Sustainability or Self Interest?

by Sarah on December 21, 2018, no comments

jacket- Everlane, scarf- Urban Outfitters, sweatshirt- local

My favorite winter puffer is made from recycled plastic bottles- 47 of them, to be exact. I make sure to tell this to everyone who compliments the coat. I’d like to think that its plastic bottle past does make it a nicer jacket, that the jacket’s worth goes beyond its aesthetics to include the sum of its parts. I also think the coat’s origin in a factory in┬áBac Giang, Vietnam that also made uniforms for the 2014┬áSochi Olympics makes it more valuable, that the fact that $18.43 of the dollars I spent on the jacket went to the employees of the factory. The jacket fills a purpose, to keep me warm and have pockets big enough to schlepp around my stuff, but it also fills my need to be contributing to a “sustainable” clothing company. And every time I tell people it’s made from plastic bottles, I’m not just extolling a technological marvel, I’m also saying “this is what I care about.”

Do I care about sustainable fashion because I care about the earth, worker’s rights, the evolution of the fashion industry? Or do I care about it because I want to be the sort of person who cares about those things? And better yet, do brands that claim to be “sustainable” do so because they truly think it’s valuable, or because they want to appeal to a target customer who prizes those issues?

It’s been a big couple of years for sustainable fashion. With the rise of brands like Everlane, Reformation, H&M Conscious, Amour Vert, Grana and so many more, it seems like everybody has a “Sustainability” tab on their website. Transparency, in pricing, environmental impact and working conditions is becoming the new norm. This is all good stuff. Informed consumers can make informed choices. And in a market with a lot of very similar goods, brands that are coming up with sustainable innovations can become more appealing to consumers, setting themselves apart from the pack. If all brands act the same, but a few new ones come in with more appealing prices/ policies/ goods, it drives every brand to change.

But these brands aren’t sustainable angels. After all, they’re businesses, and the first rule of economics is that everyone is inherently self interested. Though they may be driven by a desire to create positive change within the fashion industry, sustainability is also an increasingly good marketing strategy. I’m more likely to buy something if it’s made “sustainably”, and apparently enough people think similarly that even big brands like H&M are feeling the pressure to change, to create their own sustainability promises.

And maybe it doesn’t matter if self interest or genuine desire for positive change or both are the motivating factor. Because at the end of the day, it’s all positive change. But it also makes it important for consumers to be critical. After all, the word sustainable isn’t regulated, and it’s much easier to claim to be sustainable than it is to actually be sustainable. We’re not at the point yet where everything is sustainable. We’re far from it, and I’m not sure if that point will ever really exist. After all, the best kind of consumption (for the earth, at least) is generally of the minimalist sort, and even if your shirt is compostable, it still might end up composting away in a landfill.

As the new year approaches, I’m contemplating how I want to consume fashion in the new year, and what sustainable consumption should look like. I’d love to hear your thoughts- let me know in the comments. How do you consume fashion, and what do you think brands should be doing in terms of sustainability?

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