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Everyone deserves to find clothes within their budget that fit them, and that can be a tool of expression. However, most people can’t exactly afford to shop Prada’s latest collection, finding themselves in shops like H&M or on sites like Boohoo. When considering how these fast-fashion retailers are contributing greatly to the current climate crisis, though, supporting them feels… icky. And that’s not to mention the other human rights violations many fast-fashion giants perpetuate.

fernand de canne 2fNMdA6a5ck unsplash d15fbPhoto via Unsplash.

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So, how do we go about reconciling how vital fashion is as a craft with how corrupt the current textile industry is? How can we continue to express personal style without compromising our principles and beliefs? Over the past five years or so, a new trend in fashion has taken hold with the rise of smaller “sustainable” brands and labels. While the brands I’ve seen most often are usually dedicated to basics, like tees, jeans, hoodies, and athleisure, there are also some more visionary labels, as well. The brand CHNGE, for instance, dedicates many of their pieces to espousing specific social and environmental campaigns. This brand is transparent about the factories that make their clothing and does not rely on sweatshops. Instead of using conventional cotton, which is quite wasteful, their clothing line utilizes organic cotton which requires 71% less water to produce.

While sustainable fashion labels are definitely a solid option if you really need new clothes, they certainly shouldn’t be your first clothing priority. It’s been said many times before that there is no such thing as ethical consumption under capitalism, and I would like to echo this sentiment. For example, although CHNGE’s organic cotton production uses 71% less water than conventional cotton, it still uses 200 gallons per shirt made. That’s a lot of water, just not as much as the 700 traditionally required. When you buy new clothes, no matter where they’re from, it’s impossible to stay completely environmentally neutral. Ecological impact is unavoidable.

The best way to be environmentally conscious when it comes to fashion, then, is to utilize the clothes that already exist, instead of constantly consuming what you don’t need. When your own clothes no longer fit, or are too worn out to be appropriate for further use, then you may have to participate in certain levels of consumption. Still, there are other options than immediately buying brand-new outfits. Purchasing already used clothes is often an accessible way to find interesting and aesthetically pleasing attire. If you have the means, it may not be the best idea to take away resources from lower-income communities by constantly thrift shopping. Instead, you can try finding your fashion niche at vintage shops, or buying directly from sellers on sites like Depop, Mercari, or Facebook Marketplace. If you have friends within your size range, you can organize clothing swaps. Just because a garment isn’t new doesn’t mean that it can’t be new to you.

Further, the art of recreating your existing wardrobe for the sake of keeping up with your sense of style is another avenue worth exploring. Not all of us can be gifted with tailoring skills, but some adjustments don’t require expertise. When I get tired of a T-shirt and don’t necessarily feel like relegating it to my pajama pile, I often just cut it into a crop-top. This basic change has helped reinvigorate a few different pieces for me. A new hobby that I took up during the pandemic was embroidery, which allows me to spruce up plain clothes with lettering or simple images. It’s really fun and not all that difficult. Also, there’s been a new trend of acid washing clothes which I’ve done a couple of times. Really, all this means is tie-dyeing whatever you want to using bleach. I’ve found it to be both refreshing and artistically fulfilling to re-create clothes I’ve owned forever and lost interest in.

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Have you ever heard your parent or grandparent complain that younger generations don’t really mend their things when there’s a problem? That we just throw them away for newer things? Whether or not there’s truth in this view isn’t for me to decide, but I’ve found it worth my time to learn how to stitch so that I can hem and fix my own garments rather than throw them away. The basics of this skillset are quite easy to achieve, but there are also other options for clothes that have gone through wear and tear. For instance, visible grunge-esque safety pins are back in. You can make a fashion statement and fix that pesky hole in your favorite crewneck by affixing conspicuous safety pins to it. Chopova Lowena uses them, so why can’t we? Or, maybe, you can consider adding even more holes, layering a tee underneath, and going for a distressed look.

Whatever changes you make regarding your clothing choices are based on your individual style. One way to ensure that you can show your uniqueness, that you can ensure you’re dressed in accordance with your own aesthetic, is to make your own adjustments to clothes. This route is much more environmentally conscious than constantly purchasing new pieces to suit the quickly changing fashion cycles. Sometimes, of course, you will require newer pieces, especially things like underwear and socks. In that case, perusing a sustainable fashion site is always a better option than buying clothes from typical fast-fashion retailers.

Header image via Unsplash

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An intern here at Bust, Vanessa Wolosz is completing her bachelor's degree University of St Andrews, where she studies English and Comparative Literature.  Her parents are happy to report that she is an honors student, and are significantly less happy to report that her interests lie in researching body art, reading sci-fi, bleaching her own hair, and not-having-a-boyfriend.  You can follow her on Twitter, @memelover100, though doing so is not recommended.

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