Is it possible to consider yourself a sustainable consumer while still shopping at fast-fashion retailers like Shein? This question once again made the rounds on Twitter and sparked heated debates over the last couple of weeks.
The topic of fast fashion is notoriously a polarizing one, with some people entirely against shopping at any fast-fashion retailers based on their contribution to landfill waste, alleged labor violations, and use of poor quality materials, while others defend spending their dollars wherever they please citing factors including economic privilege, size inclusivity, and overall accessibility.
Ultimately, we've been left with a gray area at the intersection of consumerism and sustainability that’s certainly worth talking about.
The Debate Over Fast Fashion
Many people believe that there is no such thing as ethical consumption under capitalism. It sounds disheartening at first, but it’s a vital point to dissect when it comes to trying to do your best while navigating a world that runs on consumerism.
It can be incredibly frustrating to try to exist as someone who is eco-conscious when everything around us makes it difficult to do so. We know that using metal straws and reusable bags are better than using plastic ones, but we also know that’s like putting a bandaid over a stab wound. As individuals, we can only do so much when climate change is dependent on the 100 companies and mega-corporations that are responsible for 71% of harmful global emissions. Knowing this, it’s only natural to feel defeated in our efforts while asking ourselves, “what’s the point?”
In an effort to find my own solution, I’ve even tried my hand at creating a sustainable streetwear brand, VeganAF Metal AF, and I’ve learned quite a bit being on the backend. My initial goal was to make eco-friendly clothing that was also affordable, but I quickly found out that doing both was nearly impossible. To cover the costs of eco-friendly goods (plus the rise in Etsy fees), I sadly found myself questioning if even I would pay the prices I set for my items.
Long story short, not everyone can afford high-end, sustainable goods, especially ones that come in plus sizes. While most of us can agree that the ethics behind Shein’s business model are undoubtedly egregious, in terms of an inclusive size range that’s also stylish, Shein has opened up accessibility to an entire community of shoppers. You could easily furbish an entire wardrobe for the same amount of money that would only get you a couple of things from brands that produce on-trend, conscious plus-size fashion.
It doesn’t matter if an item was made ethically if still ends up in the landfill due to neglect. While it's easy to let the overwhelming scope of textile waste and unethical businesses turn you into an apathetic shopper, there are still plenty of worthwhile things you can do to make the most out your clothes. If you properly care for your items, even cheap ones, most pieces of clothing can last for as long as you want them to.
How to Properly Care for Your Clothes So They Last
While we can’t take on the entire textile manufacturing industry by ourselves, we can do things on a smaller scale that make a difference. Thankfully, no matter where your clothes are from, they can last a long time if you properly care for them.
Some basic clothing care instructions for longevity include:
- Wash everything on delicate: Cheaper clothes will often be less sturdy than more expensive ones, so it’s crucial to always wash your clothes on the gentlest cycle. This will help to uphold the integrity of your clothes so that you’re not dealing with things like broken straps, frayed hems, or torn seams.
- If possible, hang dry: If you have the space to do so, hang your items dry. If you don’t have a lot of room, try to hang only your most delicate items, even if it's over chairs or your shower rod. If you have no choice but to use a dryer, dry your clothes on the coolest and most gentle setting possible.
- Separate your items: Another great tip to ensure that you’re upholding the quality of your clothes in the washer and dryer is to separate your items. Make sure that you aren’t washing or drying your delicate clothing items with bulky or rough items like bath towels or denim jeans that can wear your other pieces down.
Try categorizing your clothes based on how often/how you wear them. Rank 1 contains your best going-out pieces you save for special occasions. Rank 2 contains the everyday pieces that are in your current, regular rotation. Finally, Rank 3 are your at-home comfy clothes that you either don't wear to go out of the house or have been demoted from ranks one or two. When in doubt, don’t throw out—just demote.
What to Do With Clothes When You're Done With Them
There’s also a particular life cycle that clothes can go through before they’re ultimately thrown away, so it’s super important to do your best to follow it to increase the time the garment spends outside of the landfill. Instead of throwing out clothing that you feel like you’re done with, you can do any of the following:
- Repurpose your clothes: Just because your favorite "going out" top finally met a stain that refused to leave, doesn’t mean it’s completely worthless. Instead, make it your new favorite sleep shirt. The memories will make it even more sentimental.
- Give things away to friends and family: If you have clothes that have left the ranks, it’s an excellent opportunity to see if any of your friends and family want to pick through your unwanted clothes. I’ve found some of my favorite pieces this way.
- Donate things to charities or domestic abuse/homeless shelters: Another wonderful option is to donate your clothing to organizations that accept donations of gently used clothing, like domestic abuse or homeless shelters. What may be useless to you could be life-changing for someone else.
- Have a garage sale or sell your items online: If you’re looking to make back some of the money you spent on your clothes, you can always have a garage sale to unload some clothes in bulk. However, if that’s not an option for you, thankfully selling used clothing online has become a popular and easy way to give your clothes a new life.
- Get creative and find ways to upcycle your clothing: A rip doesn’t have to mean RIP. If you have a piece of clothing that’s damaged beyond wearing, it doesn’t have to be the end. If you’re the creative type, you can turn old dresses into pillows, old sweats into cleaning rags, and old T-shirts into wall hangings. You can even try altering the item or breaking it up to create something new for your wardrobe.
In the end, all you can do is your best while keeping in mind that there is no correct way to exist in a system that makes it impossible to do so. So instead of shaming someone (or yourself) for a Shein outfit, let’s shame the system that made it this way. And as always, just keep trying to do your best.