A Students Perspective on Sustainable Fashion.

I am in favour of anything sustainable. I am a firm believer that the world needs to take active steps in reducing factors like its carbon footprint to make the world we inhabit last a lot longer. I am not in favour however of guilt tripping people about their habits without knowing their economic reasons, or any reason for that matter, behind their attitude.

Without getting too political it is frustrating as a 20 year old that our government, filled with *mostly* white old men, are too economically driven to see the catastrophic affects their actions have on this planet. Yes they won’t be here to see it, but their kids and grandkids will be. We are the ones who have to deal with the consequences of the naive older generation.

*Might I add that if you are a part of the older generation and get angry at this statement because you ‘aren’t part of this problem’, please take an inward look at your actions and what you are doing/can change. Try and remember who it is that governs us and how very little they are doing*

I’m not here to sound bigger or better than anyone else, because I am not perfect. I am not a poster girl for environmental change but like anyone else I want that change to happen. We can do as much as we can as consumers however there is a much bigger change that is needed and that comes from people in a position of power.

When it comes to sustainability, my insight into it has been largely around the fashion industry and the abundance of fashion brands who produce clothing at affordable rates but in terrible conditions. Brands such as PLT, Boohoo, Missguided and Shein are only a few who are guilty of being extremely harmful to the environment.

Unfortunately there is a stereotype many people brandish our generation with. One which is extremely harmful and purely distasteful to the work that many people are doing. Work that needs to be done. It shouldn’t be brushed off because it is some ‘snowflake’ getting angry about a ‘trendy’ topic. Or people saying ‘It’s just the younger generation trying to be “woke”‘. It is young people taking ownership for YOUR mistakes.

Before I get too angry and go off on a tangent about the misconception of 16-25 year olds, I want to write an honest piece about how you can ‘afford’ sustainable fashion through not going out and buying clothes out-with your budget. I think a lot of people get scared to go off piste when addressing sustainability, however I believe there are major problems with the industry, especially surrounding students (who are one of the major consumers of the brands stated above). There are ways in which you can make changes to the way you shop without feeling guilty about not affording a £200 dress made of organic fabric.

I am a big believer that simply changing your attitude to your closet can stop you from shopping for unnecessary items. This way you can find what you need rather than what you want (or simply buying on impulse).

  • Look Inwards

You wardrobe is full of clothes that can be repurposed in ways that will look completely different to the last time you wore it. Don’t look at a dress purely as just a dress. Why not tuck it into jeans or put a jumper over it. If, unlike me, you are good with a sewing machine, why not completely change something that has been sitting in the back of your wardrobe for 3 years.

At the end of the day your wardrobe should not be a shop.

Mindset

A good way to think differently about the clothes you already own is having a look on sites like Pinterest (my account is linked below) and see how other people style similar pieces to ones you already have. This way you can change your mindset from ‘uh what do I have to wear, I don’t have anything’, to a creative challenge; ‘what can I do differently/switch it up’.

Photos

If you’re in a creative mood or are looking for something to do, another way to look at your wardrobe differently is taking photos of your outfits, so when it comes to being stuck for ideas, you have a folder on your phone for inspiration. Like previously mentioned, turn this into a challenge and see how many ways you can style one item.

  • Charity Shops are your best friend.

Sustainable clothing doesn’t have to be ‘new’. I once got a Ralph Lauren Polo Sweatshirt (Mens) for £10 from a charity shop. It is a great way to add designer items and unique pieces for a fraction of the price. This way it’s not ending up in a landfill.

Charity Shops

Don’t be scared to go into a charity shop and have a good look around. Yes you might not find something every time and yes it probably smells like something out of your grandparents house but the chances of you finding something completely unique, interesting and well-made is a lot higher there than in a cheap Highstreet shop. On top of this, don’t be afraid to go into the mens section. For example that ‘trendy’ oversized blazer would be a perfect find in the mens section.

Online Shopping

Online shopping does not have to encompass stores like the aforementioned ones. Looking at sites like eBay, Etsy and Depop are perfect for when you are looking for pieces you’ve seen on other people but at a smaller price tag. Plus you can repurpose them.

On another note if you have clothes that are in a good condition but are no longer used, why not sell them on one of the sites?

  • Reduce your Shopping Habits.

This is a huge aspect of fashion which I believe once changed is much more attainable than feeling ‘forced’ into buying sustainably. As a student, we have this perception that for every night out you need a different outfit, or for a special occasion you need a new dress. This is extremely harmful to the environment and frankly an outlook which is probably quite harmful to your bank balance: hence the success of brands like Boohoo.

Instead buy what you need not what you want. Buy pieces which will last for years rather than a day or a month (these don’t have to be expensive, they just need well looked after. If you buy from places like Shein however they will only last a short time). Don’t invest in trends, invest in your style and what you feel comfortable in. Simplicity is quite often key to this outlook.

If you want to buy from H&M because it is at an affordable price point, then do so, but don’t go buying 20 pieces because you have a summer holiday coming up or are in need of some winter clothing. Look at your wardrobe as a collection of items for all year round, which are multipurpose. You don’t need a new wardrobe every month. 

Stop spending every month browsing cheap sites and feeling the need to buy something every time you need to go out somewhere special. This will often do more than feeling forced to spend money on more expensive ‘sustainable’ clothing you can’t afford.

On a personal note, this year I haven’t spent much at all on clothing. At most I’ve probably bought one or two items. This is not because I’ve been forced to stop buying clothing excessively, I’ve just looked at what I’ve got differently. It’s purely because I don’t need to buy anything.

  • The Perception of Sustainability

This is something that irks me the most. In a world based around consumership the need to shop sustainably is extremely important, that is something I would never disregard. However, what does annoy me is how guilty I feel even when I am not shopping.

As a student who is not fuelled with money, I can’t support local businesses at the moment, especially when they need it the most. On top of this I can’t afford to buy sustainably because the majority of it is extremely expensive (when buying ‘new’). It’s the same feeling when I go into a supermarket: an organic broccoli for example is always more expensive than the ‘standard’ one.

I recently read an article that Good Housekeeping did called ’20 Sustainable Fashion Brands – Ethical Clothing for Women’, don’t get me wrong I didn’t get through the full list as when the first 4 websites I clicked on were overpriced I was put straight off, purely because a standard t-shirt cost £25-30 (a price point which yes, is great when you have an income that can sustain spending that much for quality, however when your food shop for that week costs the same as one t-shirt, it’s not ideal).

I am scared at most that being sustainable is only a lifestyle attainable for those from middle to upper class backgrounds. I am even more worried that it is looking more like a ‘trend’ than anything else.

On top of this I don’t want people to be put off from even trying to alter their lifestyle slightly because on a large scale they can’t afford it.

Furthermore, like I said before, I also don’t want it attached to those ‘snowflakes’ wanting to be ‘woke’. It is a real life issue which needs addressed in the real world with practical solutions. Not by people applying stereotypes to ignore their own issues.

I’ve decided I am going to accumulate some business that are sustainable but affordable so if you can afford to and are looking for something you have a place to shop.

I can’t vouch for a lot of brands because I can’t afford to shop at them. This goes for any business at the moment. So, don’t feel guilty for not being able to shop sustainably or if you haven’t ‘yet’ done it (Just remember that those cheaper brands work with numbers – the more people that order from them means the more they will produce). Do it when you can, instead look at what you currently have and ignore the trends; they only last a while, instead invest in yourself.

However, what I want to reinforce is that it is your decision. Sustainability, especially when it comes to fashion, does not mean you have to go and shop at the nearest business that uses recycled fabrics etc. It means you change your mindset to what you have, and adapt your outlook to the world of fashion in general rather than feeling bad for not affording what is largely on offer within this market.

I am by no means an expert but have seen enough of people berating others without thought into what their current lifestyle is. You don’t know what happens behind closed doors.

However I hope this helps and changes your mindset on sustainability and what you already have in your wardrobe.

Much love,

Sophie x