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J. Crew, Patagonia, Madewell

We Need to Talk About The Privilege Behind the Ethical Fashion Industry

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.

Becoming a more environmentally conscious shopper, I make sure that I do my research on brands that follow ethical practices. I’ll admit that it’s not always easy finding sustainable clothing that won’t do too much damage to my bank. As a working college student, I don’t have a whole lot of disposable income to spend on clothes, so I have to be more practical (rent and groceries are my main priorities here, TBH).

There are times when I do have more than enough funds to treat myself to some new Patagonia gear, but that’s not always the case. Of course, I feel guilty for crawling back to fast fashion brands — what is a college girl supposed to do? 

But, what about the low-income women and women of color that face far more serious financial struggles? Why are they forgotten and excluded from the movement?

Benita Robledo said it best in her fashion piece on the lack of inclusivity in the ethical fashion industry: “In order to move the needle of a multi-trillion dollar industry, we must include everyone — not just rich, white women.” She brings up a major point because money plays a huge factor, preventing marginalized groups from shopping ethically. According to HuffPost, while a white woman already makes less than a white man, a woman of color earns less than the average $0.77 cents. 

Being able to afford sustainable fashion is a sacrifice that might as well be a privilege. Consumers have the opportunity to make the right choices only if they have the financial means, and it’s a problem that needs fixing. Marginalized groups already struggle to purchase mass-market retailers, which puts them in an even bigger disadvantage when considering to shop from ethical brands. A pair of eco-friendly jeans should not cost a paycheck. 

Here’s another obstacle: we only ever see and hear about white women launching sustainable brands. Once again, money is evidently making an impact because it does cost a ton of money to design and manufacture environmentally harmless products. However, there are also brands by women of color, who are including marginalized groups and helping save the planet — get you a brand that can do both! 

The privilege in the ethical fashion industry can be eliminated over time. As fortunate shoppers, we have to give our hard-earned money to clothing companies that promote inclusivity and sustainability. The more we support these brands, the more likely they are to be more successful. Before we know it, they will be able to afford to sell fair trade or eco-friendly clothes for lower prices. We want to see prices decrease, so women with lower incomes do not have to think twice about purchasing those kinds of clothes. Our goal here is to see everyone become more conscious shoppers, without stressing over high prices.

Celina Aquino

Illinois State '21

Celina Aquino is a senior studying finance and accounting at Illinois State University. She's a campus correspondent for the university's chapter as well as a national writer. Things that make her the happiest include groutfits and matcha. Check out "Style on the Move" on @hercampusstyle.