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Pros and Cons of Sustainable Fashion

woman holds up light green sweater on hanger - Sharing both pros and cons of sustainable fashion helps us understand the limitations and benefits of shopping sustainably.

Sustainable fashion, also known as ethical fashion or eco-friendly fashion, aims to minimize the negative environmental and social impacts of the fashion industry. While sustainable fashion has many benefits, there are also some limitations to consider.

All change starts with honesty. As the new year approaches, it’s helpful to look at the upsides and downsides of sustainable fashion in order to take steps forward.

Talking about fashion isn’t silly or superficial. Social expectations, supply chain realities, personal preference, and financial situations all contribute to how we spend money on fashion items. And how we shop has real-life consequences for people and ecosystems all over the world.

Because shopping is a big part of many people’s lives, paying attention to consumption makes a difference. At the very least, it can help us build a habit of thinking through each purchase before buying mindlessly.

Below, the pros and cons of sustainable fashion, starting with the cons…

Cons of Sustainable Fashion

Here are some downsides to sustainable fashion:

  1. Cost: Sustainable fashion often comes with a higher price tag compared to fast fashion. This can be a barrier for some consumers who may not be able to afford it.
  2. Limited options: The selection of sustainable fashion may be limited, especially in comparison to fast fashion brands that can produce a larger volume of styles and designs.
  3. Time: It can take longer for sustainable fashion brands to produce their products, as they may use slower, more labor-intensive processes and may prioritize ethical and environmentally friendly practices over speed.
  4. Social stigma: Some people may view sustainable fashion as “hippie” or “granola,” which can be a barrier to adoption for some consumers.
  5. Difficulty in identifying truly sustainable fashion: It can be challenging for consumers to determine which brands are truly committed to sustainability and which ones are merely greenwashing their products.
  6. Supply chain transparency: Some sustainable fashion brands may not have fully transparent supply chains, which can make it difficult for consumers to know exactly where and how their clothes were made.

It’s important to acknowledge the cons of sustainable fashion because it helps the industry figure out how to improve.

As individual consumers, it also helps us be clear on our own limitations. Ethical and sustainable fashion requires compromise, because it is impossible to be the perfect consumer.

What are the cons of sustainable fashion that keep you from purchasing?

Pros of Sustainable Fashion

person squeezes water and blue dye out of cloth - pros and cons sustainable fashion

Here are some of the upsides of sustainable fashion:

  1. Environmental benefits: Sustainable fashion is generally better for the environment because it reduces the use of resources, generates less waste, and has a smaller carbon footprint compared to fast fashion.
  2. Social benefits: Sustainable fashion often prioritizes ethical labor practices, including fair wages and safe working conditions for the people who make our clothes.
  3. Quality: Sustainable fashion brands often use higher quality materials and construction techniques, which can result in garments that last longer and need to be replaced less frequently.
  4. Personal values: Many people find that they align with the values of sustainable fashion and want to support brands that share their commitment to sustainability.
  5. Increased awareness: By choosing sustainable fashion, consumers can help raise awareness about the negative impacts of fast fashion and the benefits of sustainable practices.
  6. Innovation: The sustainable fashion industry is constantly innovating and finding new ways to reduce its environmental impact, which can lead to the development of new and improved products.

Overall, sustainable fashion has many upsides, including environmental and social benefits, durability, and style and fashionability. As the demand for sustainable fashion continues to grow, it is likely that more brands and designers will start incorporating sustainable practices into their operations, making it easier for consumers to find and support sustainable fashion options.

How to Shop Sustainably

woman stands by window looking at two different shirts - pros and cons sustainable fashion

So what now? Are you interested in making some changes toward sustainable fashion?

Here are some of my tips:

I don’t advocate for a super strict sustainable lifestyle because having too many rules can backfire. You want some particular sustainable values and boundaries, but you also want to buy smart. I have found over many years of doing this that my top values for shopping are secondhand, good fit, and natural materials. Once I can check off those three, I will narrow down further.

If I can’t check off every value, I make the best choice I can within my limitations. And then, I move forward from that purchase without regret, knowing that shopping smart and getting exactly what I want means I won’t feel tempted to over-consume.

And on that note, the very best change we can make for sustainability is to stop buying far beyond our needs. If shopping is something you do frequently (like it was for me), it may be worth setting limits on your shopping budget or taking an inventory of what you have before doing anything else.

After you take an inventory of your ethical and sustainable values, check out my shopping guides for alternatives to favorite brands.

And let me know what your plans are for shopping in the new year!

Leah Wise is the founder of StyleWise Blog. She has been writing, speaking, and consulting on sustainable fashion, the fair trade and secondhand supply chain, and digital marketing for over ten years. An Episcopal priest, Leah holds a B.A. in Religion from Florida State University and an M.Div. from Yale Divinity School. When not working, you can find her looking for treasures at the thrift store.

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