Sustainability Bingo: Dispelling the Myths
If you follow me (or Cora, or Aja or, really, anyone who talks about sustainable fashion on a regular basis) you’ve probably started to detect a…bit of a theme when it comes to sustainability naysayers (or “susty-nays”, as I absolutely do not call them in my head). Whether it’s a lack of knowledge, or just blatant ignorance, you can—with frightening accuracy—predict the responses you’ll get to any portion of the sustainable fashion conversation, no matter how you phrase it or what legitimate sources you include to back it up.
While I do enjoy arguing on the internet, I’m getting a little tired of sounding like a broken record: constantly restating the same facts to people who don’t care, anyway. I would rather continue to educate and kiki about these topics with people who are receptive and fun. But, I still need to get the last word, and so, I present to you:
Sustainability Bingo! I compiled twenty-four (not including the free space) myths and outright lies about ethical and sustainable fashion that I (and probably you) often encounter in the Wild Wild West that is social media, and I’m here to debunk them all so that we can move on from the most basic part of the slow fashion conversation and focus on the fun stuff like wearing all the cute clothes that exist outside of fast fashion retailers.
"Sustainable brands don't sell plus sizes!"
Of course, this had to be number one, because, while it is patently false, I don’t think people realize just how false it is. Never mind the fact that I’ve yet to see many fast fashion retailers sell clothing beyond a 3X or US22-26, I feel you simply can’t have looked too far if you can’t find any independent brands that sell plus sizes even beyond what the mainstream considers to be plus size (The Curvy Fashionista publishes lists of them fairly regularly).
There’s Wray which sells beautiful, vintage-inspired pieces up to a size 6X, Big Bud Press with their unisex, western-inspired basics up to 7X, even Loud Bodies with their ruffly-romantic, voluminous garments up to a 10X (yes, ten). Whether or not those and other actually-size-inclusive brands are specifically within the fast fashion price range is a different story (sometimes!), they (and many more) certainly exist, and there’s definitely one for your specific tastes. (Also, a lot of them like Lucy and Yak have some great sales and can be found on secondhand sites for even less). *shameless plug* My Where 2 Shop brand list has dozens, and I’ve even written about how to find them on your own.
"Everyone should just sew their own clothes."
I think people that say this lack both hindsight and foresight. I’ve been sewing for most of my life: the cost to even get started, let alone get good is prohibitive for many, not to mention, sewing well requires a surprising amount of physicality that everyone isn’t capable of. Beyond that, some garments just need specialized production. And beyond even that, everybody just doesn’t want to.
I believe everyone should learn basic mending at the very least if they are able, but there’s nothing wrong with making the personal decision to leave garment production up to the professionals if your heart’s not in it. (Also, the raw textile industry produces a fair amount of waste, too, even without the added bonus of making those millions of yards of fabric into clothing.)
"Poor people need fast fashion."
Hmm…which poor people? The ones in Western countries who wanna look trendy on a budget, or the ones that do the back breaking work of cutting, dyeing and sewing those trendy clothes for pennies a day?
People—including myself—have been poor for a long time and we’ve managed clothing ourselves before Shein, Forever 21, even Zara. There have always been discount retailers and there still are. The keyword is: discount. The clothes in stores like Marshall’s, Ross, and even the clearance racks at department stores are inexpensive because they’re discounted from the more reasonable regular price, as opposed to the regular price being dirt cheap because of hyper-exploitation and cutting every possible corner to shave cents off the cost. That’s not to say they’re inherently ethical (more on that in a later post), but they’re not inherently unethical the way fast fashion is.
"Sustainability is just about the environment."
When sustainability first became a part of the collective lexicon and spawned an entire movement back in the late-80s, its focus was on giving disadvantaged (read: exploited) nations the means to catch up to richer (read: exploitative) nations via better access to resources like food, clean water, and energy. The UN defines it as “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” While those needs come from the environment, the point is to empower people to actually be able to, you know, live.
"Sustainability is expensive."
Sustainability is not something to buy, it’s how you approach the things you already buy. It’s 100% free!
"No ethical consumption under capitalism."
Doesn’t that imply that you should try to consume less, then?
"Non-fast fashion brands are exploitative, too!"
The fashion industry, like most industries, is generally exploitative. That’s just capitalism, baby. But, just like in other industries that we literally require everyday like food and energy, there are more people truly trying to do better than you may think. There’s a whole host of certifications that brands can obtain to prove they’re trying, too.
"Corporations are the ones who need to fix this."
Corporations don’t do anything that doesn’t make them money. Without consumers shifting our habits and demanding better from both the industry and the government that should be governing said industry, nothing’s gonna change.
"Well, you're not perfect, either!"
Sustainability is not about everybody being perfect, it’s about everybody trying their best.
"Sustainable brands are boring."
My favorite handmade, small batch, sustainably and ethically made brand has a sweater covered in nipples. Like I said, there’s a sustainable brand for everyone.
"Everybody can't buy secondhand."
The secondhand market is not just clothing: there’s shoes, bags, homewares, furniture, books, even art at your local thrift store (and online). Everyone can replace at least one, if not a lot of their purchases with secondhand items. But also, most people have plenty of options at thrift stores—both online and IRL—too. You just have to know how to find them.
"Everybody should just thrift everything."
Okay, yeah, I did just say everyone should replace at least one purchase with something secondhand, but, while there’s plenty of used clothing on earth and we should always try to save as much as we can from landfills…it’s just not realistic for everyone on the planet to only buy old stuff. There’s clothing for needs that go beyond size that don’t exist in enough abundance to even make it to thrift stores and, at the end of the day, a lot of stuff people get rid of is just ugly and/or poor quality.
While I personally buy like 95% of my clothing secondhand, I can still acknowledge that there will always be demand for new items. I mean, for one thing, who’s buying used underwear…I mean…who else?
FREE SPACE: “I don’t care.”
Thank you for your honesty.
"Clothes made in Asia are inherently unethical."
Asia is not a monolith, just like any other continent that’s home to 4.6 billion people. There are ethical manufacturers everywhere in the world. That said, even in countries with a more favorable currency conversion (i.e. the dollar goes further), doing things the right way still costs quite a bit more than treating people like s**t.
While we’re here, though, there’s an inverse of this statement that also needs to be addressed: clothing made in America/The UK/Canada is also not inherently ethical or better than those produced in China. While panties made in prisons is no longer a thing (allegedly), sweatshops do exist right here in the US. Some progress has been made to eradicate them but, until there’s widespread change there won’t be any, you know…widespread change.
"Luxury brands are more sustainable."
You mean the luxury brands that burn their unsold merchandise, purposely obscure where their garments are manufactured and (allegedly) use slave labor?
While there are ethical luxury brands, legacy brands like Gucci, Balenciaga, Burberry and Louis Vuitton (among others) don’t make that list. While you personally purchasing luxury may be the most sustainable option for you personally (spending a lot of money on items tends to force us to take better care of them), don’t assume that higher price tags means better practices.
"Fast fashion brands can be sustainable."
A fast fashion brand is one that, due to extremely fast turn around times and huge order quantities that drive down the cost of making garments, can not only drop dozens, if not hundreds of styles constantly, but also charge as little as possible for them while still making billions. If a company with that business model changes a single thing about how they operate to be more sustainable, it is no longer fast fashion. In other words: fast fashion as an industry is inherently unsustainable and cannot exist without great exploitation. You know I wrote about why already so gone ‘head and read it.
"Sustainability is about not wearing fast fashion."
Sustainability is about wearing what you have. If all you have is fast fashion, then do you really think I’m gonna tell you to just throw it away?
"How do you even find sustainable brands?"
Glad you asked! I wrote a guide to finding them and also a list of them!
"Why do you care so much about Shein?"
I don’t know. Maybe it’s the unethical production, the blatant stealing of smaller creators’ work, the cheap prices that encourage reckless overconsumption or maybe the fact that they do all of these things to such a scale that their production output dwarfs literally every other retailer in the world. Even Amazon. It is better to shop anywhere else. EVEN AMAZON.
"Vegan leather is all plastic."
The cheap stuff? Sure. But there are truly vegan and eco friendly brands using materials like cork, recycled rubber, tree bark, fruit, vegetables and even paper to make gorgeous products. Paguro, AC Official, and Ilvy Jacobs are some small brands making some cool stuff.
"Thrifting takes clothes from poor people."
Clothing may not be an infinite resource, but it sure isn’t as finite as people think. The average thrift store throws away 60-80% of donations because they won’t or don’t sell. Increasing turnover keeps more clothes from the landfill while giving everyone more chances to actually find cute clothes!
"You can only overconsume fast fashion."
Fast fashion is priced the way it is specifically to encourage people at all income levels to overconsume, but, if you have enough money, you can buy too much of anything. It may seem aspirational to become a millionaire just so you can have one of those huge walk in closets stuffed so full of designer you never have to be seen in the same outfit twice but it’s actually super gross and wasteful so don’t do that.
"Polyester is inherently bad."
While most things should be made from natural fibers, not everything can. Issey Miyake’s (RIP) famous pleats wouldn’t be possible without polyester because natural fabrics simply cannot hold shape like that. Athletic wear that needs to account for both movement and moisture can’t be made of just cotton; and elastic and stretch materials are almost always synthetic.
That said, a lot of things don’t need to be polyester, especially if cost is not an issue. While I’m way more likely to buy vintage polyester, it all kinda sucks for things like summer dresses that need to be breathable, and things with polyester linings are uncomfortable and sticky. Like most things, polyester is a great innovation with many uses, but, we just had to overdo it.
"We can just recycle excess clothes."
You know how you can’t recycle some paper because of how it’s been printed on? Or some plastics because of how they’re made? I got some bad news about, like, 80% of clothes.
Besides the fact that actual humans are required to remove things like zippers, buttons, some stitching (most clothing uses polyester thread, so it would need to be removed if the item is not also polyester and even then), and any embellishments or hardware: you can’t recycle anything that isn’t just one thing. That is to say, it has to be all cotton, all linen, all polyester (and typically the same type of polyester, so no elastane/lycra) or all whatever in a world where most of our clothes are a blend of something.
Textile recycling is a growing industry, but it’s extremely expensive due to both the labor required to sort and the rest of the process, meaning it’s actually cheaper to just make something new. And even recycled polyester garments typically require some virgin fibers to strengthen it.
"Dupes are harmless."
To put it simply, supporting knock-offs of independent designers (that’s what they are. “Dupes” are meant to be inspired by, not blatant copies of) is stealing artists’ livelihoods. I’ve heard all the arguments: “well, it’s too expensive,” “they don’t make my size, anyway,” “poor people deserve nice things,” and, simply put, you’re wrong.
Knock offs are cheap because copying things means you don’t have to pay someone to come up with ideas or experiment with how to make them reality cause someone already did the work. Most independent brands don’t have the resources or finances to produce thousands of garments to make money back by volume, so it’s inherently more expensive, especially if they’re not exploiting labor. Adding more sizes costs money, and knock-offs aren’t nice. I know, it sucks to see something cool and not be able to access it. But that’s not an excuse.
If designers—true creators of new ideas—can’t make a living, then over time, all that’s gonna be left is regurgitated reissues of old ideas as we run out of actual original garments to copy. The people who seem to think the fashion industry is made up of just Shein and Gucci will finally be vindicated. Is that really a world you want? Where art can’t thrive because it’s immediately ripped off to make billionaires richer while designers starve?
Didn’t think so. Now, let’s play some bingo!