Is ethical clothing for those with privilege?

Dear Reader,

"Fast Fashion can be defined as cheap, trendy clothing, that samples ideas from the catwalk or celebrity culture and turns them into garments in high street stores at breakneck speed." - Good On You

As you may well be aware, the fashion industry and the way we shop is really REALLY not great for our planet or the people on it.

A few basic issues caused and enhanced by our persistent participation in 'fast fashion' include:

1. Notoriously poor treatment and working conditions for garment factory workers, as well as severe underpayment.

In Pakistan's garment sector, 87% of women are paid less than the minimum wage (Global Fashion Agenda, 2017).

250,000 Indian cotton farmers have killed themselves in the last 15 years due to the stress of debt they accumulated through buying genetically modified cotton seeds to reach demand. (The True Cost)

2. Vast greenhouse gas emissions from production, manufacture and shipping

Carbon Emissions generated by the clothing of the Average UK household is equivalent to driving an average modern car for 6,000 miles (WRAP, 2011)

3. chemical waste polluting water sources and leaching into soils, as well as other pollution

Farmers in China living close to garment factories make jokes about being able to tell what colour will be 'in' next season by looking at the colour of their rivers (Refinery 29)

85% of the plastic pollution in the ocean consists of microfibres from synthetic clothing.

4. ...not to mention the vast amount of water and energy needed to make just a single garment.

 2700 L for a single t-shirt, enough drinking water to last someone 900 days

5. gross overproduction of clothing, meaning that there are currently far too many garments already made for our population, the majority of which tend up taking up space in landfills.

85% of textiles end up in landfills (21 Billion tons)

6. Vast amounts of money are spent on clothes, this 2.5 trillion dollar industry feeds huge corporations who continue to stimulate these issues as they grow, disguising their atrocities behind 'greenwashing'* scams and promises of 'made of 90% recycled materials.'

* Greenwashing is the process of conveying a false impression or providing misleading information about how a company's products are more environmentally sound. - Investopedia.

WATCH OUT! Even the brands you think are investing in becoming more ethical and sustainable aren't. Just one case of this was when H&M set up quite a few 'sustainable schemes', one such example was 'Conscious Collection', where you gain points for bringing in clothes for them to recycle for new garments. It was revealed in 2017 that they in fact burned about 19 tons (equivalent to 50,000 pairs of jeans) of donated clothing.


If you couldn't already tell - I am rather riled up about fast fashion.

This is coming from someone who until recently, almost exclusively shopped in Primark, one of the worst offenders on the highstreet, and would spend hundreds of pounds a year on as many cheap items of clothing as I could.

I'm in no way trying to say here I'm now superior up here on my ethical clothing high horse and never touch the highstreet. The nature of fast fashion is for new styles to constantly come in and prices to stay temptingly low - and I definitely still am tempted when I go into the shopping center.

I remember being vaguely aware of the ethical problems that garment factory workers faced, particularly in Primark, but would resolutely ignore it as I continued to enjoy shopping there - an extremely privileged thing to be able to do in itself. I don't know when things changed for me specifically, but I think as I began to engage with sustainable accounts on social media and studied Geography at a higher level, I have become more aware of the true ethical shambles of fast fashion socially and economically, as well as  fashion's role in the climate crisis. Now I am increasingly uncomfortable when buying new clothes to slot into my already overflowing wardrobe.

Nowadays, I tend to buy almost everything second hand. Whether that be off depop or charity shopping, I feel ten times better about buying clothes when I know its already been worn and I'm not buying into the production of another unnecessary item of clothing. Often, it can be cheaper than buying something brand new too. I also buy a lot less than I used to - trying to slim down my wardrobe and ensure I am actually wearing everything in it!

The other option is to buy clothes from ethical stores. Some of my favourites include @amykloch on depop, Lucy and Yak and SZ blockprints.

Ethical clothing is generally more expensive because:

  •  Garments are produced by workers who are paid a fair wage.
  •  Threads, dyes and materials used are ethically sourced and also paid for properly, and generally of a higher quality and/or organic. 
  • The scale of production is often a lot smaller as businesses have smaller teams and better working conditions, meaning more hours are spend creating a product and therefore bumping up the cost yet again. 
This form of consumption, however, is what has lead many people into the argument of whether or not ethical clothing is for the privileged.

Perhaps, I am the worst person to be writing this. I'm hugely a privileged middle class white woman who can afford to sustain living in a city and going to university, so it feels rather hypocritical and somewhat unfair to be sat here in my Lucy and Yak dungarees my parents kindly got me for Christmas blabbing on about how we should all buy ethical garments, when for some people, it just isn't a viable option.

Being conscious of this, I feel like my words should be taken with a pinch of salt. I also think that with this self-awareness in mind I am able to engage with varying perspectives more and explore this argument further. Even though I'm aware of the benefits of fast fashion, I still tend to stick to second hand clothing rather than buying new ethical numbers and supporting these small sustainable businesses. I think this is because I still have a highstreet mentality. Quantity over quality - and am put off by higher prices on my student budget. I'm so used to getting new clothes constantly and am still addicted to bargains and shopping in the sales.

Upon researching further and collecting my thoughts, however, I've decided that it doesn't have to be that way. Not all ethical clothing is extortionate, and compared to big designer labels many people insist on owning - its cheap as chips. Second hand clothing is generally a lot cheaper too. When researching for this article, I found that many people didn't like buying second hand clothes because they feel 'dirty', the clothes looked outdated and it was harder to find anything but ceramic poodles and 'Now that's what I call music' CDs at their local charity shop, which I can totally relate to.

However, with apps like eBay and depop, it's easier now to find things in your style at highstreet prices. This is all well and good, however, I am still aware of the privilege which pervades even on these sites. Since becoming a frequent buyer and seller on depop, I've found that there is a large demographic on the site selling 'vintage' or 'thrifted' pieces for higher prices - the type of thing you'd find in vintage style charity shops. Much like instagram, some users on depop are almost like 'influencers', their pages racking up tens of thousands of followers. Although this is fine to an extent, a lot of them use the 'retro' 'vintage' craze to mark up the prices of some crummy pyjama top they found in the £1 bin at their local 'Cancer Research' charity shop - selling them for a lot more than what they got them, and they are actually worth. This frustrates me.

I can understand making a thrifting business on depop, and getting profit for clothes you no longer want, however, by buying up clothes in charity shops that are affordable for people with lower income who want to shop more sustainably, and getting tonnes of profit off them because you have made a name for yourself on social media seems highly unethical to me.

So, in conclusion, ethical and sustainable fashion can be accessible if you are willing to put more time and effort into buying clothes. However, it would be incorrect to assume that there is no privilege entangled with even seemingly 'ethical' routes of purchase. Privilege is everywhere. However, I hope that as greater numbers of people boycott the highstreet and think more about what they're buying or choose second hand clothing and start consuming less, then ethical fashion will continue to become more accessible.

Hebe x

Photo by Becca McHaffie on Unsplash


  1. Lovely, important post Heebs! I'm definitely guilty of too much fast fashion and it's something I want to get better at. Thank you for talking about such an important issue xx

    1. Thanks so much evs - means the world! Me too - I think it's definitely a process of mentality shift that we'll all get adjusted to over time xx

  2. I loved this Hebes, I think as students it is so easy to eer towards fast fashion because it is cheap. It is definitely a mental process to switch our attitudes, as it can be so tempting to buy more clothes that amount to a lower amount of money. Depop has definitely helped me progress further towards this shift, as you know I LOVE a bargain!! Xx

    Lauren | Sincerely, Lauren Emily

    1. So glad you liked it Loz, It really isn't easy to avoid the bargains! Especially when brands lure you in with promises such as recycled garments that they don't truly uphold! Depop is such a great option - I'm on it constantly lol x

  3. This is such an important topic; and one I am looking at covering on my own blog soon. As Emily said above; it is so tempting to delve into purchasing from fast fashion retailers just because they are cheap but it's more important to have a mindset of investing in clothes from ethical producers for the long run. I get what you mean about Depop; it is so frustrating when something is labelled as 'vintage' when it's so obviously not - or something you can pick up from the charity shop for 50p. I like buying from UK independent brands, either local to me or via Instagram searching etc - the clothes made by the stores I go to are so cute and well made and are completely fairly priced. That's another issue - with the expectation of prices being low; as consumers we fail to realise WHY prices are so low and it's through exploitation of land and people. It's a subject I could go on about for days, but I'll end my comment here. Really thoroughly enjoyed reading this post, thank you for sharing it!

    Paige // Paige Eades

    1. Thanks so much, I'm glad you enjoyed the post, I hope to do more in the future! I'll definitely keep a look out for your upcoming take on your blog. Instagram shopping is something I've only recently become aware of an I think its so great! I now get so many ads for sustainable, ethical and local businesses! Unexpectedly, I've found a lot of handmade small businesses on tiktok too lol. I could go on and on as you say, so I think I'll defo have to do another post on the topic - this one was already so long and I felt like I could say so much more x

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