sustainability and ethics as a commodity

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As another NYC fashion week comes to an end, I am left wondering -  What has the sustainable and ethical fashion scene become? Has it transformed from a movement into a product used by companies to morally justify consumerism, superiority, and at times opulence?

There has been recent talk in the marketing and advertising industries that health, wellness, and sustainability are the “new” luxury. People don’t need $1,000 Louis Vuitton bags anymore when it’s much more chill to show of their weekly cupping session wounds for a cool $250 a pop. I didn’t want to believe it, but this fashion week confirmed the whispers that sustainability and ethics are no longer moral codes, but products to be bought and sold. Like Kylie Jenner wearing a Slayer shirt and stating “I don’t know how anyone can listen to heavy metal”, the eco-lifestyle can now be purchased for a premium and worn as a badge of carefully calculated altruism.

sustainability and ethics as a commodity

All these eco-fashion events are basically giant pop-up shops set to the tune of bad house music or a panel of experts, which usually just ends up being bloggers who are paid to promote the clothes or the designers who are there to sell their clothes. At the last event, I went to, I walked the crowded room from booth to booth making my way through overly dressed fashion students, and I felt kind of sad. It didn't feel genuine, it felt like the same formula, over and over. The movement that started out trying to promote the little guy and DIY mentality felt mass produced.

formula for eco-fashion

  1. Let’s start with the company name, insert clever foreign sounding, but not too foreign name. Example - Oh, our brand in means “love” in African or “peace” in Hindi (eye roll)
  2. Next up, pick a third world country to manufacture in, any third world country will do. As long as they are poor and we can help save them.
  3. Step three, photos of the poor people - What are they, animals in a zoo? Have you ever tried asking one of these brands the name of the person in their photo? 99.9% of the time they have no clue.
  4. Lastly, here comes the sales pitch - buy our insanely marked up product if you want to change the world

With a few photos, an exotic sounding brand name, and the promise to "be the change" all of these companies sell their wares under the guise that buying their product makes you a social warrior that is saving the world. Being sustainable and ethical is a label like a hipster, yuppie, or goth and it’s up for sale.

The people who buy into this mentality of perception, that the right things equate to the right lifestyle are the same people that run around in yoga pants but, never actually go to the gym. They give the illusion of a lifestyle, without actually having to live that life.

We need to look past the conversation of simply saying - yea, it’s fair trade and made by villagers in Peru - and ask, what’s the whole story? What can I do to get involved in the movement? Maybe it’s giving up plastic straws or palm oil - we need to remember sustainability and ethics are about action, not about the clothes we wear. We need to see through the idea that wearing an organic shirt does not make us ethical, there is still more work to be done in our day to day lifestyles.

appropriation celebrated as creativity 

I could go on and on about this topic, but I will leave you with this one antidote.

To spare everyone some embarrassment I will keep the event and name of the company anonymous. There was a Russian born designer who takes mass produced clothes and adds details to them like beading. Sounds kind of cool, like a DIY revamp of your current wardrobe. So, I get a little closer to check it out. She is in full Africa garb, colorful African printed shirt, dreadlocks, bangles, necklaces. It looked like a tribe dressed her for the occasion. I’m sure most of you can see where I am going with this. On her table were books of African and Indian designs that she was copying and beading onto the clothes. I asked her how long she spent in Africa since that was clearly her aesthetic. As soon as the words left my mouth I immediately thought - god please tell me you have been there. Her response “ I have never been to Africa, but I use their designs because we are all children of Africa” Cue my exit from the event. Girl, are you serious? I bet you have a headdress for music festivals in your closet too. It’s like Rachel Dolezel 2.0. 

Why are these types of blatant appropriation still happening? Is it because we are buying into the notion that garments that scream tribal or ethnic, give off the perception we are empathetic, well versed and well traveled, "children of the world" that care about the issues? 

inflated prices

I can’t wrap my mind around a $600 price tag for a garment. If these designers, companies, and their cult following of consumers, really cared about the people behind the clothes, how could they, in good conscious be throwing that much money around?

As companies, if you really feel connected to these places and want to help people, how can you be so greedy? Why is a movement, that literally everyone on the planet should be participating in, (cough, cough, let's try to end climate change) now an exclusive aesthetic with a high price of entry?

Consumers, let me tell you a secret. The person who was paid to make that dress, let’s use India as an example, only makes $292 a month. YUP, that’s the livable wage in India $292, LIVABLE not minimum. That’s what Fair Trade gets you. That’s $11 per day of work given a 6 day a week work calendar, I bet most of us spent more on the cab just getting to the event! And, you’re spending $600 for the dress they made. Do you see the disconnect here?  It’s madness.

my vision for the future

I want to see an end to the exploitation, fueled by brands like Goop, who put false premiums on dirt cheap products and call appropriation creativity.

So, skip the bull shit. You don’t need to buy a $600 dress to save the world, just say no thank you. There are brands that are making affordable conscious clothing. Support them. And with the money you save try stopping by a local shelter to buy someone something they really need. Like socks, underwear, or a warm coat instead of donating your used sequin halter top.

Let’s not be the kind of people that would rather talk about change, than make actual change.

This weeks blog post photo is a close up for the 1,000 rupee note. It serves as a reminder of factory worker's daily pay.

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  • You certainly give us all something to think about.

    Elle D on
  • Totally agree! This is exactly what I am about. So refreshing to hear someone else’s take on the fashion industry. Being an ex fashion retailer myself (and I’ve been on the other end) – it’s all BUY BUY BUY. CONSUME CONSUME CONSUME – at what cost? The first economy on which our lives rest is natures economy AND that has not become a commodity! You could very well say that the fashion industry is making climate change fashionable. I so enjoyed your article – we need to collaborate. I’ll send you a message. Keep up the awesome! Lidia x

    Lidia on
  • Entirely, perfectly on point. Well said.

    Jennifer Nielsen on

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