As part of One Planet Week, the University hosted a screening of Andrew Morgan’s documentary The True Cost, showcasing the social and environmental damage of the ever-growing fast fashion industry in all its glory. It made for upsetting but crucially unforgettable viewing. Morgan followed the lives of those worst impacted by fast fashion, from Bangladeshi factory worker Shima Akhter, whom had been physically attacked after demanding basic working rights, to an organic cotton farmer in Texas, whose husband died of a brain tumour likely caused by prolonged exposure to pesticides.
The takeaway message was clear: in order to invoke change, consumers need to cease supporting the fashion giants who are perpetuating poor working conditions and using unsustainable materials. As I surveyed the bare lecture theatre and pulled at my own Primark jumper however, I left wondering just how easy these consumer choices can be when you are a broke university student.
Most sustainable and ethical brands are simply unaffordable. The idea of buying high- quality investment pieces to last from such brands may be an appealing concept, but when an investment piece equals your weekly budget, this just is not practical. A white shirt made of 50 percent organic cotton and 50 percent modal cotton from Thought Clothing will set you back £49.90, while a similar shirt from H&M made of 100 percent processed cotton will only cost you £12.99.
What’s more, these popular but unethical high street brands are the ones which offer student discounts, for example via UNiDAYS, which makes treating yourself to that new going out top you don’t need that little bit more tempting.
Limited funds seem to equal limited buying power when it comes to purchasing new clothes; the real power of the ethical student buyer lies in the old. As well as highlighting poor working conditions and the pollution caused by fast fashion production, The True Cost also shows viewers the shocking scale of clothing wastage. WRAP estimates that the UK population throws away £140 million worth of clothes every year. Morgan’s documentary featured shots panning over huge landfill sites dominated by ditched garments; it seems that as a society, we view clothing as something to be consumed and used up, rather than something to be valued and cherished, and overconsumption can only lead to wastage.
Charity shopping can feel so worth it when you manage to snag some amazing items for a bargain price - corduroy trousers would normally set you back around £40 in Urban Outfitters, but my own from Cancer Research were a bargain at £6. Vintage Vera’s kilo sale is a monthly event at York’s Central Methodist Church which, as the name suggests, sells items by weight. Look out for next year’s One Planet week as this year, events included an organised clothes swap. This is brilliant as according to The True Cost only 10 percent of donated clothing is actually sold in high street charity shops. By cutting out the middle man, you immediately get some garments in return and can rest assured that someone is enjoying your old ones.
But if you’re searching for something specific and simply don’t have the time to go trawling until you find it, Depop could be your saviour. The mobile app’s layout is like that of Instagram, making it easy to save your favourite items for later and communicate with sellers. This is your best bet if you have a weakness for certain high street brands but want to keep a cleaner conscience. For example, I bought some once-worn Superga trainers for £20 (originally worth £60) from a Depop seller. Another option is ASOS marketplace, which is full of curated vintage shops where you should be able to find just about anything you could want. However, this curation tends to come at a higher cost. Depop tends to be cheaper, as many sellers are poor students like ourselves who simply want some quick cash.
What’s more, some ethical brands use Depop to minimise wastage and sell imperfect or faulty products. A good example of this is Lucy and Yak, a brand well known for their colourful and quirky dungarees. Their Depop outlet @lucyandyak lists items at a reduced price, making them more affordable on a tight budget. For example, a pair of sample sale dungarees may cost £38, as opposed to the full retail price of £60. While this is still expensive, it’s good to be aware of this option if you’re lusting after certain pieces.When fast fashion is cheap, convenient, and targeted at young people, as a student making sustainable choices can seem impossible.
After all, what difference will a few students boycotting huge brands do? Well, in supporting ethical brands and charities, we are choosing not to put money in the pockets of businessmen who exploit farmers and workers abroad. Our clothes can express more than our style - it is a matter of ethics. The true cost of sustainable fashion need not be high.