Shopping Sustainably by Class

Throughout my five or so years investigating how to live sustainably, comfortably, and aesthetically beautiful, I’ve received one consistent criticism: money.

I spend time with many low income individuals, and usually their first concern when I mention any new idea of personal spending habits is, “Yeah, but that needs money.”

So to solve this problem, this post will outline how you can contribute to the material sustainability movement no matter what class you are in and still meet the goals of responsible shopping, style, prestige, and fun experimentation.

Low Income

For individuals looking to save money, thrifting has always been a sustainable habit. Thrifting reduces the tons of textile waste created by individuals who donate gently used (or even brand new) clothes each year to the secondhand industry, that often goes into landfills when they do not sell. At this point in the developed fashion world, you do not have to worry about thrifting brands that lack prestige or quality, because there are so many tiers of resale shops devoted to clothing.

The industry recognizes that clothing is an important part of young people’s lives, so there are resale shops devoted to fast fashion mall brands (which often boil down to costs under $5 for your regular Forever 21 v-neck or t-shirt), upper level mall brands (like Ann Taylor, which can be found at your fast fashion or designer shops), and designer thrift (where you may find some lower tier, mass produced designers like J Brand all the way to your upper tier which include Versace and Armani).

I am finding these days that Goodwill is increasingly getting more high quality clothing.

This method helps if you are a college student or simply do not have money. You have the option of increasing style, remaining uninvolved in style (which many people do), or switching.

Cons: This method does take a lot of work to get to the point where you can walk into a store and pick out a Versace coat in about 15 minutes, but it can and will happen. I have spent about five years educating myself on my unique style, fit, cut, fabric, brands of clothing so that I can instantly recognize a piece that I would love in the middle of a messy, ugly, unorganized thrift store.

Pros: It is incredibly rewarding. The entire process of thrifting and working hard to become good at it satisfies your desire to have things specifically tailored for yourself. Every piece you pick is unique as a thrifter. You picked it out for yourself. There were not 60 of the same items on the same rack so you have satisfaction knowing you got the last piece.

Upper Class 

I believe that this class bears the most responsibility in the clothing industry, and for any industry. This class has the only power to choose any product on the market, depending on your level of wealth. It is best if this class be educated on the effects of clothing so they do not continue to blindly lead the industry into unsustainable practices.

Newer technologies and innovative business strategies take more money to carry out when first introduced into the market. That is why when you go to Bed Bath & Beyond and you look at bed sheets, the tencel and bamboo sateen that conforms to your body temperature costs around $200 while your basic cotton sateen costs anywhere between $50-$150.

Textile engineers are currently experimenting with different fabric technologies that meet the modern criteria of sustainability and luxurious feel but also low cost. (Listen to the podcast, Awear World, for interviews from professionals in the fashion industry). The lower class has minimal ability to be able to make such an extravagant purchase, even it may be the most innovatively sustainable we have. Therefore, it is only up to the wealthy to make the vote in their dollar purchases when purchasing all new materials. Personally, I think the way of textile purchasing should be more black and white, on the resale/new spectrum. There are so many materials being produced that are thrown away precisely because they are made to be thrown away.

Cons: This takes a lot of time to learn and takes away time for the affluent individuals who have serious careers (that may be why they are so rich). Good news is that there are resources that are readily available to check companies on their sustainability impact, like from GreenPeace or other apps. Stay up to date with magazines, like Shop Ethica, or Florum Magazine for visual ideas (which I am about to be published on).

The reuse concept must be applied much more than the paper in your blue bin.

Middle Class

The middle class may employ both techniques, depending on your status of wealth. If you are upper middle class, you can often participate in both. Your culture will probably be extendable to a more diverse range of people, so dressing a certain way to fit into a class is not that much of a priority, while the upper class maintains a standard of dress (at times), and the lower class shies away from such a concept.

Teamwork of the Classes 

The lower class I view as the exploratory class. They may clean up the industry through their secondhand purchases. The wealthy should be the most educated in order to pass along a responsibly created garment down to the lower tiers. The wealthy class steers the direction of the industry. All classes should be researching and educated about the making of their products and the way their consumerist practices impacts the environment and individuals creating them.

General tips for all: avoid fast fashion and certain mass produced designer brands for NEW material (Michael Kors) as much as possible. If you do, purchase sparingly, purchasing only signature, unique items that fit that brand. But purchase sparingly and unique to you for any company you shop at.

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