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Sustainable fashion is eco-friendly, lacks inclusion

The climate crisis is not going away anytime soon. With legislators discussing it in the United Nations, cities globally are steadily finding ways to combat their carbon footprint.

The everyday concern of citizens has sparked a new wave toward sustainable products. Yet with inflation, rising costs, and global fights for inclusion, modern sustainability companies may add to problems instead of fixing them. 

Sustainability Defined

In 1987, the United Nations Brundtland Commission defined sustainability as “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” 

Within sustainability, three pillars are used to measure the strength of a sustainable system. If any pillar is out of line, then an organization or product is unsustainable. The three sections include social, environmental and economic sustainability.

The environmental pillar encompasses the commitment to improving the quality of life and protecting ecosystems through environmental management. Social sustainability mostly relates to maintaining a great level of social well-being, currently and in the future. A sustainable economy reflects citizens' ability to live normally while affording necessities like food and housing. Businesses under a sustainable economy are defined as viable companies or organizations that use sustainable practices to minimize costs while maximizing profits. 

These pillars align a growing economy with the protection of public health, interests and the environment, improving the Earth’s health and its inhabitants. However, while the foundations of sustainability are a utopian dream, many have pointed out that real conversations surrounding sustainable products and brands may lack inclusivity.

Inclusivity of sustainable fashion

Fashion has seen a fair share of trends and campaigns come and go, especially regarding body size. Clothing brands often gear their products to slimmer body types and sliming procedures are grabbing consumers’ attention. Yet, it does not erase the existence of plus-size people and their desire for flattering clothing. 

Many who are plus-size sometimes rely on fast fashion, a quick clothing creation method not entirely eco-friendly. Marielle Elizabeth, a writer interested in the intersection of ethical and plus-size clothing, told Refinery29 she believed it was unfair to hold plus-size consumers to the same standards as straight-size consumers.

“Plus-size people, regardless of whether we're talking about ethical fashion or fast fashion, have really only been able to buy pieces in their size with any level of trendiness — and even that feels tenuous as a plus-sized person — in the last few years,” Elizabeth said.

While sustainable plus-size clothing is growing, it is not nearly enough to subjugate the need for fast fashion. In an interview with Teen Vogue, model and digital creator Lydia Okello challenged fast fashion companies to improve their ethics. 

“I think that the focus should be on large companies that are producing garments at extremely fast rates with no regard for the environment,” Okello said. “And the focus also should be on the brands that are making clothing in a more environmentally friendly way or more ethical way.”

The affordability of sustainability

Another factor deterring people from sustainable brands is price. Many sustainable brands have higher priced than environmentally unfriendly competitors; however, it may be for a good reason. 

Sustainable products are often more difficult to mass produce, requiring quality raw materials and craftsmanship to create. From recyclable packaging to using renewable energy from production, sustainability is kept in mind with the product and manufacturing process. 

Sustainability includes being environmentally conscious and keeping social sustainability involved in one’s company structure. Many sustainable brands prioritize ethical business management with quality legal labor and paying workers fairly. In turn, many fast fashion brands utilize unethical practices like child labor and sweatshops to quickly produce cheap products. 

The public is not making enough to completely switch to sustainable products immediately. Sustainable brands are also not making enough to lower prices or sustain themselves in niche markets. Ultimately, the fight for sustainability is in a weird limbo. People are willing to pay more for eco-friendliness and ethical business practices, but many do not have that luxury. 

With the growth of inclusivity in the sustainability market, people's hope of joining the eco-friendly mission is growing. However, there is still much to do before sustainability can live up to the inclusionary part of its mission. 


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