Guilt and Ethical Consumption
By Maya Rogers
Fast fashion is a scary business. Ever since I watched Hasan Minhaj’s Patriot Act about the fast fashion industry, I have been heavily conscious of the clothes I buy and where I buy them from. I can count on my fingers the new clothes I have bought in the past year. I try not to throw them out and instead donate those in good condition to a local clothes recovery organization. But how much difference can I, as an individual, truly make?
The answer is “not a lot,” especially as someone from an economically marginalized background. Systemic change is needed for the fast fashion industry to be seriously reformed, and that takes not only individual changes, but changes at the state, federal, and international levels as well. Coronavirus may help these changes take place sooner, as people are buying fewer clothes than normal. However, the false dichotomy that has been established for consumers between “ethical” consumption and ruining the planet allows those in power to continue perpetuating the status quo. The guilt and shame surrounding consumption is not the common people’s burden but is instead the fault of the wealthy. Economic elites benefit from the perpetuation of injustice, planned obsolescence, and having those at the bottom combat each other instead of challenging the establishment.
That is not to say that we, as individuals, should do nothing. I have learned which companies use the most exploitative labor practices and avoid supporting them. I only buy clothes that I need, and I wear clothes for as long as possible. I even repair them by hand if they get damaged. The best things that individuals can do to fight fast fashion are to reduce consumption and reuse whenever possible. But, while we do these things, we should not be blaming ourselves or each other for failing to be perfect. That top you bought as a gift for your friend isn’t the reason Forever 21 continues to exploit the labor of thousands of people. The CEOs, business executives, and wealthy elites who profit off these industries benefit from you directing your anger inwards instead of above. Reject that setup, and instead push for serious and needed reform in the fast fashion industry. Only systemic change will produce the desired results, and it takes our collective efforts, not oppositional in-fighting, to accomplish that.