While we are advocates for sustainable and ethical fashion brands, we cannot ignore the exclusivity that may come with the industry.
We have written about Affordable Sustainable Fashion, highlighting Back Beat Rags as one option that allows for purchases that have a lower-impact on the environment and the consumer’s wallet. We even shared some tips for staying conscious as a consumer. Some of these tips, such as educating oneself on “fair” conditions in the industry, are universal. Other tips, such as not just buying an item because it is cheap is inherently problematic. We discussed what it takes to be a feminist and advocate for the 90% of female employees that make up the textile, clothing, leather, and footwear industries. Now, we are discussing what it means to be an advocate for female consumers.
We loved what Benita Robledo had to say about including women of colour in the ethical fashion conversation in America. She highlights how sustainable fashion, while admirable and helpful for the environment, is unrealistic for a lot of women. Even further, ethical fashion brands are often concerned with helping female artisans and helping female victims, but the industry ignores the women who do not have access to this market. She highlights how middle class consumers may have the opportunity to plan and save up for more pricey sustainable pieces. However, those living as low-income consumers, or even in poverty, may just not have the option to save up for these items. Instead, they may need to focus on where their next meal is coming from or how to pay for their utility bills.
Let’s explore what this looks like in Canada. Based on data from the last available census, a report released by Sheila Block and Grace-Edward Galabuzi, “Canada’s Colour Coded Labour Market”, exposes that racialized Canadians get paid less than non-racialized Canadians. This gap is caused partly by the lack of secure, well paying jobs available to racialized Canadians. Racialized women made less than their male counterparts.
This is exactly why Ruby Veridiano highlighted that regardless of her own ethical fashion choices, she would never judge anyone for buying an outfit from Zara, or any fast fashion retailer. Instead, she focuses on how ethical fashion may be inaccessible for some consumers and as such, there are basic principles that all consumers should think about. These principles include buying less and only buying what you love, in addition to taking good care of the clothes you already own.
So what can we do about this inaccessibility issue? Well, Robledo discusses how very few brands are owned by persons of colour. By seeking out more of these brands and empowering the same communities that may lack access to the industry, we may be able to address the gap. For now, we love that we can advocate for sustainable and ethical brands while being aware of which audiences benefit most from the work of these brands.