Magazine Reporter Andrea Forssberg discusses how the fashion industry reduces sustainability to a simple choice between durability and wearability, leaving consumers to pick between longevity and quality or convenience and affordability.
We are slowly making changes to follow a climate-friendlier approach to consumption. These changes are great, necessary and show awareness on both the consumer’s and company’s side. However, in a market filled to the brim with choices, the fashion industry has boiled sustainability down to two choices instead of the usual millions; it comes down to sustainability or wearability.
Sustainable clothes are made in a more climate-conscious way, often using expensive materials, therefore ending up with a high price tag. And yes, you will probably be able to keep these clothes for a lifetime, eventually giving the beautiful materials new life by giving them to friends, family and second-hand shops. The question is, when will you actually wear them?
For many, day-to-day life comes with risks of coffee stains, on-the-go tears and the occasional pet attack. Such sustainable (and expensive) items are for most, reserved for special occasions. While the materials themselves are durable, they are accompanied by specific care requirements for the customer. Exclusive materials such as cashmere are recommended to hand wash or dry clean. For wool, a gentle cycle on a domestic washing machine is lucky enough. Dry cleaning can cost between 3.75 euros (for a shirt) and 18 euros (for a two-piece suit) in Amsterdam. While the closet itself is sustainable, wearing it is not.
Changes made to accommodate the climate crisis leads to the true cost of clothing being revealed and consumers have grown comfortable with the ‘wear and tear’ attitude when it comes to dressing. The industry is currently challenging the general attitude towards clothing, all the while promoting a paradox of sustainability as the point of purchasing sustainable items is to consume less and wear items for a long period of time, however with high price tags and demanding upkeep instructions, it is both easier and cheaper to follow the fast-fashion path.
The question of durability begs the question of how long an item will last you. Truth is if rarely worn, probably decades. However, fast fashion offers an opportunity to buy clothing mindlessly. It comes with the luxury of being able to take care of it yourself–not worrying too much if there’s a tear or stain, as it’s easily fixed. You are not risking much doing it on your own, knowing that you can easily buy another item. This choice asks less of its consumers, as they don’t have to plan for dry cleaning or make time for hand washing.
Clothes are not meant to last. Cheaper options lack in quality which results in a short lifespan whereas more sustainable options lack in wearability and will therefore not be used often. Both options come with their silver lining: fast fashion with the ability to wear clothes every day and sustainable items with longevity and quality.
The only option for mixing the two seems to be found in undesigned outerwear. Brands focused on sports, activities and the outdoors make a point to make wearable and durable clothing, while often combining these characteristics with sustainable materials. It might be time for others to do the same.
The question of durability begs the question of how long an item will last you. Truth is if rarely worn, probably decades. However, fast fashion offers an opportunity to buy clothing mindlessly.