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6 Reasons Why Alternative Fashion is NOT Sustainable

Jacket - fast fashion. Dress - unknown supply chain. Shoes - overseas purchase. Everything - synthetic af.

Sorry everyone, but it’s time for some harsh truths. Last blogpost I wrote about why alternative fashion is sustainable, and now I will discuss why it’s not. Celebrating any step in the right direction is encouraging, but knowing the negatives shows you the way forward. This blogpost is one of the most important I have ever written, and I hope that after weeks of struggle I am able to do this topic justice.

Disclaimer: There are few reliable resources that discuss the relationship between sustainability and alternative fashion. Most of the information provided either pertains to the general fashion industry or are observations I have made about the community. I encourage you to read this article critically and provide any feedback you might have.
  1. We glamourise excessive materialism.
I’m starting with this because the plethora and frequency of hauls, unboxings, reviews, and other videos solely focused on the accumulation of stuff is one of the most glaring issues in our community. While I don’t hate these videos (I do enjoy a good haul like anyone else) I think our obsession with, and glamourising of, frequent and excessive shopping is problematic and unsustainable. How much do you think you need? How many times do you wear those things, or do you wear them at all? I understand that most alternative fashion by it’s nature is materialistic, and that our fashion is largely recreational, but if we keep buying new items all the time without appreciating what we already have, then we’re wearing out the planet before we wear out our clothes. We can still enjoy our alternative fashion just as much, potentially more, by shopping our own closets and only purchasing after careful thought. How fashionable someone is should not be defined by the size of their closet.
  1. We like artificial dyes and fabrics.
We love bright colours, vibrant prints, sparkly and shiny materials, but the truth is they are polluting our atmosphere and waterways. I won’t go too in depth, but as an example, artificial dyeing uses a lot of water that is dumped back into the rivers of the developing countries where the dyeing takes place. This is the water that people drink and bathe in, and it causes disease and disability and death. The harm doesn’t stop with production though. When we wash our dyed clothes, they bleed dye that washes into our local water ways. Synthetic items shed fibres that also end up in our waterways, where they are eaten by animals that mistake them for plankton. The worst part is that so few alternatives and innovations fulfil our preferences, or the ones that do aren’t being used to create anything alternative for us. For example, the pastel rainbow princess finds little joy in the limited and muted natural dye palette, and no brands as far as I can tell are using biodegradable glitter for their sparkly products. It’s pretty confronting to know that there’s no eco-friendly alternative to the colours and fabrics you love, but there is one option that I will discuss in the next blogpost.
  1. We have few brands focusing on sustainability.
It’s difficult for our community to be sustainable without sustainability-focused brands, or at least brands who are open about their supply chains. While researching for this post I could find nothing about most brands except for an episode of Tokyo Fashion Express showing the Japanese factory where some of the dresses from Baby the Stars Shine Bright were manufactured. (Please note that some Baby products are made in China.) While fast fashion brands are easy targets in the sustainability debate, it’s impossible for us to make informed decisions if our own brands aren’t transparent. I don’t think companies like Angelic Pretty or 6%DOKIDOKI are likely to have any terrible practices comparable to fast fashion companies, but we still deserve to know how our clothes are made. We also need to start, support, and show a demand for more sustainability focused brands within our community.
  1. We purchase a lot of stuff from overseas.
Shipping takes time and energy, and is detrimental to the environment in the process. If it’s delivered by ship, there’s noise-pollution disrupting and killing marine life, risk of oil spills and hulls damaging marine habitats, ballast water introducing invasive species, air emissions, and more. Planes might be slightly better, depending on the perspective, since they don’t travel directly through ecosystems, but they carry way less cargo than ships do and, like shipping, rely heavily on fossil fuels. I understand that overseas shipping isn’t completely avoidable for most people, because many of us love and enjoy overseas brands, or live in countries/areas without many alternative fashion and/or sustainable fashion options available, but regardless of anyone’s situation, everyone should be aware of the environmental impact of shipping to make informed decisions.
  1. We still buy fast fashion (or at least buy into the mindset).
How many times have you seen an "alternative fashion" haul from the following?
  • Youvimi
  • Wish
  • Primark
  • Forever 21
  • Hot Topic
  • H&M
I’ve noticed the rise in supporting these kinds of places in the kawaii community. Youvimi only says that they manufacture in China because it’s “accessible” for knock-off designs advertised with stolen pictures. There’s no info about what the conditions in those factories are like. Sounds a lot like Wish, and that’s not a good thing. Primark, Hot Topic, H&M, and Forever 21 are making more promises than progress, and seem determined to fix everything except paying their workers a living wage. Hot Topic says that they pay a wage to meet a worker’s “basic needs”, but is that just to keep the individual worker alive, or keep them and their family above the poverty line? It’s vague, it lacks transparency, and because of that, it's unsustainable.

Fast fashion taught us to see clothing as disposable, which is a difficult mindset to escape. It’s all about what’s next, what’s new, what’s trendy, and while I pointed out in the last blogpost that we don’t necessarily buy into that in a traditional sense, our brands are unique from typical fast fashion in that they tease new releases. While I understand the business behind it, it’s ultimately peddling the same FOMO mentality that most fast fashion brands tout. To be honest, I’m torn, but at least the drumming up of demand does contribute to the secondhand market.
  1. We don’t talk about sustainability enough.
Based on some polls I’ve created, some data shown to me, and some passing mentions, people in alternative fashion communities do care about or are at least aware of the issues within the fashion industry. Since many people still openly support and show off fast fashion, as well as buy into the idea of always wanting and seeking and “needing” more, it’s difficult to talk about these controversial topics in what is supposed to be a happy environment. There’s rarely a space to talk about these issues, which is the reason why I started the Alternative Fashion Lovers For Sustainability Facebook group. These discussions need to happen, and the people who care about these issues need to find others like them.

But why do we need to talk about sustainable fashion and the issues in the fashion industry? Why do we need to talk about minimalism and the low waste movement and labour practices and environmental issues in alternative fashion communities when so much discussion is already happening outside our community? It’s because we have unique perspectives, relationships, and circumstances regarding our clothes. Some of our challenges are exclusive to our subcultures. We are a collection of niches, and in a world ruled by mainstream style, and thus it’s easy for us to be overlooked in this movement. Most people who dress sustainable but not alternative are spoiled for choices now, because the focus of most brands is to align with the kind of fashion you already see at the mall and worn by every other person on the street. Sustainable fashion is the future, and we need to be a part of this movement to ensure that our unique styles can be a part of that future.

So we’ve covered the good, and we’ve covered the bad, and next week, we’ll cover change. In part three of this series, I will discuss what we as individuals and a community can do to be more sustainable, while still enjoying our alternative styles.

Edit: 'Ways Alternative Fashion Can be MORE Sustainable' is now available.

In the meantime, if you are unfamiliar with the issues within the fashion industry, I recommend you watch ‘The True Cost’ documentary on Netflix. As a content warning, there is some bloody footage and discussion of suicide and physical abuse. For something less graphic but still related to sustainable fashion, I recommend this playlist by My Green Closet on YouTube. 

I hope you found this article useful, and if you haven’t already read ‘5 Reasons Why Alternative Fashion IS Sustainable’, you can read it here.

To join the conversation, be sure to join the Alternative Fashion Lovers for Sustainability Facebook group for recommended brands, advice, community discussion, and more.

For more kawaii content, be sure to follow me on Instagram @thecoramaria or subscribe to my mailing list using the form at the top of the page to be notified of new content.

Question of the Week: Are there any points you’d add to this list? Or do you have any counterpoints to my arguments? Let me know in the comments or on social media and I’ll be sure to respond.


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