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Sustainable Fashion: The Millennial Dilemma

According to sustainable clothing certifiers, Oeko-Tex, while 60% of millennials are interested in ethical clothing, only 37% say they have actually purchased them. What is stopping us putting our money where our mouths are?



They say millennials are the generation that are going to change the world. They’re eco-conscious and ready to break the habits that have been harming humanity for years. At the same time, I’ve seen a slew of articles stating millennials are the most selfish generation yet. They’re determined to get their own way at any cost.

I suppose both sides here could be true. 60% of millennials are interested in ethical clothing but only 37% have actually made an ethical clothing purchase. Is it that we like the idea of being ethical but at the same time we’re too selfish to actually make a change?

The True Cost

When we first discover we are partaking in an unethical practice, it can be some time before the message actually gets through. Like many people in the conscious fashion world, my realisation came when I watched the documentary ‘The True Cost’.

After watching it I was shocked and horrified. If I had been asked at that point if I was interested in ethical clothing, I would have said yes. Did I actually make changes to my clothing consumption habits at that point? No.

It takes time for messages to get through to us when we live in a world that teaches us to be focused on ourselves.

Not Trend-E Enough

I took a look at the clothing offered by ethical brands but it didn’t inspire me. It didn’t fit current trends so I wasn’t interested. If ethical clothing brands had offered the same as the fast fashion ones, I would have changed immediately.

I watched The True Cost three more times. Then I immersed myself in content from Fashion Revolution and buried my head in books about fast fashion. It took all this before I actually made changes to start shopping ethically.

Ignoring the True Story

We have been brought up in a world that promotes individualism. We’re told to focus on how we’re looking, how we’re feeling, how others perceive us. The true story behind fast fashion is hidden from view.

You can watch a documentary or see a post on Facebook but it’s easy to forget. Our world is conveniently designed in a way that allows us to easily ignore the true story behind our clothes.

Can we blame millennials for not following through on their word? Shopping ethically isn’t easy. The conscious fashion world lacks brands that are appealing to young people and it lacks affordable clothing. These are real barriers that truly make it a challenge to shop ethically.

Finding Time to Change

I have struggled with all of these issues myself. But I have worked to overcome them. I have come to realise that having on-trend clothing provides nothing more than a fleeting moment of happiness before it’s out of style.

I now understand the importance of creating a wardrobe of pieces you love, that make you excited to get dressed in the morning. But it took me time to cultivate these attitudes. I’m lucky that being a student has given me more than enough time to ponder these issues and think about the best ways to make changes. Not everyone has time.

Slow Change is Better Than No Change

It’s no wonder millennials struggle with enacting their desires to shop ethically. People are busy trying to find their own path in life. They don’t have time to worry about the working conditions of people in Bangladesh who are sewing buttons onto their shirts.

It all sounds rather bleak. But I don’t think all hope is lost. More and more people are making realisations. Change might be slow. But change is change no matter how slow. More and more ethical brands are popping up. People are realising how great second hand clothing is. Celebrities are showcasing their ethical finds.

The Awakening

60% of millennials are interested in ethical clothing. Considering how well the truth behind our clothing has been hidden for so long, I think it’s amazing that even that many people realise there’s a problem.

There has been an awakening. But millennials have a dilemma with the juxtaposing principles of prioritising the individual while at the same time caring for the world. I believe the second will win out, but it’s going to take our continual work in sharing the conscious fashion philosophy to make sure it does.


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