Why despite my best efforts even my friends buy fast fashion

The confessions of an ethical fashion CEO

Allow me to confess something. Several of my very good friends buy fast fashion: former roommates, friends from undergrad, even sometimes my own interns.

As the co-founder of an organization dedicated to bringing awareness to the very reasons why we shouldn’t buy fast fashion, it could feel like a personal affront, never mind a rejection of everything we’ve done to build Project JUST. I’ve had a few “bite my tongue” moments, waiting for my chance to offer an alternative.

My friends are smart, socially-minded global citizens. They are millennials, as am I and many of them have taken real concrete steps towards building a more ethical and sustainable lifestyle. They shop for organic or local produce, they shop at vintage stores, they support artisans locally and on Etsy and some of them even buy carbon credits as gifts.

Through Project JUST and the news, they are aware of the issues in fashion supply chains: of forced labor, low wages, widespread water pollution, toxic dyes and chemical spills and the raw materials made with petroleum.

But many of them still admit they frequent J Crew, Madewell, H&M, TJMaxx and Zara. And while they are certainly apologetic and realize it’s not in line with their values, I can count on my hand those who have completely changed the way they shop.

So to rationalize continuing my work and pursuing our mission at Project JUST, I had to face the facts. Reconciling why my best friends could still buy fast fashion even with Project JUST in their lives forced me to draw a conclusion that may be discouraging to some and likely controversial for others.

Fast fashion isn’t going to disappear anytime soon.

Why?

Price : Since we were kids, the millennial and the Gen Z shopper have been trained by marketing and our consumer society to expect low price points for clothing. We can’t wrap our heads around paying $40 for a t-shirt or $200 for a sweater. In fact, the more you can get at a low price, the more fun it feels like, like you’ve accomplished something. This makes us happy. We’ve also been accustomed to shopping as a leisure activity, a way to pass time.

Most ethical fashion is not cheap — items are made of quality material and workers are paid well. For many millennials fitting expensive clothes in their budget is just not a priority when we’re also paying for experiences and travel, our generation’s wedding extravaganzas and baby showers, very expensive healthcare, and of course rent or mortgages etc. While many of us like the idea of beautiful “wardrobe” pieces, the price tag is still a shock.

Convenience and “the best” phenomenon: With the arrival of the iPhone coinciding with our own arrival of adulthood, we millennials have also been trained to expect everything to be quick, easy and user friendly. We are usually able to find what we’re looking for fast and then get it in our hands quickly- and when we can’t, given everything that we juggle in our multitasking world, we get frustrated.

So if I can order a cocktail dress for that wedding this weekend online in minutes and have it arrive tomorrow or an H&M is just around the corner from my office, I can continue to multi-task like a champ, crossing that off the list and going back to the 30 open tabs on my chrome browser.

While we like to discover the “best” and “coolest” brands (see Aziz Ansari’s toothbrush search) and feel like that information is exclusive, millennials don’t want that information to be hard to find. Finding ethical brands can be difficult. And then discerning what is ethical and what is not is even harder- how to judge? on what criteria?

Styles/Trends: Fast fashion brands, in particular, Zara and H&M, have become very efficient at replicating the trends that celebrities, fashion houses and bloggers are wearing on Instagram or TV and then very quickly getting them in stores. With the media cycle and social media churning faster than ever, trends are shifting rapidly and if you see something you like, odds are you can likely find it at a fast fashion retailer that very day.

Ethical brands (expect maybe Reformation) can’t keep up with this cycle and don’t always hit all of the trends. And with good reason- that kind of turnaround, on that scale, requires unsustainable amounts of resources and massive amounts of consumption to keep it going. If you need a go-to place to find that off-the-shoulder summer trend shirt, the easiest solution is probably to hit up a fast fashion store. Instagram is helping us discover smaller brands but that doesn’t always solve the problem if we don’t trust the sizing or the brand.

I’m sure the list goes on…there are a multiplicity of factors keeping fast fashion going.


These very factors facing my friends and my fellow millennials are why we built Project JUST — to close the information gap and help facilitate ethical shopping.

Want to know if a big brand is ethical or not? Want to discover the best brands both aesthetically and ethically making athletic wear cocktail dresses or denim? Want to discover cool ways of styling yourself that are both individual, sustainable and on-trend?

Our team had these same questions: we wanted to shop and dress more ethically and sustainably but we couldn’t easily find the information as to which brands were ethical and which weren’t. We wanted to discover great new brands, conveniently, and feel like we too were discovering “the best”.

I will keep referring my friends to Project JUST, we will keep adding more brands and I do believe that step-by-step we will helping people change the way they shop.

And across the industry change is happening: vintage and thrift store shopping are going through a “cool phase” right now; new technologies are being developed as we speak to recycle clothing back into raw materials on a massive scale, a system absolutely imperative to counter the disposable apparel economy; and there are so many cool, innovative and growing brands, setting up sustainable supply chains from day 1. With social media and the internet, their chances of being discovered by shoppers grows with every follower. And the more competitive the industry, the more innovation, the more the price of ethical clothing will go down - not to fast fashion prices but at least more affordable.

But perhaps the most important realization I had was the “step-by-step”. My friends aren’t going to change their habits overnight. And even if tomorrow they did stop buying clothing all together, would that be a sustainable lasting solution for them? Or would they get frustrated? With awareness, education, new ideas and slowly new habits, each of us can take steps to change the way we shop.

Real change happens through the accumulation of small choices we make each day.

Join us as a member and start changing the way you shop. #IAMJUST


By Natalie Grillon, Co-founder and CEO of Project JUST

Follower Project JUST on twitter at Project JUST / facebook @projectjust / instagram @projectjust