The most common arguments against ethical fashion and why they’re BS

Kate Hall

Fast fashion is a touchy subject.

Try telling someone they’re the cause of an industry that’s exploiting thousands of people and ruining the environment, without making them feel bad or argue against you. It’s rough on everyone involved.

But the conversation is not a lost cause, and it’s got to happen.

Whether you’re new to the ethical fashion conversation, or an old veteran who’s converted many, you’ll know that there are a few common arguments that are thrown back at us when we broach the topic.

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Affordability, feasibility of making a difference, and the negative effects of boycotting fast fashion are bought up in what are often very strong rebuttals against buying ethical fashion.

I’ve talked the talk and walked the walk for over three years now. Even though I’m still frequently bewildered around the complexity of the topic, and continue to master my responses, here’s what I say when rebutting the most common arguments against ethical fashion.

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“I can’t afford it.”


I started my ethical fashion journey when I was 18 years old, a mere university student with nothing to my name. I could afford to make the switch.

In fact, after learning the facts, I couldn’t afford not to. You’ve got to remember that ethical fashion does not simply describe the $300 KowTow pants that make you drool as you pass by the shop window.

Embracing ethical fashion means you adapt to a new way of consumption, and partake in slow fashion habits. Try visiting an item 5 times before you purchase it, repairing your shirt instead of buying a new one, buying second hand, or limiting yourself to buying only 5 new items per year.

There are many ethical fashion brands available at different price points and ways to make some of the higher priced items affordable.

A great one liner rebuttal: “If you’re not paying the price, someone else is. How can you sit comfortably with that?”

What bugs me, is that most of the people who tell me they can’t afford ethical fashion, go shopping every single weekend.

They’re also the people who say they ‘have nothing to wear’ when their wardrobes are bulging. These individuals may be spending $40 each weekend on a couple of items. They could spend $160 a month on one ethically made item, solving their ‘nothing to wear’ crisis too: investing in clothes means you’ll value them more, look after them, and be less inclined to simply throw them away.

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Image vie Peppermynta

“But I’m just one person; if I buy an ethical t-shirt, that’s not going to change anything.”

Okay, so maybe your one t-shirt purchase won’t make a difference, but if everyone were to buy one ethically made t-shirt, holy moly that would change the world.

We can’t afford to keep thinking of ourselves as one person; there’s just no time for that. If we all considered every action we made, as if it were life changing; our planet would be flourishing.

Imagine if Mother Teresa, Gandhi, or David Attenborough said “I’m just one person, what difference will it make?”

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Image via Giraffe Sightings

“But I’m giving people jobs!”

Touché. This is one of the rebuttals I struggle the most to answer.

It’s true that even though garment factory workers are working in terrible conditions and for low pay, they aren’t selling their bodies as sex workers, or doing tasks that are even worse. Okay, so we’ll just leave it be, shall we? Let’s ignore the problem and feel good about ‘rescuing’ these people from the sex trade by giving them jobs in conditions you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy. Not on my watch.

We are a growing population, we need clothes, and we need people to make them.

If we gradually increase the demand for ethical fashion, and vote with our pockets for those companies working with factories implementing fair trade standards, we’re showing the fashion industry what we want, and encouraging them to raise their standards.

On average, just 4% of the price of a piece of clothing sold in Australia goes toward workers’ wages in garment factories. Fashion brands would only need to raise their prices by ten cents per item of clothing to begin to improve wages.

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Image via David Jones

Boycotting fast fashion isn’t boycotting fashion altogether; we’re still inputting into the economy, but doing so in a thoughtful way that will show the rest of the world what we want the future of fashion to look like.

Recently, I dug into this common rebuttal, and discussed if boycotting fast fashion companies is really the solution. I concluded that a great way to make change, and make sure people aren’t put out of jobs when they desperately need them, is to encourage larger brands to make the switch. This way, there is less hurt in an economy who need sweatshops to survive.

ACTION: Email your favourite mainstream fashion companies, and ask them questions. Where are your clothes are made? What steps are you taking to improve your standards?

I know it’s not this simple. The fashion industry will always be the mystical, complex industry that it is, but hopefully these points help to empower your discussions and steer your conversations positively.

Always remember your core values, let the opinions of the opposition grow your passion rather than stunt it, and stick to your guns; you’re not alone in this fashion revolution.

Kate Hall

I live and breathe sustainable living and ethical fashion. This alternative way of consuming and existing dominates my every waking moment- and sometimes more. Ethical fashion and living are no longer my hobbies, it has become my mission... to change the future of fast fashion and the way we consume. My husband and I strive to live a zero-waste lifestyle, live at thrift stores, and always look to 'up-cycle' rather than throw out. Eco-living is not a choice for me, it's in my blood, and I am trying with all my power for it to be the new 'norm'.