What to do when privilege makes sustainability a choice

What to do when privilege makes sustainability a choice

At Lucy and Yak, we love to be inspired and there are some amazing people out there, doing great work. So let me introduce Mikaela Loach: our guest blogger today. We are right on the same page when it comes to great fashion, sustainability, and ethical supply chains. Read on for what she has to say about the issue of privilege and sustainable choices.

Hi, I’m Mikaela! I’m a sustainable living and ethical fashion blogger based in Edinburgh, where I study Medicine at university. I’m frequently found in all pink ethical outfits with matching funky earrings chatting to whoever will listen about plastic free and vegan living, the refugee crisis, ethical clothing and how we can make all these movements accessible and inclusive. You can find me on Instagram and on my blog.


It’s a word that can make us a bit uncomfortable. It’s something we only want to touch on briefly and then awkwardly move on from in case we’ve said something wrong. But, the link between privilege and sustainable living is inextricable, so we’re going to have to try a bit harder to find the right words to talk about it.

The ability for me, and others, to live the ‘sustainable’ lives we do comes from a whole heap of privilege. The fact that I can choose to buy second-hand rather than having to is a privilege, one which is arguably contributing to second-hand shops hiking up their prices. The fact that I bulk-buy to avoid plastic is a privilege. Living in a neighbourhood with a low plastic store and organic greengrocers is a privilege. Having the time to research and find ethical brands or the exact item of clothing second-hand is a privilege.

Using this privilege for good – i.e. making these more ethical choices – is what those with access to these spaces and resources should be doing. But with privilege comes responsibility; we must keep in mind that this agency comes from a place of privilege. The wider project of climate justice activism must then be to dismantle the very systems that open up these ‘choices’ to some and restricts them from others.

This conversation has been happening more recently, with Instagram influencers like Venetia Falconer writing posts regarding the “Problems With Sustainable Influencers” with tips on how to make some budget-friendly sustainable choices.

This is great, and it’s good that in general, the whole movement is engaging more with this issue. I can be guilty of this too, but there seems to be an inconsistency in engagement with this topic by sustainability Instagrammers. Intersectionality shouldn’t be a trend; it’s the bare minimum of good activism. If we want to protect our environment, then we’ve got to have as many people behind us, doing their best, as possible.

There’s a saying that’s been thrown around a lot recently in the zero-waste community: “We don’t need a handful of people doing zero waste perfectly, we need millions of people doing it imperfectly”. It’s true. Watching our language with how we talk about sustainable living is a really great place to start with this. The idea of being “zero waste” can make a lot of people totally reject involvement in the movement as it seems like this unattainable goal, whereas just cutting down waste in our respective circumstances is something that we can all try.

I get it: it’s difficult.

When you’re wanting to call people out on their inaction in the face of the injustice you see – and the 11 years we have to save the planet, YIKES – you don’t want to add in get-out clauses for people you know have the ability to make more ethical and sustainable choices. It’s a hard balance to get, and one that in my own social media activism I’m still working out.

Sustainability is mending clothes. Sustainability is eating leftovers. Sustainability is taking the bus. Sustainability is second-hand clothes: re-wearing the same outfit over and over. It doesn’t have to be expensive: overall, it’s buying less – but, better quality – and making what you do have last. Sustainability is what many marginalised folk have been doing for years. Let’s not erase this now that it’s a mainstream movement.

So, what can we do?

Not making blanket statements about people's ability to change certain aspects of their lifestyle is a good way to reduce the alienation of some folk. Lift up people doing great work for intersectionality in the movement: I love @zerowastehabesha and @ajabarber on Instagram. Be open to criticism in how you communicate these things. Listen to people’s experiences and be open to different narratives. Call out the people – and brands – who need calling out on their actions.

Staying mindful what about choices we can make around sustainable fashion is also important. Ultimately, clothes that you already own is the the most sustainable fashion choice you can make, so don't throw away anything just because it was not ethically made. If you decide to invest in something new, wear it at least 30 times! For example, I wore these Lucy & Yak denim Atlas dungarees over 30 and counting...

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🌿 The most sustainable clothing is FREE... it's already in your closet 🌿 when I've asked what people would like me to write about a lot of the time it's affordable/cheap sustainable clothing 💷 wearing the clothes you already own is THE most sustainable fashion choice you can make! Better than a new organic cotton or bamboo or hemp item! They already exist so giving them the longest life they can have is the best thing we can do 👖 PLS DO NOT THROW OUT OR DONATE CLOTHES JUST BECAUSE THEY WEREN'T ETHICALLY MADE!! The top I'm wearing here I got from Topshop probably 6 or 7 years ago & I'm going to keep wearing it for as long as I can! You dont need to buy a whole new ethical wardrobe!! 🛍 so, before you shop do these things first: 👕 check your closet (and your friends closets) do you already have clothes you can wear or work with or swap with friends to get what you want? 👕 mend the clothes you have & wash them on a low temp & spin cycle to give your clothes the longest life they can have! 👕 if you decide you need to get something "new" make sure you'll wear it AT LEAST 30 times! 👕 check out if you can get it second hand first using @depop or looking in charity shops or thrift stores 👕 for any actually new clothes a support ethical and sustainable brands and be willing to invest in something you'll still be wearing for years to come!

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We’re all united in the same cause, but we’re on different journeys. I never thought I’d finish this article with a quote from a white man, but in David Schlosberg’s words: we need “unity without uniformity”.

Thank you so much Mikaela! This resonates so much with how we feel at Lucy & Yak. Sustainability and the fashion industry are complex questions. But we don't need to feel daunted; let's get excited! We are excited to hear from you and to share knowledge and ideas. So get in touch and let's keep on being inspired!

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