Is it okay to buy clothes from an unsustainable brand that is going out of business?

On August 3rd, The Fashion Law tallied up a list of big-name retailers and brands that filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Nineteen companies are listed since last August, which includes names like J.C. Penney, DVF Studio U.K., and Brooks Brothers. These companies will continue operating while a reorganization is planned and executed, but thousands of other brands won't have the same luxury. The sight of empty storefronts and "50% off everything" signs is becoming increasingly common, and, if you're able to afford to shop right now, the temptation to buy is growing as well. Conscious consumers may now find themselves pondering a purchase from a brand they usually have never considered in a normal economy. For some, the guilt of buying from an unsustainable brand may be enough of a deterrent; others wonder how bad is it to buy from a company that is struggling or going out of business?

A big reason for shopping sustainably is to support brands that have ethical and environmentally-friendly supply chains. Consumers who spend money on new sustainable clothes expect to contribute to better working conditions for garment workers or power a factory with renewable energy instead of coal. Conscious shoppers want to “vote with their wallets” and show brands what they care about. As a result, brands have begun paying more attention to their suppliers and those who haven’t, feel the consequences. Buying from an unsustainable brand is putting more money into a bad supply chain and perpetuating environmentally-damaging practices. But, if a brand is going out of business, then that money will not go back into a flawed supply chain to produce more clothes. Brands may need to pay off suppliers for products that were already produced, though. Some consumers may rationalize their decision to buy from a retailer going out of business by claiming that they are helping pay employees who are possibly losing their jobs or a portion of their income in the future. Another justification for purchasing unsustainable fashion is that the shopper will wear the item for a long time.

The upfront investment of cheap clothes is a lot less than comparatively more expensive sustainable fashion. However, suppose a consumer is treating their clothes as disposable trends instead of long-term closet staples. In that case, the cost of cheap fashion can add up to be just as much, or more than, sustainable fashion. When a brand closes down and heavily discounts its products, it contributes to the idea that clothes are meant for short-term wear. Even the most strong-willed and value-oriented shopper is drawn to discounts and low prices. If a consumer will honestly wear an item for a long time and does not envision themselves throwing away the garment in a few weeks or months, buying discounted clothes can be a great way to get more for less money. Unfortunately, this is a slippery slope because everything looks more appealing when it is cheaper. Add in the fact that the brand is going out of business and may not be making these particulars items again, and the “buy now or miss out forever” feeling encourages impulsive shopping. This fear of missing out on an item not only convinces a consumer that they need something they don’t, but it also leads to neglect about the consequences of a purchase.

A garment's after-life has always been an essential aspect of sustainable fashion from a brand's perspective. It is why natural materials like cotton are pushed over synthetics like polyester. Cotton takes anywhere from one week to five months to biodegrade, whereas polyester or other synthetics take somewhere closer to 20 to 200 years to breakdown. Checking the clothes' material is one of the easiest ways for consumers to buy new clothes sustainably. Whether it is from an unsustainable brand or not, if the product is made with 100% natural materials, it already has one environmentally-friendly trait. But, it is also important to look into why the brand is closing or store is closing in the first place. If a company is untrustworthy, labeling on its products may not be accurate, and even if it says 100% cotton, this should be taken with a grain of salt.

There are many reasons why brands close down, and a troubled economy is at the top of that list. Right now, more retailers will be filing for bankruptcy, and stores will be closing down, and being tempted to buy from them is natural, even if they are not sustainable. In the end, though, it is up to each consumer to chose which brand to shop from and which products to buy.