The weekend is approaching and you realize you have nothing worthy of wearing for Saturday night. You rush to the Forever 21 and grab the first little black bodysuit you can find for $19.99. You slip into the bodysuit, skinny jeans and black booties to complete your night out ensemble. Sunday morning, you’re doing your laundry and pull out the worn-once bodysuit. The seam is ripped. Buttons on the back have fallen off already. It ends up in the trash and you order a few more tops from H&M to replace it. Sound familiar?
What exactly is fast fashion?
Although there is no harm in seeking out a bargain — especially as a college student — it may benefit your wallet and closet to be more mindful when purchasing clothes. Fast fashion is defined as designers’ ability to take inspiration from runway shows and churn out cheaper, lower quality garments. The leading fast fashion retailers are Forever 21, H&M, Zara and Urban Outfitters, who enable customers to consume fashion as quickly as they can create it. In the world of fast fashion, spring/summer and fall/winter are not the only seasons. Designers in this realm go off of 52 micro-seasons where they produce variations of runway trends. Fast fashion creates an endless cycle of repurchasing inexpensive disposable clothing, so if you feel like your new faux suede moto jacket is “so last week,” that’s because it is.
What impacts can mass production have?
Unfortunately, the issue with the fast fashion culture goes much deeper than style. Even though the inhumanity in fast fashion has been exposed, thousands of workers have died or are ill-living/working in “modern-day slavery.” Working conditions, usually in China, Bangladesh, India, Cambodia and Taiwan, are physically and mentally unbearable. The True Cost, a documentary by Andrew Morgan, reported that the average workweek for a garment worker was 96 hours. The workers, usually women and children, work 14 hour days to meet companies’ deadlines while being paid under minimum wage. These people, who on average are under 23 years old, inhale toxic fumes and fibers in unkept factories where accidents are common.
Human trafficking and child labor are both enabled by the fast fashion industry as they recruit underprivileged girls, promising a job with a “living wage.” These children are moved into factories, rather than school, to attempt to help their families. In wake of the collapse of a garment factory in 2013, where over 1,100 workers were killed, new labor laws and supervision have just made their way into the fashion industry.
Environmentally, the fashion industry wastes as much as it makes. According to the Council for Textile Recycling, the US creates over 25 billion pounds of clothing waste yearly and over 85 percent of it ends up in a landfill. To put that into perspective, the EPA estimates that the average American throws away over 70 pounds of clothing yearly. Factories emit copious amounts of greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere and release dangerous dyes and pesticides into the ocean.
How can I stop contributing to fast fashion?
This fall, when you are shopping for your jeans and sweaters, think about purchasing from ethical brands, such as Reformation, Everlane or People Tree. Although ethical clothing may be slightly more of an investment, they will serve as basics in your wardrobe for seasons to come.
If you are unsure of a brand’s impact, the app Good On You, allows you to search ratings of a brand and discover new sustainable designers. Thrifting or buying gently used or even new items is easier than ever with the rise of online thrifting apps such as Poshmark, Depop, Mercari or Letgo.
Fast fashion is more dangerous than ever with technology that allows companies to produce and sell thousands of garments for less than you may pay for a latte. Although it may be impossible to be 100 percent ethical, small changes can contribute to breaking the fast fashion cycle.