OPINION: The Issue with Fast Fashion

Image by Francois Le Nguyen from Unsplash.

Fast fashion is the name that has been given to the quick turnaround of ideas from what celebrities wear or what appears on the catwalk into items of clothing. These are then sold at places like H&M, SHEIN, Gap, Mango and Zara, to name a few, with companies coming out with sometimes thousands of new styles a week.

When you look at fast fashion on a surface level, it’s easy not to see an immediate problem with it. Try-on hauls of the latest trends are a very popular genre of video on social media, and buying a trendy item of clothing for under 20 dollars is a favorable proposition to many. Fast fashion is something that has steadily been becoming a problem since the early 2000s, but you can mark a turning point in the ’70s when factories started opening in China and other countries. They promised to produce clothing for much cheaper prices, and American retailers started outsourcing production there. Nowadays, fast fashion companies have the infrastructure to constantly and consistently pump out new styles influenced by what celebrities were wearing and posting that week. In 2019, Kim Kardashian sued fast fashion brand Missguided after they posted a picture of a model wearing a golden dress very similar to the one that she had recently posted, promising to begin selling it in a few days. She won 2.7 million dollars.

There are a couple of main issues with fast fashion. The first issue would have to be the unsafe working conditions that a lot of these factories have in order to produce such large quantities of clothing for so little money. In 2013, an eight-story garment factory in Bangladesh collapsed and killed 1,134 people. Over 2,500 people were injured, and it put the unsafe working conditions that many factories fueling fast fashion have into the spotlight.

The second issue would be waste. People are more likely to throw away cheap, trendy clothes than more expensive ones. When your clothing is more expensive, you’re more motivated to get your money’s worth and continue to wear it. It’s harder to rewear cheaper clothing because it often doesn’t last very long, and when it gets thrown out, clothing doesn’t get recycled nearly as much as plastic or paper. The average American throws away roughly 70 pounds of clothing in a year, double the amount from 20 years ago. There are environmental concerns that come with this waste. Polyester, a material used widely in fast fast fashion, is made from fossil fuels and sheds microfibers that end up in the ocean and can contribute to global warming. Cotton, although natural, is a water-intensive crop, and to grow enough cotton for one shirt would take 2,700 liters of water. There have even been cases of real cat or dog fur being passed off as faux, because it’s easier and cheaper to produce under horrible conditions than it is to produce real faux fur. Toxic dyes that are cheaper to use also make their way into waterways and are consumed by animals and marine life.

Even though fast fashion has been considered normal by a large part of our society for a while, the downfalls have recently been gaining more attention, and pressure has been placed on these companies to make changes. This pressure sometimes works. H&M has pledged to work only with recycled, organic or more sustainably sourced materials by 2030. Zara has made the effort to put out more recycled, sustainably sourced products. The general advice that is given to avoid the impacts of fast fashion is to invest in fewer but higher-quality, versatile pieces that outlive microtrends. There are also many brands that claim to sell sustainably sourced clothing, like Organic Basics, Afends and Outland Denim. Be aware, though, that many sustainable brands will often have much higher prices than fast fashion ones. Partially for this reason, thrifting and donating clothes or selling them on online platforms like Depop or Poshmark has been gaining popularity. However, thrift stores have been catching on, and many people have been realizing that Goodwill is beginning to raise their prices, especially on items of clothing that are considered to be in style.

When it comes time to get rid of your clothes, instead of just throwing them away, consider selling them on Depop or Poshmark. You could also donate them to Goodwill, The Salvation Army or Value Village. Visit King County’s EcoConsumer website to find more organizations where you can drop off your clothes to be recycled or resold. Supporting fast fashion brands is unethical, and we should all try our hardest to minimize the negative effect that it has on the world.