Looking good comes at a cost, but when does it become too costly? No, I’m not talking about the price of clothing but the effects that it has on us as a society, most specifically, fast fashion. With the rise of fast fashion brands such as Shein, Zaful, Romwe, etc., which provide many with — as the name suggests — fast, cheap, and trendy clothing, there is an increasing concern about the frequent negatives that fast fashion brings.
It does all sound good at first, but when scrolling through these websites you see the newest most up-to-date items being marketed at prices that retail stores could only dream of having, but what is the real danger in this? Many researchers and journalists have talked about this issue and to be able to form your own opinion you should always look at both sides. Fast fashion is an urgent issue that most consumers can aid in.
Looking through the pros, cons, and most importantly the companies responsible we can dig deeper and find out — should we get rid of fast fashion?
When it comes to marketing, these companies understand and target a certain audience. “The target market for fast fashion is young people who target fashionable and affordable fast-fashion clothing.” (Nurnafia et al). This group of young people, often called Gen Z or Millennials understand trends and often follow the latest styles and designs. Many of us do not have the funds to purchase from popular retail stores, even malls can feel overpriced.
Fast fashion offers an easy, cheap, and accessible way for us to feel good and trendy through what we wear. With the amount of time that many people collectively spend on Pinterest or Instagram, there are tons of advertisements for said clothing, this is how the companies make a profit. “Social media is used as media for companies and businesses to interact and engage with consumers and customers (Nurnafia et al).”
These companies often get celebrities to vouch for them but the biggest platform promoting fast fashion is TikTok, a video-sharing app. People will go out and purchase around three hundred dollars worth of clothing from fast fashion sites and do hauls — a video showcasing said items. The engagement makes others aware of the low-cost and trendy clothing available causing a domino effect in which they go out, buy clothing, and do their hauls which are responsible for continuing this cycle.
Of course, you could argue that this engagement in fast fashion helps people without the means to purchase clothing they feel good about. On the other hand though, with the constant cycling of trends that always have something new leads to overconsumption, a real problem that proves not only disastrous for your wardrobe but also for the planet. Many other options are cheaper and more sustainable, the main one being shopping secondhand.
The effects of fast fashion on the environment are not a new topic. For as long as Shein has been selling five-dollar baby tees, we have heard of the effects. While it is extremely difficult to stay completely ethical and waste-free in a capitalist economy, the culture of wastefulness that fast fashion has created cannot go unnoticed.
The carbon footprint has expanded dramatically in the industry in the last couple of years, “Beyond its harmful impact on water supplies, the global fashion industry accounts for 10% of the world’s carbon emissions, with significant emissions through both production and its supply chain (Brewer).” A central part of this wastefulness is consumers switching out clothing very frequently, fast fashion provides the ability to do that. The rapid production of clothing leads to more waste.
Waste that often ends up in discarded landfills creating larger rubbish heaps, there are plenty of statistics showing the excessive waste that is produced by these clothing brands, “In the United States, the Environmental Protection Agency’s most recently available estimates indicate that 11.9 million tons of clothing and footwear were discarded in 2015, of which 8.2 million tons ended up in landfills.’ (Brewer). These landfills further hurt our environment and make it unsafe for many to live in. Not to mention that a majority of these landfills are located in Ghana or other countries outside of the U.S., and living near that pollution is not good for anyone.
Countries such as Ghana have to deal with the mass production and disposal from higher-income countries to their landfills. LMICs are known as “low to middle-income countries”, there is poor management when it comes to factories in these countries with many health hazards. Many of the workers for these fast fashion companies are low-income and from
underdeveloped countries. The treatment of the employees is very harsh and degrading with many lacking safe working conditions and liveable wages.
There is much reported on the conditions of said factories with hazards ranging from unsafe to extremely dangerous, “In
LMICs, reported health outcomes to include debilitating and life-threatening conditions such as lung disease and cancer, damage to endocrine function, adverse reproductive and fetal effects, accidental injuries, overuse injuries, and death.” (Bick, R).
The bad ventilation and constant repetitive motion cause these conditions to occur. We can all agree that jobs should provide safety and security to those working and while you can contend that employees are making money to support themselves and family, that is not the case when there isn’t enough to be able to support them.
The jobs that they are subjected to are physically draining and often dangerous but on top of it, all the salary means nothing when put in a position such as that. Here in America, we have the luxury to protest and workers’ rights but in LMICs as said before a majority of fast fashion companies and workers are, they do not have the luxury. The heads of these companies surely know what is going on but it is the consumers who have the power to stop it.
With fast fashion being everywhere and unethical clothing brands becoming bigger and bigger, it may seem extremely difficult to keep up. Becoming sustainable is not as easy as just saying “I will become sustainable”. As consumers, we should strive to be conscious of the clothing we are buying and be mindful of the effects that it has — think of a chain reaction. “If
participants are willing to re-evaluate their shopping habits, then there is a real chance for change in the industry.” (Collison).
Consumers are what keeps the industry growing and the only real way to limit fast fashion and make a real change in it is through ourselves. If we keep ignoring the negatives then we’re putting more harm to ourselves, others, and most importantly the environment. Clothing should never be a reason to bring about such drastic changes and impacts to our society. I urge consumers to look into more sustainable options such as buying secondhand or buying from small businesses, it’s a small change for a collective bigger difference.
Writer : Rista Dahal
Bick, R., Halsey, E. & Ekenga, C.C. “The Global Environmental Injustice of Fast Fashion.” Environ Health.
https://doi.org/10.1186/s12940-018-0433-7 /. Accessed 23 Feb. 2022.
Brewer, M.K. “Slow Fashion in a Fast Fashion World: Promoting Sustainability and Responsibility.” Laws 2019, 8, 24.
https://doi.org/10.3390/laws8040024 /. Accessed 24 Feb. 2022.
Collison, K. (2021). “The Apparel Industry and the Lasting Impact of Fast Fashion. Marketing Undergraduate Honors Theses”
https://scholarworks.uark.edu/mktguht/43 /. Accessed 24 Feb. 2022.
Nurnafia Nahya, Arina and Carrisa Ghassini Chandra, Surya Nanda Marionc, et al. “Instagram Marketing Activities Of A Fast Fashion Brand In Response To Covid-19 Pandemic.”
https://www.turcomat.org/index.php/turkbilmat/article/view/5169/4324 /. Accessed 24 Feb. 2022