by Semira Arora (’25) | October 11, 2021
From matching tie-dye sets to cropped cardigans, fashion trends come and go. While some may impulsively buy this season’s trend, it is important to think about what happens behind the scenes for every item one “adds to cart.” Why are countless clothing items thrown out at the end of each year? As much as we like to fit in with the status quo, we should rethink fast fashion.
Fast fashion is defined as cheap, trendy clothing that samples ideas from the runway or celebrity culture. These designer concepts turn into garments for high street stores at breakneck speed to meet consumer demand. Well-known fast fashion brands include H&M, Zara, and SHEIN. While there are other options, sustainable fashion brand Panaprium reports that the overwhelming majority of consumers prefer fast fashion. Shoppers buy unsustainable fashion because of the budget-friendly prices and their desire to keep up with styles without considering the global repercussions behind their choice.
As clothing factories are forced to keep up with the exhausting demand, unjust working conditions are on the rise. Advocacy group Garment Worker Center interviewed 175 factory workers in Pasadena, CA, finding that one in three workers did not have access to clean drinking water and were denied legally mandated breaks. Furthermore, nearly two-thirds of employees reported working overtime without pay.
Fast fashion can also cause severe environmental repercussions that arise from the production of the garments. Business Insider reports that cheap, low-quality clothing is doing far more harm than good— production “makes up 10% of humanity’s carbon emissions, drie[s] up water sources, and pollutes rivers and streams.” According to Business Insider, polyester is found in 60% of garments, and producing clothing with polyester releases two to three times more carbon emissions compared to cotton. Furthermore, polyester does not decompose in the ocean. As a result, aquatic wildlife ingests the harmful material and causes a ripple effect on an entire ecosystem.
Ranging from its unethical labor practices to dreadful environmental impacts, fast fashion is, simply put, problematic. Shoppers should purchase ethical fashion given that they have the financial ability to afford sustainable clothing. Nonetheless, others can easily start by acknowledging the realities of fast fashion, looking beyond its cheap, trendy clothes.