In spite of the rise of environmental activism seen around the world lately, a surprising amount of people still aren’t aware of just how harmful fast fashion can really be, despite it being an extremely popular choice when shopping for clothes, especially online. According to Macmillan Dictionary, fast fashion is defined as “cheap clothing produced quickly and sold in large quantities in order to respond to the latest fashion trends.” This definition pretty much depicts what fast fashion is: a new trend comes onto the catwalk, and people want to buy it fast. So, large companies, seeking to make as much profit as possible, make these clothes in sweatshops, usually in Asian countries such as China and India, pay these workers sometimes cents an hour, get the items into their stores, and sell them to the masses for relatively “cheap” prices.
Because these clothes are made so cheaply and so quickly, in a lot of cases they end up damaged or worn out in the span of months, assuming they don’t go out of style in the first place. Many shoppers actually swear by fast fashion: they consider it a great, cheap way to keep up with trends, often buying clothes that they won’t even wear, just because they’re so cheap, they can’t pass up the chance! Besides from it draining your wallet in the long run, fast fashion is guilty for much, much more than a mostly unused closet: it is estimated that up to 8% of carbon emissions are caused by the fashion industry, and that a third of all human-caused microplastic pollution in the ocean is because of clothes that were thrown out.
What does fast fashion have to do with this? Well, because the whole idea of the system is to make large quantities of cheap, easily disposable clothes that people will stop wearing a couple of months, quite a lot. Imagine walking into your favorite shop, and you see this really nice shirt that seems really trendy and is surprisingly cheap, say about $9.99. You’ve seen so many people wear this style recently, and you really want to try it out, too. What will you do? Most likely you’ll end up buying the shirt and taking it home. You love it, you wear it for a couple of months, but then eventually it either goes out of style, you just simply get tired of it, or it wore down (the latter being the most common one). However, you leave it in your closet, just in case. Later on, you’re doing a closet clean-up and you see the same shirt. You probably forgot it existed. “That’s such an old shirt,” you think, “I don’t even like it anymore. Is that a rip on it?” Needless to say, you don’t want it anymore. Depending on the situation, you probably either donate it or throw it out. Even if you do donate it, there’s a 75% chance it’ll end up in the trash anyway (charities only end up selling about 25% of the clothes they receive). This shirt gets thrown in a dumpster, or ends up in the ocean, or best case scenario, a landfill, where it will decompose and likely send out a toxic greenhouse gas known as methane. Now repeat this same process, over and over, and over again: we’re talking thousands of times.
An amount equivalent to a garbage truck worth of clothes and fabric gets dumped into landfills in America every two minutes. You can assume this is not good for the environment. As if the insane amounts of pollution weren’t enough? How these items get to the world isn’t really any better, either. Sweatshops are notorious for their unsafe, often inhumane working conditions. Tens of millions of workers around Asia, most of whom are women and children, are paid a maximum of $2 dollars a day to sew and fabricate different clothing items. Their working conditions are extremely unsafe, and millions of the workers get injured, sick, or even killed at their jobs: all of this, just so that a company can get money, and people can get shirts. So, what can we, as the consumers, do about this situation?
The biggest first step is to identify common fast fashion brands: some popular companies include Zara, Forever 21, Brandy Melville, H&M, Fashion Nova, Uniqlo, Urban Outfitters, Missguided. You would be surprised just how many companies take part in these unethical practices, so it is always highly recommended that if you do shop retail, you do some background research about the company first, and then go and buy their products afterwards. If you don’t feel like doing too much searching but still want to shop for new clothes, you can always go to ethical brands such as People Tree, Reformation, and Everlane, though they can be a bit more costly in some cases. Finally, the most common option is to simply thrift or buy second-hand whenever you shop for clothes. You can even do so online, as there are many apps where you can buy used items from other sellers, one of the most popular apps being Depop (pay attention though, as not all items sold on Depop are necessarily second-hand).
It might not be all that possible to single handedly stop climate change, pollution, or mistreatment, but you can always sleep in peace knowing that you did as much as you could. If even half of those who go shop relatively often try to consume responsibly, we could all slowly but surely revert the damage the fast fashion industry had caused to our planet, and our society.