“Fast fashion isn’t free. Someone, somewhere is paying.”– Lucy Siegle
Last September, I committed to the lifestyle of Slow Fashion. Slow Fashion encompasses sustainability & intentionality, in that it boycotts Fast Fashion. Living this lifestyle encourages secondhand shopping or buying from sustainable and ethical brands, rather than supporting household name brands. Even more so, this lifestyle encourages me to be happy and satisfied with what I already own first. It reminds me to utilize what I have, fix what breaks, or also donate what I don’t need. This pushed me to live a more minimal lifestyle (but don’t get me wrong, it’s coming in baby steps).
I was introduced to the idea of Slow Fashion, once I started pursuing environmental-sustainability. Caring more about the environment taught me things I never realized before, like how the Fast Fashion industry is a huge perpetrator of wasting resources, creating a carbon footprint, and forcing slave labor. Sure, $5 T-shirts and buy-one-get-one-free sales sound appealing to my wallet, but the overall negative impact Fast Fashion has on the environment, and on human beings, is simply not worth it.
So, what exactly IS Fast Fashion?
Simply put, Fast Fashion is typically affordable, it dominates the fashion industry, follows trends, and encourages a throw-away culture. Fast Fashion samples ideas from celebrities and the catwalk and turns them into affordable clothing in high street stores at such a quick speed. In order to keep on-trend, Fast Fashion brands also introduce new fashion lines on a seasonal basis. Popular examples of Fast Fashion retailers include H&M, Gap, UNIQLO, Forever21, Zara, and Topshop.
Fashion used to be slower. Think of the 1800’s, when people hand made their own clothes. But ever since the Industrial Revolution, new technology – like the sewing machine – allowed clothes-making to be faster, easier, and cheaper. Because of this, low-cost fashion became a quick-catching phenomenon.
“Fast fashion utilizes trend replication, rapid production, and low-quality materials in order to bring inexpensive styles to the public.”– The Good Trade
Today, Fast Fashion brands are said to produce about 52 “micro-seasons” each year. Because of their rapid responses to the latest style trends, these companies sacrifice the efficacy of their materials, as well as the sustainability of their making methods. This is because the keyword here is “fast.” These companies would rather produce and produce in order to keep up with the trends, than take the time to make clothes with intentionality and care. They don’t typically design their clothes to last, sometimes forfeiting efficient quality control. This brings them more business later, as you would have to throw out last season’s clothes and purchase new items again.
What impact does Fast Fashion have on the environment and on humanity?
Fast Fashion brands face the pressure of reducing costs and speeding up production times, which means they cut environmental corners. The brands rarely use sustainable textiles: the clothes they offer typically contain synthetic chemicals and materials, micro plastics, and non-sustainable dyes. More than 60% of fabric fibers are now synthetics, which are derived from fossil fuels. This means, when your clothing ends up in a landfill, it does not decay. In the United States, about 85% of textile waste goes to the landfill or is incinerated. The microfibers that end up in the sea don’t decay either. The fashion industry is the second largest global polluter of clean water, after the agriculture industry.
Animals are also heavily impacted by Fast Fashion because the toxic dyes and microfibers released into the waterways can be ingested by ocean life. The use of animal products in fashion, like fur and leather, also puts animal welfare at risk.
As for the labor of making these Fast Fashion clothes, the textile industry is a huge perpetrator of slave labor.
“The textile industry has always been one of the darkest corners of the world economy.”– Dana Thomas
Today, there are still immigrant workers in Los Angeles who are victims of wage theft and exploitation. Offshore locations are even worse. In Bangladesh, China, and Vietnam, workers face conditions that are grim at best and inhumane at worst. The fashion industry depends on the toil of the powerless and voiceless. According to the Global Estimates of Modern Slavery, about 40 million people in the world are victims of modern slavery, and 20.2 million of them are persons in forced labor conditions. When you support Fast Fashion, you’re also supporting the companies who underpay, underfeed, and exploit their garment workers. Many of these workers are even denied basic human rights. Further down the supply chains, there are also farmers who might work with toxic chemicals, which impact their physical and mental health.
What are some sustainable and affordable alternatives?
The first, and most sustainable and affordable option, is to be happy with what you already have in your closet. Falling in love with the clothes you own is such a great way to save money and the Earth. You can repurpose your already existing wardrobe by styling your clothes in ways you never thought before. You can take clothes that have rips or tears, and mend them or use their fabric to create another article of clothing. Having the mentality that you already have enough, is a great first step.
Thrifting is another alternative to Fast Fashion. Buying clothes secondhand is affordable, and can also be really fun. That saying, “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure,” never seemed more useful. Thrift shopping keeps more clothes from going into the landfill. It repurposes an article of clothing, giving it a new life. There are even online thrift shops nowadays, like ThredUp, Poshmark, and DePop. Thrifting has never been more accessible than it is today!
Lastly, if you decide to purchase new clothes, it’s always best to support brands that are both sustainable and ethical! If you’re ever hesitant about a clothing brand, Sustainable Apparel Coalition, is a great resource for assessing a brand’s environmental impact. I also frequently use the app, Good on You, which has an entire database of clothing brands. The app organizes brands by category, so you can quickly find an ethical and sustainable store for whatever you’re looking for. It also provides each brand’s price range and gives the brand an ethical score, based on its labor, environmental, and animal-related practices. The app also provides a database of articles that shed light on the fashion industry, both Slow and Fast.
Boycotting Isn’t A Perfect Fix
All of this being said, boycotting the Fast Fashion industry doesn’t fix all the problems they might cause. The big brands will still exist, whether we personally buy their clothes or not. There are some who argue, “At least a sweatshop job is better than no job at all.” To respond to this argument, we should instead say, “That shouldn’t be our standard.” Forced labor and modern slavery shouldn’t be tolerated. As consumers, we vote with our dollar. We can show the leading companies how they can be better. We can contact fashion brands in order to ask them questions about their sustainability and production. We can demand change.
This whole entire system needs to be changed, and we can each play a role in changing the fashion industry.
Together, we can create a Fashion Revolution, where we ask, “Who Made My Clothes?” and declare that, “we don’t want our clothes to exploit people or destroy our planet.”
Common Signs of a Fast Fashion brand:
- Currently replicating streetwear and fashion week trends as they appear in real-time
- Thousands of styles available
- Inventory is constantly revamped
- Extremely short turnaround time between when the trend is seen in the media or on the catwalk, and when it hits the shelves
- Manufactured offshore, where the labor is cheapest (this leaves workers without adequate rights, safety, or wages)
- A limited quantity of a particular garment (“You’ll miss your chance if you don’t buy it now.” Zara pioneered this idea)
- Cheap, low-quality materials where the clothes degrade after a few wears, thus getting tossed