We’ve all heard statistics of the dramatic and often oversimplified implications of fast fashion. A 2021 report by the World Economic Forum found that the fashion supply chain is the third largest polluter in the world.
Companies like Shein are notorious for their accusations of art theft and unfair treatment of their employees. The extremely labor-dependent modern fashion industry originates from globalization and cruel exploitation of labor in underdeveloped countries.
Video essayist Broey Deschanel summarized this when they said, “No economic prosperity or development in the first world without continued under-developing of the third world.”
The issue with ethical consumption is complex, especially as students, who often choose clothes on the basis of affordability or accessibility, not longevity. One claim of “sustainable ethical brands are classist” explore how these companies tend to cater only toward people with affluence, and how many people are excluded when these shops only carry smaller sizes.
Even if teens don’t throw away clothes as soon as trends end, there’s certain guilt associated with the unintentional contribution to the growth of these companies, especially if it’s for something as trivial as fashion or beauty. However, those who buy from fast fashion companies because it’s their only option aren’t the ones perpetuating this issue. The meaning of sustainability in fashion has been morphed by people who use it to make the non wealthy feel bad for not participating in ethical capitalism. Even buying from moral brands becomes unsustainable and feeds consumerism when over-consumed.
According to Forbes, teenagers are one of the main consumers of TikTok. As a sophomore Jeana Hong puts it, “TikTok is exciting because every week you see new trends.” With the influence of microtrends and fast paced fashion cycles, clothing becomes seen as disposable. Before the rise of Instagram influencer culture and apps like TikTok, teens looked toward celebrities and magazines for fashion trends. This specific circle of people was small and access to these slow fashion cycles was neatly curated by them. As high fashion now becomes accessible and replicated for a low cost, we need transformation and accountability from corporal institutions.
A re-examination of business and culture is necessary, and we should encourage small steps toward more intentional, relational shopping instead of punishing and policing those who shop fast fashion out of necessity.