A trash can with piles of thrown out clothes on top

(HS Insider)


Opinion: The effects of fast fashion

Fast fashion causes consumers to believe clothes are disposable.
<a href="https://highschool.latimes.com/author/chloeluchen/" target="_self">Chloe Chen</a>

Chloe Chen

September 19, 2022
Fast fashion has taken over the world with cheap clothing. By definition, fast fashion is inexpensive clothing that is produced expeditiously to be on top of the latest trends.

For instance, fast fashion companies include large retailers like Shein, Romwe, Topshop and Boohoo. People may think of fast fashion growth as good, but this industry impacts the environment, laborers, the fashion industry itself and even the consumers who participate in it. 

All of the elements of fast fashion — rapid trends, fast production, low quality — all contribute to a huge environmental impact. Because people only wear these clothing items a few times before they get thrown away, almost 85% of textiles are thrown away each year, according to Human Rights Pulse. Additionally, when the textiles get thrown away, it takes about 200 years to decompose in a landfill.

Textile waste overflows in landfills and releases toxins into the air. The large carbon footprint from fast fashion is even equivalent to the footprint from industries like energy and transportation.

As more people throw away clothing from these companies, they purchase clothes more often, and the demand for more clothing increases. This leads to companies needing more workers to work cheaply and quickly, which sometimes takes the form of child labor or other frowned-upon labor practices.

These manufacturers use children to pick cotton, sew clothes and many other jobs just so people can buy clothes that cost less than $10, as reported by Borgen Magazine. Children as young as five years old work 14 to 16 hours a day, up to seven days a week and get paid little to none just so they can help support their families.

These companies also hire undocumented workers and pay them very little each day. Some are paid about a dollar a day if they are lucky. Companies will hire these workers and sometimes will not even pay them for their work. By buying these clothes, consumers are directly supporting these companies and their unethical treatment of laborers.

Besides laborers, another group on the fashion production side that suffers is the group of fashion designers and creators. Selling cheap and trendy clothes is good for the companies, but it’s not good for fashion cycles, which is the period where a certain type or item of clothing is popular. Fashion cycles normally range from 30 to 60 weeks, but with more people buying trendy items from these companies, trends phase out more quickly, in one or two weeks.

Some of these companies put out hundreds of designs each day just so people have “options.” Shein, for example, proudly boasts that they add 500 new items every day to “spoil” customers, as stated in a press release by the company. These designs could be original, or they are taken from small businesses and designers who have worked hard to produce their products.

To the creators, fast fashion brands stealing their work is a whole nightmare. They take their designs and manufacture them, without thinking about how much work people have done to create those designs. It’s like copying and pasting but with fashion. This depreciates and devalues the creator’s work turns it into something cheap, making the fashion industry seem toxic and competitive.

Since fashion cycles are short and people think they have to have the trendiest clothing to fit in, they turn to fast fashion to supply their wants. Some people buy $900 worth of trendy clothing, and they wear it once before it’s not trendy and throw it away.

This cycle of constant consumerism makes people think that clothes are disposable. It leads to people who go on shopping sprees but later regret what they have bought, letting them sit in closets collecting dust until they’re thrown away. Shopping sprees provide a sense of temporary fulfillment, but that can lead to a materialistic mindset where the consumer is never fully satisfied. 

Although fast fashion is harmful, this isn’t to say that everyone should stop buying fast fashion. This doesn’t apply to people who can’t afford more sustainable brands. The people who don’t have a high income and can’t afford a more sustainable option often cherish their clothing more, so less of their clothing ends up in landfills.

But, it is the people at higher income levels who are buying huge hauls, wasting their money on clothes that will eventually get thrown away. Instead of buying fast fashion, they could have spent their money on something more sustainable that could be worn for a longer time. 

Instead of buying from fast fashion brands, consumers could buy from local thrift shops and still be on top of the latest trends. Fashion trends regenerate every ten to twenty years, according to Thread, so consumers can find clothing from different eras of time that are coming back in trend.

Websites like ThredUp, Depop, Mercari and Poshmark are also great for buying trendy clothes sustainably. On these websites, people sell “used” clothing, sometimes completely brand new with the tag or with minor flaws. Anyone can sell on these websites, so it’s a great alternative to throwing away clothing and getting more money.

Ultimately, If you have the money to invest in sustainable and good quality pieces, it’s a great option to do so instead of buying from fast fashion brands. If it’s all you can afford, it’s okay as long as you will cherish it for a long time. In the end, it’s all about being mindful of the impact it has on others and the environment.