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Shopping Fast Fashion: The Moral Conflict


We’ve all shopped fast fashion at one point or another. Unable to escape the cheap prices, fashionable clothes, and easy accessibility, fast fashion has a hold on all of us. You may have heard the term ‘fast fashion’ being thrown around especially when it comes to conversations of sustainability and unjust labor. But, what is fast fashion? Fast fashion is commonly described as popular and cheap clothing inspired by fashion shows or celebrity culture and turns them into products at high street stores quickly to meet consumer demand. Because popular clothing is only in high demand for a short amount of time like a “season,” they quickly discarded after a few wears and create mass waste which is not sustainable. 

Fast fashion has an interesting history. Before the 1800s everyone was responsible for making their own clothes using materials like wool or leather. It was labor-intensive as you had to prepare them, weave them, and then make the clothes. The industrial revolution introduced technology -- like the sewing machine -- that made making clothing easier, quicker, and cheaper to make. Since clothing became so easy to make, dressmaking shops, which used garment or home workers, became popular to cater to the middle class. However, with this came the emergence of sweatshops -- with safety issues -- and soon the first factory disaster when there was a fire in New York’s Triangle Shirtwaist Factory and 146 people lost their lives. Many of the victims were young female immigrants which is, in my opinion, interesting considering young females are still the most significantly impacted when it comes to this labor. 

The 60s and 70s brought a more modern view of clothing and fashion as a means of creative self-expression. It wasn’t until the late 1990s and 2000s that low-cost fashion became really successful as online shopping became more popular; fast fashion realtors like H&M and Zara also emerged during this time. They often received inspiration from top fashion houses and reproduced quick and cheap clothing allowing everyone to now be able to shop trendy clothes anytime. 

So, what’s the issue with this? Because people know the next that the next trend is right around the corner and their clothes will soon go out of style, they lack the incentive to take care of them; this means they dispose of them quicker. Some retailers -- such as Fashion Nova -- have said they release 600 to 900 styles every week to keep up with trends. This fashion system is harmful because the majority of the clothing items are neither recycled nor donated. They instead either go to a landfill or get incarcerated. Obviously, this is wasteful and it pollutes the earth -- clothes can take as long as 200 years to decompose. So, fast fashion is not sustainable, and it is bad for the environment in a variety of ways such as contributing to deforestation, water usage, and greenhouse gases. 

Fast fashion also has another big issue: it contributes to inhumane human rights. The conditions that fashion industry workers have to endure is another reason why fast fashion is not the best. It makes top companies like Zara and H&M rely on unpaid workers from overseas. These workers suffer through unbearably long hours with little to no pay in extremely hazardous working conditions. For example, the 2013 Rana Plaza disaster is just one incident that happened in which a garment factory collapsed due to structural failure killing 1,134 people and injuring approximately 2,500 more. Unfortunately, however, this is not uncommon. Between 2006 and 2012, over 500 garment factory workers died due to factory fires. Now, even though some apparel retailers have pledged to ensure safer labor conditions for workers, they still continue to outsource clothing production from countries that have lax labor laws like India, Ethiopia, and Bangladesh. 

It can be morally conflicting to shop fast fashion. On one hand, it is easy to access clothing that is trendy and cheap, however, it can contribute to a plethora of harmful systems. So, when we shop fast fashion we can indirectly contribute to these unjust and harmful systems. Research has shown that people often forget or misremember products that are unethically made and according to a survey conducted that questioned 700 shoppers ages 18 to 37, people prioritize ease and low prices over sustainability. Although we, as individuals, cannot be blamed for the damage done by big cooperations, we can still do our best to not contribute so much to fast fashion when possible. Nobody is perfect and nobody is expecting anybody to never shop fast fashion again because that is the most accessible for a lot of people. However, when you get the chance, making more sustainable clothing choices is always good, and here are some ways you can do that. 

Recycle your clothes!

One good thing about some stores, like H&M, is you can bring old pieces of garment and clothing and they will recycle them for you. Recycling your old clothes is an excellent way to be more sustainable instead of just throwing them out. You can even recycle old pieces yourself and use them to make something new! 

Make your own clothes!

Making your own pieces can not only help with not contributing to fast fashion and being more sustainable but it can also be a money saver! Making your own clothes is definitely not easy but if you get the chance, it can be a valuable skill worth learning! Even if you only make your socks, you are helping out! 

Give your clothes a new home!

Instead of tossing out old clothes, consider giving them a new home! I almost never throw away clothes. Donating or selling your clothes are the perfect ways to give your clothes a new home. It is also especially helpful because it is more sustainable and you could seriously be helping an individual who may not have access to certain clothes. 

Shop sustainable businesses!

Not everyone can afford to shop from sustainable businesses; sustainability comes with a price and that price is usually two-hundred dollar jeans. But if you can, it can be worth it to shop sustainably from time to time. Usually, you will get a product that will last more than a season and you are supporting a company that ethically sources their clothing.

Check out your local thrift stores/ shop used clothes!

One of the biggest ways to be more sustainable and ethical when shopping is by checking out local thrift stores. You can find really good pieces without having to break the bank and you are giving old clothing a new home. There are also websites like Poshmark, Depop, and Mercari that essentially function as an online thrift store!


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