The Negative Effects of Fast Fashion
By Melissa Lipari
Fast Fashion has been ingrained in our society for as long as I can remember. When I was younger, going to the mall and shopping at stores like H&M, Forever 21, and more, were the bane of my existence. As a young fashionista, fast fashion was the only way for me to get my fix. If I had an event, taking a quick trip to the mall was the easiest way for me to score the perfect outfit. At that time, I never understood the impact that just one t-shirt from a fast fashion brand could have on our environment and quality of life.
Times Square is filled with advertisements from all of the top fast fashion brands. Now, online fast fashion retailers like Pretty Little Thing and Fashion Nova are being endorsed by Instagram models and celebrities alike, taking the advertising from in-person to all over social media. Fast Fashion will always be apparent in our culture and lifestyle, simply because it's a part of the two major A’s of consumerism: accessible and affordable. Not everyone can afford to re-work their entire wardrobe around sustainable brands such as Everlane or Stella McCartney - this I understand. With that said, we can all at least become better educated on how fast fashion is impacting us in the long run. We can use some of this knowledge to be more mindful shoppers moving forward.
First, let’s talk about pollution. Air quality and water pollution are two factors that already have equated to being large problems in our efforts to halt climate change. According to SustainYourStyle.org, “In most of the countries in which garments are produced, untreated toxic wastewaters from textiles factories are dumped directly into the rivers. Wastewater contains toxic substances such as lead, mercury, and arsenic, among others. These are extremely harmful for the aquatic life and the health of millions of people living by those rivers banks. The contamination also reaches the sea and eventually spreads around the globe.” To reduce this omitted air/water pollution, we can try and shop clothing that is made in countries with stricter factory regulations. Countries like Canada and the US are more mindful about garment production, which is the reason for their generally high-priced clothing. However, spending the extra few dollars could save millions of lives - both human and aquatic.
Next, let’s reflect on all of the waste that we’re producing. The same article published by SustainYourStyle, mentions that, “The drop in garment prices over the last 20 years has allowed us to buy more and more clothes. We now have 5 times more clothes than our grandparents had.” This is pretty outrageous, especially because as a self-proclaimed fashionista, I can attest that I probably only wear about 50% of the clothes that are in my closet. With the inexpensive clothing from fast fashion houses, we are able to buy way more products than we need. Business Insider writes, “85% of all textiles go to the dump each year. And washing some types of clothes sends thousands of bits of plastic into the ocean.” The next time you clean your closet, think about donating to your local Goodwill or thrift store before considering the items to be waste. One person’s trash is another’s treasure!
Fast Fashion is not only harming our environment, but it's also harming our people. Missguided, a top online fast fashion retailer, was outed in 2017 for paying their employees less than half of the required minimum wage. They did this with participating factories that were known to pay workers less than they deserve. Despite this defamation claim, Missguided has yet to comment on the issue, even though it happened over three years ago. This is not only enabling their actions but it is plain illegal. Urban Outfitters also has recently been under fire for not supporting their workers during COVID-19 along with asking some employees in the U.S. to work for free on the weekends. It is evident that fast fashion brands are hurting our environment, but they are also affecting the lives of those who work in the retail industry, making this a civil rights issue too. While it is better to have a job than none at all, it is time that these brands step up and admit their wrongs while also compensating their employees for their unethical practices.
I know that it can be quite difficult to make the transition from shopping fast fashion into sustainable purchasing, but it can slowly be done. Next time you want to buy a staple piece, try purchasing from a company that is ethical such as & Other Stories or Boden. While neither of these brands are perfect, they at least have more ethical practices than your typical retailers in the mall and are more affordable than the sustainable brands that are often advertised. Thrifting is also an amazing alternative to shopping fast fashion. Not only are you getting a one-of-a-kind piece, but you are also saving the environment. The prices from thrift stores or second hand shops are also pretty low compared to that of the raised prices from “luxury” fast fashion retailers. It shouldn’t have to cost the environment or human lives to look or dress well.
In an attempt to lower our ecological footprint from our clothing consumption, I have listed some retailers that are great alternatives to the traditional fast fashion store. Next time you’re itching to go on a shopping spree, try checking out one of these more ethical brands below!