Fast fashion: we’ve probably heard of it, we’ve likely worn it, and we’ve almost definitely purchased it from the source. Discourse around the fast fashion industry is undoubtedly spreading; we’re witnessing a cultural reset in the way we think about buying clothes.
Is changing your whole wardrobe every season worth supporting the industry? Are there ways for everyone to skirt around buying into the fast fashion industry? How grave are the economic, environmental, and ethical costs of cheap clothing?
Keep scrolling to find out about the deal with fast fashion.
What even is fast fashion?
Shopping for clothes used to be a seasonal occurrence: perhaps one would buy a new winter coat or a suitable garment for the summer. But at the turn of the 21st century, clothing production skyrocketed. Shopping became a hobby, with marketing ramping up to represent the latest trends, straight off the runway. In comes fast fashion. Fast fashion can be simply defined as cheap, trendy clothing that usually lasts around a season. The industry is built to constantly bring out the latest trends, launching new styles as quickly and frequently as possible. The model can easily lead to garments becoming outworn and outdated incredibly soon after purchase.
So, what’s the problem?
In the last 15 years, clothing production has doubled. Toxic chemicals like heavy-metals, formaldehyde, alkylphenol compounds and phthalates are being used to manufacture textiles. Lax supply chain traceability standards give us little to no idea of how garment workers are being treated, nor do they bring us insight into who’s actually making our clothing in the fast fashion industry. Fast fashion brands are frankly taking no responsibility or accountability for their practices. That’s mostly because they don’t even have to.
Sounds pretty bad. Why should we move away from the industry?
Like many sustainable practices, people maintain varying reasons for avoiding the fast fashion industry.
To gain some more insight into why we should retreat from fast fashion and what we can do to make a change, I’ve chatted with three advocates for sustainability: Keneeshah Kwaramba and Sophia Krause, co-founders of @wearegenerationnow, and Sophia Delrosario, founder of @zenerations.
Delrosario details an important reason to start thinking about sustainable fashion.
“Sustainability is a key component to helping rid the world of the negative effects of climate change, and the fast fashion industry produces millions of tons of waste. Today’s generation will be most affected by climate change, as it’s our future that will potentially be destroyed if we don’t start advocating for environmental sustainability and fighting climate change. Thus, we need to start now, not only for today’s teens but for the future generations.”
If you’re not convinced about the dangers of this industry quite yet, there’s a massive ethical component to avoiding fast fashion as well.
Krause reminds us that worker exploitation is rampant in this industry.
“Fast fashion industries often exploit and mistreat their workers, forcing them to work in unsafe environments. Many workers are not granted access to basic human rights.”
Kwaramba echoes some of these sentiments, detailing reasons to stay away from fast fashion as well.
“Similar to Sophia [Krause] the two main reasons why I’ve been actively trying to shy away from fast fashion is because of the exploitation of the workers and the harmful effects it has to the state of our planet.”
But I’m just one person! Surely I won’t make a difference.
Though it might not look like it at first glance, every little bit helps. It’s always crucial to remember that we don’t have to be perfect at sustainability. If everyone bought one or two fewer fast fashion garments each month, that impact would likely stretch far beyond the handful of people who are buying perfectly ethically and sustainably every time. Not to mention, we’d all save a good bit of coin.
But sustainable brands are often not cheap. And many don’t have the time or resources to scour thrift shops, especially when they’re in need of something quickly. It’s crucial we realize that partaking in sustainable practices stems from a point of privilege as well.
How are privilege and sustainability connected?
Sophia Delrosario of @zenerations reminds us of a crucial point when we consider the privilege of buying sustainably.
“It’s important to note that not everyone has the financial stability to completely switch from fast fashion to sustainable brands, but awareness, education, and subtle shifts can ultimately transition into a lifetime of environmental sustainability.”
Sophia Krause from @wearegenerationnow also follows this point.
“The ability to shop sustainably, no matter the form, will always be a privilege. Having the choice to invest in higher quality pieces at a higher price range is just not attainable for many people, and that is completely okay…any step in the right direction has value, no matter how small you might think it is!”
All of this discussion about the environmental, ethical, and economic perils of fast fashion are a lot to take in. Whether you’re an avid Shein shopper or you’re dipping your toes into sustainability, you may be asking:
How can I start to help?
Sophia Delrosario hits us with a great first step.
“Take a look at what’s in your closet first! Look at the tags. What stores do you seem to prefer most? What style of clothes do you buy from each store? Then go ahead and google them, the store’s practices, where they source their fabric and where the items are made. That can give you a good gauge of how much of your closet is “fast fashion.” From there you can go ahead and search for sustainable brands online who sell similar styles of what you’re into!”
Sophia Krause loves thrifting and shouts out some awesome sustainable brands.
And Keneeshah Kwaramba recommends we delve into the world of upcycling and getting creative with our fashion choices.
“I think another great way to combat fast fashion is creating your own clothing. It’s definitely not for everyone, but simple tutorials and design patterns of clothing can be found online. Some tips I have for people who can’t afford to thrift or buy from sustainable brands is to upcycle your old clothing. Simply cropping one of your shirts can make it new.”
What should I do with the fast fashion garments I already have?
Sophia Krause advises we make them last!
“Try to adjust what you do with your clothing once it’s past its prime. Consider donating your gently used clothing instead of throwing it out. Any step in the right direction has value, no matter how small you might think it is!”
Krause also relays a (possibly unpleasant but definitely helpful) pro-tip:
“to make your cheaper garments last, minimize how often you’re washing them, or wash it by hand if possible. “Excessively washing poorly made clothing can cause fraying, tears and other damage. Excessive washing can also pollute freshwater due to the plastic particles found in synthetic fibres. By limiting the number of washes on fast fashion pieces, you are preserving your clothing and protecting the environment!”
Did you learn anything new about fast fashion? Are you looking into trying any of these sustainable practices? Let us know!