The Disastrous Effects of Fast Fashion

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Matthew Chen, Staff Writer

Fashion is becoming more and more accessible as prices drop and availability increases. While these trends have already led to widespread interest, companies have also found new ways to increase their profits while providing questionably low costs.  

Let me paint you a picture: you’re at the mall shopping for new clothes. In one section there are expensive brands like Gucci, Prada, and Burberry. On the other end are more casual clothes that are considerably less expensive, but still expensive for the average American consumer. Those clothes are more targeted towards working adults, and not casual enough for younger people in school settings. 

Now, there is another store that sells clothes with the latest styles, but at the price of a pizza slice. Most consumers would choose the latter. The fashion community has dubbed this type of store “fast fashion.” Trendy clothes at a cheap price? Almost seems too good to be true—and it is. The reality is that the harmful consequences of fast fashion are innumerable. 

Around the time of the birth of the Internet, online retailers like H&M and Zara took off and grew to the prevalence we see today. These retailers became giants of fast fashion, as their popularity allowed them to expand production. The problem with fast fashion lies in the ethics of producing clothes at such a cheap price. Companies will often compromise quality of material and stitching for price, marketing items that look good but will realistically last only a couple of wash cycles. In this sense, companies are preying on the stinginess of Americans by selling clothes that are not economical in the long run. 

Even more malicious are the companies that offer premium prices for the same material of clothing. Companies such as Urban Outfitters will use their aura of style to justify selling cheap material for high prices. 

However, this is not fast fashion’s only crime against humanity. As the United States moved away from an industrial nation to a developed nation, American companies outsourced their factories to countries with cheap labor such as India and Bangladesh, which has led to “sweatshops” and destructive factory practices that result in the violation of human rights for natives in these countries. 

Another source of degradement is the fabric itself. Polyester, used in most clothing, contributes to the fossil fuel problem, as polyester is made from petroleum, and can create micropollutants that inflame waterways. Growing cotton, another popular material in clothing, requires large amounts of water and pesticides that damage the ecosystems of developing countries. 

In addition, the commercialization of fashion has led to the diminishment of some livelihoods. For example, Indian cotton farmers are committing suicide in record numbers as a result of their inability to compete with larger cotton producers. In 2013 alone, over 11,000 Indian farmers committed suicide. Even for those working under fashion retailers, factory workers and farmers are subjected daily to toxic chemicals and pesticides. 

Fast fashion has also led to an increase in textile waste, as people buy more clothes to stay up to date with the latest trends. As a result of increased buying, the average consumer in the United States throws away seventy pounds of clothing each year. 

If you are extremely worried about these conditions, fear not, for there more eco-conscious clothing options are becoming available. Even large companies such as H&M are taking steps to ensure their production and clothes are more environmentally friendly.

Perhaps fast fashion represents the larger commercialization of the American consumer. The increased material goods being sold to consumers represents the oppression by companies of third-world countries, which shields them from the public eye. For example, the tech industry has been notorious for human rights violations, with many of the metals used in electronics farmed from child slavery. 

While this is not the era of Boss Tweed and market capitalists abusing environments and people for lower costs, action must be taken. You don’t necessarily have to stop buying from fast fashion, but you should be conscious of how your decision impacts the world. Similarly to the introduction of regulations onto companies of the past, action must be taken to create a better, more sustainable world for fashion, consumers, and workers.