The Secret Costs of Fast Fashion

Is the need to be “in style” worth destroying the environment?

Giselle Martins, Staff Writer

Compared to 20 years ago, clothing is being purchased at two times the rate and only kept for half as long. Something that is both a result and a cause of this is fast fashion, the production of cheap but trendy clothing designed to last only a few weeks. 

Since June 2020, companies like SHEIN that sell fast fashion have grown in popularity thanks to “haul” videos on social media sites like TikTok. For instance, take the video posted on March 20, 2020, by @jodi.opuda where she spends $900 on 91 SHEIN items. At the time of writing, this video has garnered 2.6 million likes and 13.9 million views.

These fast fashion brands are creating garments that cater to the most recent fad, but result in a mass discarding of consumer products at an alarming rate. To put this into perspective, this amounts to one garbage truck full of clothing being dumped at a landfill or burnt every second globally. 

According to Vou’s article, “What Exactly Is Sustainable Fashion…,” the fashion industry has a carbon footprint accounting for over 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Vou claims the fashion industry is also one of largest consumers of water in the world, using 2,720 liters to make a single cotton shirt and over 7,000 liters to make a pair of jeans.

Fast fashion also tends to use polyester materials that require “70 million barrels of oil” manually to produce (Vou). These polyester fibers often end up in oceans, polluting them and harming animals. 

Harming the environment is not the only consequence of fast fashion. About 93% of fast fashion brands are not paying their employees a living wage. In order to keep their insanely low prices many brands have moved their production to countries where labor is cheaper and the laws surrounding workers’ rights are laxer, such as China, India, Pakistan, and Turkey. In the worst cases, such as in the lawsuit surround fast fashion giant Boohoo, working conditions and wages are described as modern-day slavery. 

The issue of plagiarism has also surrounded the fast fashion industry. One of the most notable cases occurred between fast fashion retailer Missguided and Kim Kardashian. The retailer was believed to be copying Kardashian’s clothing and using her photos to promote their own, less expensive versions of her products.

“I get wanting to wear designer clothes, but you can’t take somebody else’s work,” said Haivy Pham, a senior. 

As these downsides of fast fashion are spotlighted, many people have turned to sustainable fashion as an alternative. Sustainable fashion is “…a carbon-neutral fashion industry, built on equality, social justice, animal welfare, and ecological integrity,” according to The Vou. Examples of sustainable fashion include green fashion, ethical fashion, and the current trend of thrifting. 

“Fast fashion leaves my closet after three months while sustainable fashion stays for three years,” Pham said. 

Green fashion companies replace the plastics often found in fast fashion garments with biodegradable fibers, while ethical fashion companies concern themselves more with the wellbeing of their employees. Thrifting, meanwhile, involves shopping in thrift stores and other secondhand shops for clothing that could be out of season or style, or that could be repurposed. 

Since thrifting does not require the creation of new clothing items, there is no use of toxic chemicals or a release of greenhouse gases. It avoids the negative impacts of fashion manufacturing.

However, there are some downsides to thrifting. Secondhand clothing is difficult to date, making it difficult to figure out the quality of clothing. Clothing made with animal leather or plastic can contain chemicals that may end up in your skin, effecting your hormonal balance. 

One of the most controversial parts of thrifting stems from the fact that it’s a trend. Many people are buying clothing from thrift stores that they don’t need and later throwing them out, adding to the monstrous amount of textile waste already produced. This overbuying also raises prices and makes thrifting for people who need the low thrift store prices inaccessible, leaving them with fewer options and higher prices. 

“Thrifting should stop being a trend, with the way prices are rises I might as well take my money and buy something new from Forever 21,” Pham said. 

Regardless, thrifting is one of the best ways to shop sustainable fashion affordably. Many sustainable fashion brands have high prices in return for being environmentally and ethically conscious. They also seem more built to last.

“Sustainable fashion is expensive, but it [produces] really good quality clothes. They feel better on my body,” said Sebastian Davalos, a senior. 

With its ever-growing popularity, low prices, and endless selection of clothing, fast fashion certainly seems to be sticking around. However, the thrifting trend may help combat the environmental effects of this. Either way, I’m sure Gen Z will prevail as one of the most fashionable generations.