You may have heard statements like “Yo, fast fashion is bad,” right? Well, I’ll explain, but it makes sense. Firstly, I want to make it clear that the issue of fast fashion’s questionable ethical principles are not because people can only afford to shop from those brands.
If you don’t know, fast fashion is a term that describes the fashion companies that quickly crank out runway designs at a low cost to capitalize on demand. Here’s how fast fashion is, yes, unethical, but again—the culprits are different than some may think.
1. Promotes overconsumption
Fast fashion directly contributes to overconsumption. And while shopping addictions have been around forever, there’s nothing quite like the “Haul” video. 10 years ago, it was YouTube. Then Instagram. Now, it’s TikTok—where content creators post videos of an egregious amount of clothes they got from a brand for views and clout.
How many sneaker drops have you seen where people buy the entire size run and share them on socials?
But, where does that extra clothing go? What happens when the trend dies out, and the buyer is stuck with clothes they never really wanted in the first place?
2. It’s bad for the environment
Overconsumption leads to fashion waste. That’s a fact. But not in large part due to the people who throw away their clothes as opposed to donating (please donate or resell your clothes!). Because mostly, it’s due to corporations.
In a nutshell, here’s how fast fashion directly contributes to the climate crisis: The methods used to make some of these clothes add to pollution and kill our oceans, heavily. If you want the breakdown, here’s a study from Princeton, concluding that it takes 3,000 liters of water to make a single cotton shirt. Dye is toxic to oceans. And, 20% of wastewater worldwide is because of fast fashion.
3. Most companies have horrible conditions
Fast fashion companies treat their workers horribly. A study done by Emma Ross at George Washington University Law School found that of the 75 million factory workers worldwide, “less than 2% of them make a living wage.”
“Many garment workers are working up to 16 hours a day, 7 days a week,” the study continues. “The textile industry also uses child labor particularly because it is often low skilled, so children can be exploited at a younger age. Additionally, it’s been going around TikTok that SHEIN employees have been sewing cries for help into clothes. SHEIN claims this is just an inaccurate translation, and while it could be, it’s no secret that 1. SHEIN is one of the biggest fast fashion companies (v. $47 billion), 2. SHEIN steals designs, and 3. SHEIN treats employees horribly.
4. A lot of brands steal ideas and designs
Oh no, SHEIN’s not the only fast fashion brand that steals the work of independent designers and brands. Off the top of my head, I can think of 3 I’ve seen just this year. And most of the time, the victims are designers of color.
Carrie Anne Roberts was stolen from by Old Navy. Zara steals from YEEZY. Urban Outfitters stole from the Navajo Nation. And that’s just a few examples from this post written in 2018—and it’s still completely legal. Crediting and compensating zero designers.
Sometimes, the stealing is due to overworked designers that are swamped with demands and bad working conditions. But it’s up to corporations to provide their designers with conditions that help their creativity, not tear them down.
5. Wealthy people who can afford quality clothes don’t buy them
SHEIN hauls are still popular, and a single video on TikTok can rack up at least 2 million views. We talked about why this overconsumption isn’t great, but now wealthy people are buying thousands of dollars of clothes from a site where you can get 5 pieces for $40. Instead of buying quality clothes that will last them a long time and help indie brands, they thrift and run to fast fashion for clout.
This raises the price of clothes overall, so people who only have fast fashion companies to turn to when they want new clothes have to find out that they’ve been out-priced. They can’t afford a brand they once depended on. If you don’t believe me, go to Goodwill and look at the price of jeans. 3 years ago, it would’ve been about $7. Now? $19.99.
Fast fashion is essential for some people. Where else are people outside of the 1% supposed to get their clothing? This is why the debate over fast fashion is so polarizing. Along with the price barrier, fast fashion also has inclusive size ranges.
But I want to stress here that the boom of fast fashion isn’t because of people who can only afford new clothes, or can only buy from certain brands, every once in a while. It’s because of people who have the ability to make changes that would help our environment but don’t.
Want to start shopping sustainably? This is what you need to know.