Over the past 30 years, fast fashion has become a global force to be reckoned with. Companies like Zara and H&M have overtaken pre-existing companies such as Gap and Levi’s in terms of revenue, reaching almost 30 billion dollars in 2018.
However, fast fashion comes at a high price. The industry detrimentally affects the environment and furthers the unfair treatment of workers. Personally, I bought items from Romwe a few years ago. I thought being able to buy shirts for only $7.99 was a deal I just couldn’t pass up. Their ads that promoted cheap prices and free shipping, that I’m sure many of you have seen at one point, hooked me. I was disappointed when I received the clothes in the mail, due to their poor quality.
I’ve recently learned that quality was not the only thing sacrificed to produce clothing at such a price. My experience buying clothes shows how social media is only promoting the rise of the fast fashion industry. Sidebar ads and popups don’t tell the whole story, yet provide enough information that shoppers purchase clothes from their brand.
For example, look at Fashion Nova. They use a network of celebrities and influencers to promote their products. However, The New York Times published an article exposing that their factory workers in Los Angeles were paid illegally low wages. Many of the workers are undocumented, leading them to be hesitant about speaking up. Abuses like this run rampant in the industry.
Fast fashion earns revenue by making cheaper versions of expensive, name brand clothing. In order to keep up with the demand and new styles, stores receive garment shipments almost every week, as opposed to the large seasonal drops of the past. The rush to produce relevant clothing takes a huge environmental toll.
In order to keep up with the demand, the industry relies on outsourcing and subcontracting. Companies outsource their production to Tier 1 supplier firms in developing countries, which are not legally obligated to provide decent working conditions. Factory workers make less than minimum wage and are held under short term contracts.
Their brief length means the company can terminate their employment at any moment, which makes them less likely to report the abuses they suffer under the poor working conditions. The risk is even worse for females. They tend to hold the manufacturing positions while males hold the managerial positions. This imbalance of power puts them at a greater risk for physical abuse.
The factories of fast fashion are usually located in Asia, but where the clothes go when they’re discarded is another concerning story. Large corporations sell their excess waste to developing countries. The amount of discarded products is so great that they occupy a great portion of their landfills.
Furthermore, harmful chemicals can be dumped in rivers that local citizens previously used for resources, cutting them off from their natural supply. The Citarum River in Indonesia is now poisoning many of its residents, even causing small children to have liver problems and experience other detrimental health effects.
Growing the cotton to produce only one simple jacket could easily take 10,330 pounds of water; synthetic fabrics (polyester, spandex, nylon) use almost 342 million barrels of oil per year. Yes, that means your favorite Lulu Lemon pants are made from oil.
Reading these statistics and facts was shocking to me. After learning of what the industry does to the environment and its workers, I will no longer support businesses such as Romwe and Shein.
Now, you may be thinking: what can be done to help? Thrifting, another practice that has recently become popular, is very beneficial. KRON4 News reported that if every American bought just one article of used clothing, it could remove six pounds of CO2 emissions from the atmosphere, which is the equivalent of taking half a million cars off the road for a year.
Additionally, the low quality material and constantly changing trends of fast fashion is causing Americans to throw out their clothes faster. The average American throws away 80 pounds of clothes per year. If everybody wore their clothes for just nine months longer, it would reduce the carbon footprint for that garment by more than 30%. Be a proactive shopper. Research what those labels mean!
Companies use ambiguous language without a set definition to placate shoppers into thinking they’re going green, and therefore feel no guilt about buying their products.
Comedian Hasan Minhaj researched the true meaning of companies’ “green” labels, and found that the sustainable fact advertised applied to only 1-5% of the product’s material. He compared it to Sunny D orange juice: 4% juice, 96% orange product. The same concept applies in terms of sustainability to the fashion industry. In all, sometimes it’s worth it to pay a little extra for clothes in order to help the environment and society in the long run.
Researching this article made me a more informed shopper and I will definitely be more careful with where I invest my money in the future.
I encourage everybody to do the same, and find out what their favorite clothing brands to buy from truly stand for.