One hundred dollar online shopping haul. Amazon storefront. Summer essentials. As I scroll through my Instagram or TikTok feeds, these phrases pop up repeatedly. Video after video of mass consumption leaves me looking at my closet in dismay and yearning for more. But do I really need that flower-shaped hair clip? Will I really wear those pink, checkered pants again? The internet has amplified people’s desire to be “trendy,” causing many to over consume and shop irresponsibly. Shopping for staple pieces of clothing that are high in quality and timeless in style is not only better for the environment but also better for your bank account.
Fast fashion stores are online brands that sell clothes that keep up with current styles for low prices. Stores such as H&M, Urban Outfitters and Victoria’s Secret are most likely to be found at your local mall. Most recently, Shein has gained immense popularity on social media and is now the second-biggest online apparel retailer, trailing behind Macy’s. Although at first it may seem like a bargain on a shirt, the effects of these purchases are detrimental.
The clothing industry as a whole is known to have a gigantic carbon footprint and water use requirement. But fast fashion brands specifically are exacerbating the negative impact on the environment. Plastic is an endemic problem to fast fashion brands, which often use synthetic fibers such as polyester, nylon, acrylic and elastane, which are all made from fossil fuels. The textile sector accounts for 15 percent of total plastic use according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency. Only 0.5 percent of Shein’s clothes are made from recycled content according to EthicalConsumer.org. The fashion industry produces an estimated 92 million tons of textile waste annually according to Earth.org, a number which has skyrocketed in recent decades due to the poor quality and high consumption of fast fashion. Some of this waste never reaches the consumer, as brands have to throw the clothes away to make room for the latest trends.
One way fast fashion brands guarantee low prices is to keep their wages low. Workers are exploited in countries with low labor standards, working in abusive sweatshops. The fast fashion business model requires employees to work long hours to produce inventory at a rapid rate. According to The True Cost, an estimated 2 percent of workers in the fashion industry are earning a livable salary. Kids, who are inherently caught in this cycle of poverty, are particularly compelled to work in these factories; according to a survey by The Guardian on garment mills in India, 60 percent of employees were under the age of 18 when they started working.
In addition to the ethical problems surrounding fast fashion, it hurts the consumer too. These pieces of clothing are so poor in quality that people will probably be able to wear them a few times, then will throw them away. Or the garment will go out of style quickly as influencers constantly push new trends and desires upon their wide-eyed audiences. This cycle results in the consumer draining their bank account as they keep reordering clothes. In 2019, The Guardian reported that one in three young women considered an item to be old if it was worn just once or twice. It’s estimated that the average piece of clothing is worn just 14 times.
Before you buy, it is important to make sure that you are not contributing to the injustice that is fast fashion. Slow fashion, as the name suggests, is the opposite of fast fashion; it consists of high-quality clothing while advocating for fair working conditions and eco-friendly practices. Yes, slow fashion has a more expensive price tag than fast fashion. However, these garments are sustainable and long-lasting; consumers won’t have to worry about their shirts ripping after only a couple of wears. Slow fashion also allows buyers to stop and consider if they really need this new piece of clothing or if they can just repurpose the closet they already have. Besides, if you have a closet full of timeless, staple pieces, your clothes will be in style no matter the season, and you won’t need to break the bank on new clothes every month.
Shopping at thrift stores is another mindful way to shop and decrease the consumption of new materials. Vintage clothing is not only “trendy” but also more authentic than clothes made of plastic.
Truly sustainable brands are transparent about their supply chains by sharing information on their websites. Product and material information should be clearly labeled. Most eco-friendly brands are accredited through a regulatory body, such as the Global Organic Textile Standard certification. Packaging should usually be biodegradable. Discounts and huge sales such as Black Friday should often be avoided.
With the rise of social media and expedited shipping, let’s remember to think and do our research before we click “order.”