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Fast Fashion: What it is, and why you can no longer ignore it

By Isabel Anderson

The True Cost of Fast Fashion (Photo from wehatepink.com)


In the age of Instagram, Tik Tok, and Facebook, fashion has never been more important. We constantly see what people are wearing, and some social media users disproportionately influence what is seen as fashionable. Kylie Jenner can charge 1.2 million per sponsored post on Instagram. And, when supermodel Kate Moss wore a $150 dress she designed for British fashion company Topshop, it sold out in fifteen minutes. Advertising clothes has become a full-time job for many “influencers,” and it speaks to the ever-changing nature of the fashion industry. Today, it’s oversized Thrasher t-shirts. Tomorrow, it’s tie-dye bucket hats. But what happens to those bucket hats next season, or even next month? Enter the unforgiving mill of fast fashion.


Fast fashion is defined as cheap, trendy clothing that samples ideas from the catwalk or celebrity culture and turns them into garments in high street stores at breakneck speed. Today, clothes are no longer bought to last. No one stays up late darning their socks or patching their jeans. Why would they when they could just buy a pair of skinny jeans for $9.99 at H&M? Over the past 15 years, global clothing production has doubled. Clothes are being worn less and thrown away more quickly. To keep up with ever-changing trends, brands must adapt or risk falling behind.


But how can a ten-dollar pair of pants be possible? Every preteen or college student may rejoice at a cheap find, but what happens when that convenient pair of jeans disintegrates in the wash next month, or its cheap dye stains all of your clothes? But who cares! You can always buy another pair. This is how the fashion industry is designed. Why would H&M sell you one pair of pants that is well made and durable when they can sell you ten different kinds? The clothes they make are designed to decay and quickly fall out of fashion, which gives buyers two reasons to hand over more cash. But, as the saying goes, everything has a cost, and if something is too good to be true, it probably is.


While fast fashion negatively impacts consumers, it is devastating to the environment. According to Forbes, nearly 70 million barrels of oil are used each year to make polyester fiber, which is now the most commonly used fiber in our clothing. Polyester fiber also takes more than 200 years to decompose. The New York Times reports that fossil fuels and synthetics now make up more than 60 percent of fabric fibers. This means that when our clothing ends up in landfills and the ocean, it doesn’t decay naturally. We forget about our clothes the moment we throw them away, but they have a long-lasting and unforgettable effect on the planet. Yet, the environment isn’t the only victim of fast fashion.


In 2017, the LA Times reported that workers were being paid six dollars an hour to pin tags on shirts produced by Forever 21. The company claimed that it was a retailer, not a manufacturer, thereby avoiding labor laws that would prevent such exploitation. Abroad, the reports are even worse. In a 2019 study, nine out of ten Bangladeshi garment workers reported that they could not afford enough food for themselves and their families. This forced them to skip meals and eat inadequately to avoid going into debt.


These facts are just a google away, and it will take more than awareness to change how we view and consume fashion. Check out our other posts from this week to see what can be done.

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