In this social-media-dominated era, each month seems to mark the beginning of a new trend. Platforms like TikTok and Instagram provide users with a constant stream of information about what others are wearing and the latest style movements. Alongside this spread of fashion knowledge are companies that produce clothing at lightning speed to meet consumer demand. The result is fast fashion: cheap and trendy clothing manufactured in direct response to what is “in.”
The fast fashion retailer Fashion Nova is able to both design and produce a clothing item in 48 hours. The site Shein uploads 500 to 2,000 new items on its website every day. The people keeping up with this rapid production have largely been from our generation, Gen Z, because of the hype of fashion micro-trends.
The issue is that fast fashion is not sustainable, not only environmentally but also fashion-wise. On social media, many things are short-lived. Soon after a clothing piece enters the purview of audiences, a new piece replaces it. Senior Ingrid Standifer said, “If there’s a certain trend you like, go for it and buy the clothes, but it’s ridiculous to try to keep up with everything.”
Teddy jackets, XXXL sweatshirts, and all brown outfits are all examples of momentary fashion trends fast fashion companies have capitalized upon.
While buying a few pieces of clothing from fast fashion sites can be understandable, the problem lies within consumers’ tendency to purchase excessively, and sometimes exclusively, from fast fashion sites. Standifer said, “The price and trendiness of fast fashion encourages people to buy in large quantities.”
The fast-fashion industry has caused immense degradation to the environment. According to an article by the Princeton Student Climate Initiative, each cotton shirt requires 3,000 liters of water to be made, contributing to 20% of the wastewater worldwide. This wastewater is incredibly toxic, and often enters our oceans untreated.
If the clothing industry continues at this pace, we can expect a 50% increase in greenhouse gas emissions within a decade.
This pile-up of clothing in many households is not only environmentally reprehensible, but also part of poor-decision making. On average, each clothing piece is worn only seven times before getting tossed. Junior Mia Garcia said, “It is smarter to buy a few sustainable pieces of clothing because they last longer, whereas cheap clothing uses cheap material that will tear.”
Unfortunately, the rewards of quick, trendy clothing can outweigh the concerns. This can be attributed to fast fashion companies utilizing popular platforms to advertise, where users, especially younger generations, are already exposed to fashion trends. Junior Mezzy Epidendio said, “Fast fashion is promoted by many influencers all over social media who show viewers the amazing clothes they bought at a cheap price that are very ‘in-style’ right now.”
Because our society encourages expediency and ease, it is important not to fall into the trap of fast fashion. Standifer said, “Consumerist culture is not healthy and makes people search for validation outside of themselves. It can be exhausting to try and follow everything others are doing.”
Another reason Garcia dislikes fast fashion is because “fast fashion companies typically use child labor.” Unfortunately, users on social media have gone so far as to make jokes about their disregard for the worker abuses of companies like Shein. The reality is that fast fashion industries keep 11% of child laborers from attending school because of work demands, and overall prevent children from pursuing other lines of work because of the hours they spent working strenuously in factories rather than learning meaningful knowledge and skills. Many work 14 to 16 hours a day, seven days a week, and are at risk of inhaling fiber dust and coming in contact with unsafe chemicals.
This is not to say anyone who buys from fast-fashion companies is immoral: not everyone can afford a $200 Patagonia jacket. In addition, fast fashion can be the more size-inclusive option. Epidendio said that while they do not shop at Shein anymore, “the reason I did was that although I could afford other companies’ clothes, I couldn’t afford the alterations that came with buying from them. Shopping at Shien made it easier since the pants came in all different sizes.”
The criticism does not concern people who have trouble accessing other options. It is meant for the logic of consumerism which leads people to purchase in excess (online shopaholics) and insist on buying from stores like Zara and H&M despite being fully capable of going elsewhere.
Instead of buying fast fashion, Standifer has resorted to some alternatives. She said, “I like to thrift my clothing. Not only is there a lot more variety in styles and sizes, but also it’s generally cheaper and more ethical. I also get some old clothes from family members–that’s the cheapest way to get vintage clothes.”