Fast fashion is slow to disappear

November 12, 2019

Unknowingly, when shopping, you might group together certain stores such as Forever 21, H&M, and Zara. Stores such as these are being labeled as “fast-fashion” brands, which refers to any mass-market retailer that rapidly produces cheap clothing tailored to current trends. While their low prices and abundance of products usually grab a consumer’s attention, these enticing observations don’t come without consequences.

When retailers decide to produce fast-fashion and consumers decide to invest in these companies, the unethical treatment of humans, animals, and the environment alike is being supported. In order for companies to mass produce clothing of any kind, an abundance of labor is needed. Pair that with cheap materials and low prices, and a plethora of workers are being underpaid and overworked. These retailers are able to sell their clothing for low prices because they produce and sell so much, and neglect to give their workers minimum wages. They are able to avoid legal trouble because they aren’t the ones employing these workers, the garment factories they contract out to are. Often, companies will choose to partner with factories in developing nations where fewer laws are in place; however, in 2016 the U.S. Department of Labor reported findings close to home in Los Angeles. After investigating 77 garment factories in the area, they found that the average pay was $7 an hour, with some workers being paid as little as $4. Forever 21 was among the various retailers these factories were producing clothing for.

As for consumers, these cheap materials make for clothing that’s short-lasting and often uncomfortable. In addition, according to the Hormone Health Network, the textiles often used contain EDCs, or Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals, which, when worn, can pass through skin and stimulate health problems such as breast cancer and decreased growth development. As for the environment, there are endless production methods and toxic chemicals used that take awhile to decompose and contribute to pollution. In fact, fast fashion is the world’s second largest polluter, according to Sustain Your Style. Although toxic chemicals aren’t exclusive to fast-fashion, the idea of frequently buying and discarding clothing in order to keep up with recent trends is. Since these clothes get worn out and the styles become “outdated” not long after purchase, people continually discard these clothing items at a faster rate than the environment can get rid of them.

Unfortunately, fast-fashion has slowly taken over the shopping scene, making it seem like a challenge for teenagers to find clothing that’s affordable, ethical and yet still desirable. It may take longer to find a brand that offers all three, but they do exist. As the idea of fast-fashion gains publicity, more and more resources have become available to help shoppers figure out what brands they can trust and which they can’t. One website in particular, “Good on You,” gives clothing brands an ‘ethical’ rating and provides an explanation as to why, including how it impacts people, the environment, and animals. 

On the flip side, if you are someone that worries about the ethics of brands but don’t have the time to individually research them, a safe bet is to buy your clothing from thrift stores. If you choose not to shop at such stores, consider donating your own clothing there. Whether you pass on your out-grown clothing to a younger sibling, bring it to an organization where it will be sold or reused, or turn it into a quilt, it’s important that you reuse it.

Fortunately, as more organizations strive to uncover the ethics behind these big name retailers, more and more of them are feeling pressured to change their policies. Two of the biggest names in fast-fashion, H&M and Zara, have both made statements. However, despite Zara stating that all of the cotton, linen, and polyester they use will be either recycled, organic, or sustainable by 2025, and H&M claiming they are “committed to becoming climate positive throughout [their] entire value chain by 2040 at the latest,” the basic business model behind these brands are what is really hurting the environment. As long as they continue to overproduce, these companies will be severely affecting the environment. Besides, if consumers react to these companies similar to how they’ve received Forever 21 lately⁠—the business filed for bankruptcy this September⁠—they may not even make it to 2025 or 2040.

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