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The Cost of Fast Fashion

Updated: Feb 11, 2021

By Kate Vedder

Before diving into the horrors of the fast fashion industry, let’s take a quiz. Do you know who made the clothes you are wearing at this moment? Do you know about the working conditions or the wages of the workers who created your shirt? Do you know how your clothes affect the environment and contribute to plastic pollution? The answer to all of these questions is most likely no. The fast fashion industry has become one of the most detrimental environmental and social justice issues known today. The lack of transparency and the increase of "green-washing," where companies misleadingly market their products as environmentally friendly, has helped this industry thrive. Without facing repercussions for their actions, big clothing brands continue to exploit garment workers and harm our planet.

So, what is “fast fashion” exactly? In the 1990s, a major shift in consumerism began. The demand for clothing increased as new fashion trends rapidly started to appear on television and other forms of entertainment. Cheaper, trendier, and more popular clothing styles arose causing consumers to continually buy more in order to keep up with the current fashion crazes. The new goal of fashion retailers is to produce more clothes that are cost-efficient. In order to do this, businesses underpay their workers and force them to work in sweatshops. This system of oppression is the new unethical production system of the fashion industry.

The majority of sweatshops have unfair wages, unbearable working conditions, long hours, child labor, and little to no benefits for the workers. Every day, an estimated 168 million children from ages 5-14 are forced to work in sweatshops in developing countries. This is also a women’s rights issue, since it is estimated that between 85-90% of all sweatshop workers are women. Employers often force them to take birth control or other contraceptives so they won’t have to pay for maternity leave. These workers are living in unfair situations where their only option for work is in the terrible conditions sweatshops offer, and where they are more treated like objects rather than human beings.

Not only does the fast fashion industry exploit their workers, but it also contributes to climate change and pollution. From polyester to nylon, the majority of the fabrics are made using fossil fuels - which are one of the top contributors to climate change. Every year, thousands of miles of forests and 70 million trees are cut down in order to produce wood-based fabrics (rayon, modal, visceral). This contributes to deforestation and threatens the land of the ingenious peoples. Aside from the destruction of forests, a dumpster truck full of clothes gets dumped into landfills every second. The pollution and waste from fast fashion are only increasing as clothing production has doubled since 2000. It is estimated that 85% of textiles that were purchased in that same year will end up in landfills. Cheap fabrics release 500,000 tons of microfibers into our oceans every year, which helps to destroy that ecosystem.

Who are the culprits? Try to avoid brands like Topshop, Zara, Dolls Kill, Urban Outfitters, Fashion Nova, Boohoo, Pretty Little Things, and Misguided. Those companies are only a small percentage of the ones that are a part of the fast fashion industry. If you are unaware if a brand produces their clothes in sweatshops, try contacting them or look at their production policies. If the brand is not transparent or has no information about clothing production, it is because they are most likely hiding the fact their products are made in sweatshops. For more information on which brands to avoid, check out this website.

How can you be a conscious consumer? Buy second hand from thrift or vintage stores, support local and small business, or buy homemade clothes. If you want to throw away a piece of clothing that you no longer wear, try upcycling. Especially during this holiday season, make sure that you are aware of the environmental consequences that clothes have on our environment. Here is a list of my favorite sustainable brands for Christmas gifts: Girlfriend Collective, Patagonia, Package Free Shop, Pact, Boyish Jeans, and Chnge. You do not have to be perfect when it comes to being a more conscious consumer, as long as you are actively trying to be better!

So, what are the true costs of your clothes?


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