Thompson: Fast fashion is bad for consumers, laborers, environment

Madison Thompson

Editor’s Note: All opinion section content reflects the views of the individual author only and does not represent a stance taken by the Collegian or its editorial board.

Fashion is a form of expression, and it can be hard to miss on a college campus. 

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Seven dollars for a new T-shirt, $15 for a new pair of pants. With new looks constantly at our fingertips (looking at you, Ragstock), it can be tempting not to keep up with the latest trends.

Fast fashion refers to the cheap, trendy looks that are adapted from the catwalk for common retailers at breakneck speeds. Forever 21, H&M, Zaful, Shein and Romwe are all manufacturers who participate in this phenomenon. 

In order to keep sales booming, these retailers are in the business of making consumers feel that they are “behind the times,” so to speak. However, this culture of clothing isn’t beneficial for anyone. 

Sometimes, new products are introduced multiple times per week. With new styles constantly being produced and redefined, this puts pressure on the consumer to continually buy more clothes, usually of cheaper quality.

This wasn’t always the case though. During World War I, clothes were constantly repurposed as rags and towels or were even handed down and tailored to fit other family members. Manufacturers were even urged to “reduce the size, use less fabric and avoid needless decoration.”

With industrialization came the means to produce more — and therefore an increase in consumption. 

Some companies, such as Burberry, have even gone to such lengths as burning nearly $40 million of excess stock in order to keep the value.

You would think with such high demand, workers would be paid a competitive wage. Unfortunately, this usually is not the case. Check any of the tags on the clothes you own. Where do they come from? Maybe China or Malaysia. Probably Bangladesh, where over 80% of all exports are ready-made textiles. 

In Bangladesh, the minimum wage is the equivalent of $63 per month, yet these are the people on the forefront of supplying a multi-billion dollar industry.

If you really must buy something new, try to opt for something that is going to last you a long time.

In 2013, a garment factory collapsed in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Over 1,000 people were killed, even after workers had come forward with concerns about the integrity of the buildings. It was later found that the owner of the building illegally built additional floors to house more workers, as well as additional generators.

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The environment also takes a toll from the fashion industry. A report from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation found that one garbage truck of textiles is wasted every second, and more than half of fast fashion production is disposed of in under a year.

Textile production and disposal release half a million tonnes of microfibers into the ocean every year — the equivalent of more than 50 billion plastic bottles. Once these enter our food chain, particularly the ocean, they are virtually impossible to get rid of. 

Of course, an obvious way to get rid of unwanted clothes is via donation. Usually, donated clothes are sold overseas at a discounted price, but even that part of the industry is in decline. Nations like Rwanda have decided to generate their textiles independently in order to create jobs and boost the economy.

If you love fashion and don’t want to give up your personal style, but don’t want to contribute to fast fashion, there are plenty of ways to go about cultivating your personal style.

Mending the clothes that you already have is a good place to start. Learning how to sew — replacing zippers, buttons and hemming your own jeans — are all things you can accomplish with a little determination. YouTube exists. Take advantage of it.

If you can’t fix the clothes you already have, try looking at places like Goodwill and Plato’s Closet. If you really must buy something new, try to opt for something that is going to last you a long time.

It can be tempting to pay $5 for a shirt, but if you budget another $10 or so, odds are it’s going to last you much longer. It might take a little bit more effort to find exactly what you want, but with patience and a frugal mindset, thrift stores will be your new best friend.

Madison Thompson can be reached at letters@collegian.com or onTwitter @madisongoeswest.