If you’ve ever heard the term “fast fashion”, but not fully understood what it was or why people gave an f about it, you’re in the same boat that I was in until recently.
Fashion retailers use the term to suggest that it is a good thing, as their production is fast and they are able to get styles from the runway to their customers at lightning speed, keeping them up to the latest trends. They advertise the fact that they have new styles dropping every week like it’s something they should be proud of.
But the thing about trends is that they are short lived. And trends in fashion are often VERY short lived. As consumers, we see models and our favourite celebs wearing something new one day, and we instantly have the urge to go out and buy something like it. Think of brands like Fashionnova or Zaful, who make cheap replicas of outfits that Kylie Jenner was spotted wearing, and it’s on their website within days. Not to mention it’s sold for an insanely affordable price. To the naive, unconscious consumer, this is great. They get to be trendier than all of their friends, without breaking the bank. So the term fast fashion is quite literal, because yes, these things are made available to consumers very fast, but they are also forgotten about/replaced/thrown out just as fast.
For as long as I’ve been buying my own clothes, I’ve been obsessed with shopping and trends and finding cute, affordable clothes. I loved the feeling of finding something cute and being able to tell people it was only $20 when they complimented me on it. I would buy cheap clothes because I knew that I would be sick of it after a season and there would be new trends to spend my money on in a few months.
Let me tell you something that I didn’t think about all of those years of shopping. There’s a reason that your shirt only costed $16. There’s a reason that a store can put all of their shoes on sale for buy one get one for $1 and somehow still make a profit. They are using cheap materials and production methods that are awful for the environment, are often ridden with animal cruelty, and on top of it all, they are exploiting their employees. All so you can buy that dress for $29.99.
These deals might be great on our wallets and make us feel great on the outside, but the reality is that the world is paying the high price that we’re not. Did you know that the fashion industry is one of the largest users of freshwater? In 2015, the industry used 80 billion cubic metres of freshwater in the production of clothing. We’re all concerned about the length of our showers, when we’re still heading to American Eagle or TopShop to buy a cheap pair of jeans that took 2000 gallons of water to produce, and will maybe last a couple years.
Roughly 80 billion pieces of textile are consumed every year. EIGHTY BILLION. That’s 400% more than we were consuming a couple decades ago. It is estimated that the average North American consumes about 70 pieces of new clothing annually, most of which are fast fashion garments that are worn only a handful of times. While we can feel slightly better about donating clothing that we no longer wear, the truth is that only about 10% of clothing donated to secondhand stores is actually sold. The rest ends up in landfills, where synthetic materials such as polyester take up to 200 years to break down.
Not only is fast fashion wreaking havoc on the environment, it is also insanely unethical. Did you know that roughly 97% of fast fashion garments are produced overseas? Companies such as Forever 21, Zara, Boohoo, H&M, etc. use cheap labour to keep their production costs down so that they can sell as much as possible and make the most profit. In these countries, workers rights are next to non-existent and the environmental conditions are extremely unhealthy. Workers work long hours for minimal pay, and it is not uncommon for them to experience mental, physical, and sexual abuse while at work.
To make matters worse, 85% of the 40 million industry workers are women who have few other options for earning their own money, and therefore are stuck in these conditions. Needless to say, by supporting the fast fashion industry, we are supporting this cycle of poverty and exploitation. And personally, it makes me sick that I didn’t realize that I was contributing to it sooner. A thought that I came across awhile ago that has really stuck with me is that every time you want to buy something, think about/find out who made it, what their working conditions are, and how much they were paid to make it. If you’re uncomfortable with the answer, you probably shouldn’t be buying it.
I could go on and on all day throwing out facts that would make you sick, but I’m trying to keep this at a readable length. If you’re interested in learning more about fast fashion, PLEASE DO MORE RESEARCH. I’ve only covered a small amount of the horrifying info that’s out there. I’ve put a few links at the bottom of this post if you want to check out where I found this info and read more of the stuff I left out. It’s easy to just ignore this as if you didn’t read it, and continue supporting this industry. It’s easy to shrug your shoulders and tell yourself that you’re just one person who’s purchases won’t make that much of a difference. Don’t do what’s easy. Do what you can feel good about.
This website called Good On You has been super helpful for me as I’ve been researching clothing brands and stores that I had frequently shopped at. It rates them on a scale based on their environmental impact, treatment of workers, and treatment of animals. Yes, it sucks big time finding out that some of your favourite stores aren’t ranked so good (rip Zara, we had a good run), but personally, I’m tired of living in denial. It’s time to learn and it’s time to do better.
There are so many companies that produce ethical and sustainable clothing, you just have to do your research and be willing to spend a little extra coin. But in the grand scheme of things, you’ll likely be spending less, because a) your clothes will last longer than the ones that are literally designed to fall apart, and b) the pieces you do buy will likely be more timeless and will keep you looking cute for more than a single season. Another great option that I’ve been trying to do more of is thrifting. Check our your local second-hand stores, online buy and sells, or websites such as ThredUp, which has more previously-loved clothing than you could imagine.
I hope you’ve made it to the end of this post, and I hope it has sparked thoughts and feelings within you. I hope you feel inspired to look at your habits and realize that your desires to have every piece of trendy clothing you want are selfish. I hope you want to try harder to be a conscious consumer who takes the time to learn about where their clothing came from and who made it. And to simply buy less.
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