Fast Fashion: Can It Ever be Ethical?

Are your shopping habits making you an unethical citizen? If you shop at places like H&M and Forever 21, then the answer is probably yes. In the fashion industry, the term “fast fashion” is commonly used to describe accelerated production processes that are used in order to get new trends to the market as rapidly and inexpensive as possible. Your favorite clothing stores most likely take part in this worldwide phenomenon. We may think we are doing ourselves a favor by saving money, but in reality, we are just killing our planet. In addition to that, we are also hurting sweatshop workers in foreign countries who actually make the clothes we wear. 

Of the 75 million people making our clothes, 80% of them are young women working an average of 14 hours a day. Even with all that hard work, it takes a garment worker about 18 months to earn what a fashion brand CEO makes in a day. Not only are these women vastly underpaid, but their working conditions are absolutely terrible. They are sexually harassed, have little job security, and their health is affected by chemicals used to produce the cheap fabrics used to make T-shirts and other items.  

Over the past few years, clothing has become disposable rather than something we cherish. We attempt to keep up with our society’s quick changing trends by purchasing cheap alternatives. Once a trend goes out of style, we are on to the next hence the name “fast fashion.” Faster production means more clothes; more clothes means more waste. The United States alone generates more than 15 million tons of textile waste each year. We send these textiles, along with the clothes we throw out, straight to landfills where they sit for a number of years leaving toxic chemicals and dye that which contaminate the soil and groundwater. Fast fashion clothing is made from oil-based polyester and sometimes uses lead for bright hues. According to the Institute of Sustainable Communication, the clothing industry is the second largest polluter of water. And that is not okay. 

So, what can we do about it? 

Well, the obvious answer would be to stop shopping fast fashion all together. By buying more expensive clothes that we can keep for a long period of time, we send market signals to change the system for good. Unfortunately, this can be a difficult task for most people. Lower class citizens may rely on fast fashion in order to save money and keep up with their growing children. 

Upcycling is the process of transforming waste materials, such as textiles, into products of better quality or better environmental value. There are numerous designers who are getting into the upcycling business like Michael Laed, who would be more than willing to take scraps and old clothing. If you can’t find one, there are always DIY (do-it-yourself) projects that you can learn from videos on the internet. 

Donate. If you’re going to participate in the world of fast fashion, then you might as well donate the clothes you were planning on throwing away. The Salvation Army and homeless shelters, are just a few options for donating clothes. Even simpler options can be to give hand-me-downs to younger relatives. A strategy that CutiePieMarza, a YouTuber from England, found to work was to switch clothes with grav3yardgirl, a YouTuber from Texas. Easy solutions like these is what is going to help save our planet. 

Take a second to think. 

The next time you want to shop fast fashion, consider what you are really doing. Do you absolutely need a new wardrobe? Can you make something new out of the clothes you already own? Fast fashion may be good for many reasons, but the cons definitely outweigh the pros. Just make sure to remember – faster is not always better.