The year is 2012. I am 12 years old and my mom finally decides I am responsible enough to go to the mall by myself with friends (or at least she lets us go to different stores while she peruses the aisles at Macy’s). She gives me $40 to use to my heart’s content and before she can even say, “Be safe,” my friends and I make a beeline to every pre-teen’s shopping heaven: Forever 21. We’ve all seen them; bright yellow plastic bags with the words ‘Forever 21’ emblazoned on them, toted by teens and adults alike who are looking to save big on the latest fashion trends. However, Forever 21 is just one of many retail giants that are stealing the hearts of consumers. Others include H&M, Topshop, and Zara along with online retailers, such as Fashion Nova and ASO.
What is the problematic factor that all of these retailers have in common? Two words: fast fashion.
While the term fast fashion seems like a quirky synonym for shopping sprees, it’s actually much darker than that. The rise of the fast fashion industry has come with a slew of sustainability issues that are beginning to have a huge impact on the environment. It’s time for us to take a hard look (at what we are wearing) in the mirror and change the way we buy clothes!
You may be thinking to yourself, ‘What is fast fashion anyways?’
Think of it as copying a design from a high-end brand and pasting it onto a lower-grade garment. Replicating these designs keeps the pieces current and on-trend which in turn increases the appeal to consumers. The clothing is made from such low-quality materials that they can be sold at unbelievably affordable prices, making these items even more appealing to consumers.
On the surface level, fast fashion doesn’t seem that bad. I mean, who doesn’t want to wear luxury designs without breaking the bank? Well, these seemingly amazing deals come at a much higher cost than fashion retailers are willing to admit.
While the fashion industry is one of the most lucrative industries globally, it also is one of the most destructive. According to the 2017 Copenhagen Fashion Summit, the fashion industry produced 92 million metric tons of waste that year.
However, it’s not just the industry itself that’s creating all the waste. Consumers share some of the blame, too. With the incredibly fast production rate, styles go out of trend in the blink of an eye, causing people to shop with the intention of only wearing the garment a handful of times until it goes out of style and can be thrown away.
This throw-away mentality has ultimately caused landfills to overflow with textile waste, as evident by a study done by McKinsey and Co., which states that “nearly three-fifths of all clothing produced end up in incinerators or landfills within a year of being made.”
Scary, right? And that’s not even the worst of it. According to a report from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, clothes that are thrown out release half a million tons of microfibers into the ocean every year, equivalent to more than 50 billion plastic bottles.
But let’s face it – a deal is a deal. It’s convenient to be able to purchase clothes that you know will be trendy at great prices. And the reality is that for some people, financial strains mean that they simply don’t have many alternatives other than shopping fast fashion.
However, there are plenty of alternatives to fast fashion that are good for the environment, trendy, and inexpensive! First of all, there’s thrifting at second-hand stores which does wonders for your wallet and the environment. According to the Thread Up 2018 Resale Report, thrifting reduces carbon, waste, and water footprints by 73%.
There’s also a slew of resale websites and apps such as Depop and Relovv where shoppers can buy and sell their used clothes through an online marketplace. These online innovations help to slow down the fashion industry and give used garments a second lease on life!
As consumers, it’s up to us to make a change. I’m not saying you have to go to your closet right now and burn all of the fast fashion pieces in sight (in fact that would be terrible for the environment anyway). I’m also not telling you to never step foot into an H&M again.
Instead, I encourage you to find a balance between decreasing how much fast fashion you buy and shopping sustainably, whatever that may mean to you. Whether it’s shopping at a thrift store or investing in a durable garment that is built to last, making little changes to your shopping habits will have an impact that will last forever.