Is Fast Fashion Really That Bad?

Fast fashion is a term that gets thrown around online and in the news all the time. We see our favorite brands – Zara, H&M, Forever 21 – get shoved under the “fast fashion” umbrella and scorned for their unethical practices. But is fast fashion really that bad? What is it about fast fashion that’s so damaging? And to take things one step further, are we bad people for quite literally “buying into” the trend?

First, let’s start by breaking down what fast fashion actually is. Fast fashion is a means of mass-producing merchandise in an extremely quick and efficient manner. These mass-produced garments may not be the greatest quality, but they’re super affordable, making them ideal for a customers like college kids, who aren’t looking to shell out hundreds of dollars on a new top. Plus, the affordable price tag allows the consumer to justify throwing out the product once they get sick of it.

In theory, fast fashion is a pretty great concept. The consumers are happier because they’re paying less, and the businesses are happier because they’re making more – should make for a win-win situation.

However, there’s definitely a loser in the fast fashion exchange: the planet. Now that fast fashion is on the rise, we’re producing more disposable clothing than ever, and consequentially, more waste. The production of these clothes requires an immense amount of raw materials, taking a huge toll on the environment. And contrary to what you might think, most of these discarded clothes aren’t going to thrift stores or refinement shops – they’re going straight to the landfills, to sit and waste away for the rest of eternity.

The issues embedded in fast fashion – particularly the need to prioritize sustainability over affordability – create a difficult paradox for the average consumer, especially a college student. Buying eco-friendly clothes isn’t as easy as it sounds. Clothing made from more sustainable methods of manufacture is often significantly more expensive than its mass-produced alternative. Additionally, it’s more practical to buy cheap clothes while in college. Between spilled drinks and laundry mishaps, a college student’s wardrobe is much more susceptible to damage than the average individual’s. So yes, there’s a reason why brands like Zara, H&M and Forever 21 thrive; they cater to the consumer demand.

In terms of what we as consumers can do to enact some sort of change, the answers are murky. It’s largely up to the fashion industry to practice more sustainable methods of manufacture, as well as to utilize less environmentally taxing materials. But, there are little things the everyday consumer can do to become a more sustainable shopper. Frequenting thrift shops, buying from small businesses, and making a conscious effort to value quality over quantity are techniques that anyone can implement into their daily lives (including you!).