It’s Time for a Closet Check

Fashion in New York City is bold, confident and fast. What is in today may be out tomorrow, and what was out a decade ago may be the new buzz of the week. In an industry that never slows down, consumers are pushed to “Buy! Buy! Buy!” to keep up with the constantly evolving trends. However, what we as consumers often don’t realize is that American “fast fashion” is thriving at the cost of thousands of marginalized individuals who may be working in different countries around the world. When consumers willingly purchase clothing that is produced at the expense of corporate social responsibility, we also carry part of the blame.

Here are three reasons why you should rethink your purchase of the $9.99 shirt you have on right now.

1. The environment

Journalist Elizabeth Cline writes in her book Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion, “More styles means more purchases—and that leads to more waste.” When producing cheap clothing for fast fashion brands, factories are more likely to throw away low-quality garments than pricier ones. This is why the Environmental Protection Agency reported in 2013 that “15.1 million tons of textile waste was generated of which 12.8 million tons were discarded [from factories].” It’s a simple fact that the earth just doesn’t have the capacity to handle the disposal rates. Some fast fashion companies like H&M and Patagonia have introduced measures to “combat” their dangerously alarming waste statistics, but in reality, their measures only encourage more consumerism. For example, customers who bring in recycled clothing at H&M receive coupons for their next purchases. While the entire concept of this “reuse and recycle” mentality is good, the company is still not addressing the root of the problem, which lies in the numbers that reveal just how seriously their mass production is hurting the planet.

2. The quality

The entire concept behind fast fashion lies in the notion that consumers will replace their wardrobes countless times per year. This replacement is not necessarily out of desire, but by need. With the cheap garments and textiles that are used to produce clothing for fast fashion companies, Forbes Magazine comments that “Clothing literally falls apart. … Our slow fashion community has found that investing in few higher quality clothes actually saves us money because each piece lasts longer.” Next time you’re out shopping, try picking up one or two high-quality jeans instead of ten pairs of low-quality ones. In the long run, it will save you money and put less trash into our landfills.

3. The workers

This is perhaps the most important reason why fast fashion is a dangerous industry. The clothing that we are wearing from well-known and popular fast fashion brands are made by 75 million people, 80 percent of whom are only 18 to 24 years old, earning less than $3 a day. Not only do these women earn less than they rightfully should, they also suffer from horrendous working conditions and work an average of 14 hours per day. The bottom line is that fast fashion disempowers young girls all over the world and we, as consumers, have a duty to demand clothing that is socially responsible. When women all over the world are disenfranchised and abused for the cheap clothing sold in the United States, customers have no choice but to consider the moral dilemma behind whether a purchase at Forever 21 or H&M is worth it.

With an H&M on every other block in New York City, I know that it’s hard to find different options when it comes to shopping. I also understand that a lot of the slow fashion stores are top-tier brands that the average American cannot afford. However, I challenge you to step out of your comfort zone and try something new. Walk into a thrift shop in Brooklyn. Donate your old clothing to a homeless shelter. You’d be surprised to see how big of an impact one small article of clothing can make.