The Issue With Fast Fashion: Rethinking How We Shop

As a college student with limited funds to buy clothing, it is easy to turn to fast fashion retailers like Forever 21 or H&M to stay up to date on the latest trends. And when Instagram and YouTube influencers push buying these brands in large quantities via “haul” style videos it can be even easier to feel as if buying fast fashion brands is a harmless habit.

I first became aware that fast fashion brands were using unethical practices when I was in high school, and the Rana Plaza collapse exposed the abhorrent working conditions of textile factories that fast fashion brands rely on. And in 2015, two years after the Rana Plaza collapse, the documentary The True Cost detailed some of the unethical practices of the fashion industry. This documentary changed the way I think about buying clothing, but it also left me wondering how I could change the system.

We need to demand transparency from top fast fashion companies. H&M currently has a sustainable line and information on ethical conditions available on their website. But we can see through a report from The Guardian, that abuse still occurs in these factories.

Image courtesy of Pexels

I wanted to find ethical fashion brands that I could support, but I realized that most ethical clothing brands have high price tags. I couldn’t afford to buy a 50 dollar t-shirt when I was already working multiple part-time jobs to support myself while in school. Some critics of this point of view say that if I simply bought less, I’d have enough money saved to spend more on ethical brands. But when you’re already struggling with money, no matter how much you “save,” one shirt could buy your food for a week. And so I went back to buying clothes from Target with a cheap price tag and pushed the documentary to the back of my mind.

Recently I’ve been thinking about how we can buy ethically and cheaply. The most obvious option is to think about why we’re spending money and to buy only what we’ll use. Although it’s easy to buy a 20 dollar dress only to wear once, you know you’ll end up either throwing it away or donating it after two wears. As someone who worked at Goodwill throughout high school, I can tell you that even the clothes you donate often end up in a landfill when donation centers get more clothing per day than are used. Think about what you’re buying and ask yourself if you could wear it for years to come or if you’re only going to wear it once.

If you are interested in shopping second-hand, you can obviously go to any local thrift shop, but there are more ways to buy second-hand online! Websites like ThredUp make it easy to satisfy your online shopping addiction without going to fast fashion sites. ThredUp also has a Goody Boxes service where a stylist selects outfits to send to you based on your preferences, and their own fashion brand Remade.

I hope that we can start rethinking how we buy clothing and that we can hold companies accountable for their unethical practices. Although we can’t change the whole system on our own, supporting brands like ThredUp is a great start.