As a fashion student, I’ve been taught in almost every class over my college career that fast fashion has shaken up the industry, and that it’s hard for other stores to compete with the prices and high levels of turnover that those stores provide. Stores like Zara, Primark, H&M and Forever 21 are go-to’s for the budget conscious fashionista. Shopping fast fashion is the easiest and quickest way to get trend items on the cheap. The logic is that trends will be passé relatively quickly, so why invest a lot of money into them?
There are a lot of reasons why that’s wrong. Fast fashion undermines everything that makes fashion wonderful. Fashion is about a sense of individuality, about wearing something beautiful and artistic, and about being classic. People who truly appreciate fashion don’t jump at each cheap new trend. Buying something that one will most likely throw away doesn’t speak very highly of the industry. Fashion should not be disposable.
We also have to think about how we’re getting these garments for so cheap. Costs have to be cut somewhere, and that happens most often in the manufacturing stage. Factories aren’t able to pay their workers a livable wage or provide a safe environment because they have to meet the cost demands of their customer. If they don’t, someone else will and they will lose their business. If you haven’t seen The True Cost, watch it. It’s on Netflix and it painfully shows how much those $12 H&M pants really cost, in labor and in environmental effects. The default argument of big players in the industry is that without factory jobs, these workers in developing countries would have very little options. They would be working on a farm or in the sex trade. No matter how bad the factory conditions are, they could always have it worse. Although that is true, that does not mean that they couldn’t have it better. Instead of using that excuse, these companies should make it their mission to give their manufacturers the best quality of life that they can, not just better than the alternative.
It’s hard when you’re on a budget to make the most ethical choices. Usually the path with the least negative impact is not always the cheapest. I am always the first to choose convenience over everything and it is a hard habit to break. In this case, you may think you’re negating the negative impact by donating your unwanted clothing to a relief organization for poverty stricken countries. In The True Cost, we’re shown that isn’t actually the case. There’s so much cheap, unwanted clothing in the world that gets dumped in countries like Haiti that they don’t know what to do with it. They pack it up in bundles and sell huge amounts for very little. People don’t even know what they’re getting, just a bundle of unwanted fabric. Although it’s a good idea in theory, it actually impacts their local economy negatively because their own cottage vendors are not able to make things and sell them at a price that competes. It’s actually better to take your unwanted clothing to a consignment shop. That way, you might make a little money off of it and you can put that towards a purchase you won’t regret.
We need to take fashion back from fast fashion companies. We need to invest in quality pieces made by responsible companies. If we do so, we are reducing the waste that goes out into the world and showing that our fashion means more than a piece of trash in six months. If you’re in college, like me, and don’t have the budget to make big investments right now, there are other ways to shop more responsibly. Off-price retailers offer the same high amount of turn over, but we can be confident that they are not mistreating their manufacturers because they don’t do most of their manufacturing. You can also thrift/consignment shop, which will give you the excitement of treasure hunting and the knowledge that what you find is pretty original. You won’t see anyone else in it, unlike when you buy something from Zara and you instantly see clones. There are other options for budget shopping. The fashion industry is a huge industry and it’s never going to go away. It touches more people than we realize, positively and negatively. I love getting dressed in the morning, but I would love it a lot more if I could feel good about every piece of clothing I put on my body. I’m not there yet, and when I’m desperate for a specific piece of clothing you’ll find me in Forever 21. I’m working on cutting it out completely and I implore you to keep this in mind when you’re shopping, and even when you’re looking for jobs. There are plenty of responsible companies out there that we can feel good about supporting. It just takes a little bit of research, and maybe a little bit of extra time. Fast fashion is taking the industry in the wrong direction, and it’s up to the consumer to put us back on the right track.