Why It’s Important to Shop Responsibly

Being a broke college student, I understand that it’s difficult to find affordable cute clothes. I also know that stores like Forever21 and H&M cater really well to broke college students because of their affordability (for the most part) and how they religiously follow all current fashion trends. But, let’s take a step back and consider all of the consequences behind shopping from stores like Forever21 and H&M.

Fast fashion as defined by Merriam Webster is “an approach to the design, creation, and marketing of clothing fashions that emphasizes making fashion trends quickly and cheaply available to consumers.” I mention fast fashion because that is exactly what places like Forever21 and H&M participate in. Traditionally, fashion only changes four times a year for different seasons. Now, approximately every 6 to 8 weeks the clothes on the floor of fast fashion stores are swapped out with newer clothes. For clothes to be switched out after such a short season, they need to be mass produced quickly.

Mass production typically calls for the use of sweatshops. Sweatshop is used to describe factory environments that “often have poor working conditions, unfair wages, unreasonable hours, child labor, and a lack of benefits for workers.”

Although sweatshops are usually attributed to countries like Bangladesh that have very lax regulations, this phenomenon isn’t isolated to countries in Asia or Africa. Sweatshop environments virtually exist in every continent and country. That’s why it’s important to know the brands you’re buying from.

Many fast fashion brands, in order to compete in this fast paced market, copy and sometimes even blatantly steal designs from other independent designers. There have been multiple documented accounts of this. Recently, Fashion Nova has been accused of copying a dress design from the independent designer Knots & Vibes.

Luci Wilden, the founder of the company, stated in an Instagram caption “They’ve mass produced this with a retail price of 40USD!! That makes their production price around $13, meaning whoever crocheted this was paid less than $1 per hour. (Real crochet cannot be replicated by any kind of knitting machine, this was made by hand and anyone that crochets can recognize that). Not only are they stealing my design but they’re using it to exploit people and profit from it which is the opposite of what @knots.and.vibes stands for!”

And even after all of this, fast fashion brands aren’t finished in the damage that they cause. When clothes are cheaply mass produced at high volumes, they are thrown out at high volumes as well. In the same way that these different fast fashion companies continue to compete with each other to sell a higher volume of clothing, our clothing competes with each other in our closet in terms of how much space can they take up. So naturally, when our closet becomes too full we decide to take a second look and dispose of some of the clothes that we are no longer wearing. So we donate whatever we don’t want to the nearest thrift store, and that’s it.

But that’s not it. Clothing donated to thrift stores is sorted through, whatever seems to be nice and qualitative is kept and sold in the store. If the clothing is subpar or extremely out of fashion, they are sold to fiber and rag companies or end up in landfills. Nearly half of the clothes, though, are shipped overseas to be sold there. Although it sounds nice and dandy that our used clothes are being sold to other countries, it hurts local economies. Cheaply imported second-hand clothes coupled with debt crises force local clothing manufacturers to go out of business wrecking local economies further.

Now, rightfully, a lot of the countries that import the most from the US are cutting down how much second-hand clothing they take in. This means that about 40 percent of the used clothing we have will soon have nowhere to go and will most definitely end up in landfills where they won’t be able to decompose. This means more pollution. And more pollution is bad.

So now I’m sure you’re wondering what clothing brands you need to cut out of your life. Here is a list, it’s not all encompassing but it’s a start:

There are alternatives to fast fashion brands though, I promise you.

The biggest, and probably the most important alternative is to simply start shopping more at thrift stores. Thrift stores are honestly some of the coolest places to find the coolest things, and they’re not as outdated as you may think they are. It’s still important, though, to keep in mind what thrift stores you’re shopping at. The Salvation Army and Goodwill have both come under fire for being problematic. This is why I usually opt for local thrift stores and not chain thrift stores.

Here is a list of the ten best thrift stores in Kansas City, Missouri. (Here is another list too because it’s always good to have variety. You should also check out this article about thrifting like a pro!)

Another option is that you can start a clothing swapping club with your friends! I already do this with mine and it’s so great. We schedule a day and place where we meet up about once a month with clothes that we don’t really wear anymore and swap them. This way you gain a new wardrobe while also getting rid of your old clothes. A win-win.

Ethical brands do exist as well, so if thrift shopping or sharing clothes doesn’t work for you, there’s always that option. This site has a list of ethical brands along with the prize and size range. (And there’s even an app for the best ethical brands, check out their site!)

No matter which of these options you choose to opt for, remember why it’s important to shop responsibly.