Fast Fashion is Everywhere

Take a look in your closet. I am willing to bet you have at least one item of clothing from Forever 21 or H&M or Charlotte Russe. I am also willing to bet it was under fifteen dollars. What a steal, right? Wrong. While these trendy clothes may be cheap, they come at an incredible cost. Fast fashion is a huge proponent of child labor, wreaks havoc on our dying ecosystem, and harms our own bodies. Fast fashion is cute clothes for incredibly cheap prices. But sadly, that is not all. Although this industry seems fantastic, it is really a killer and we cannot promote it any longer. The rise in fast fashion brands may appear beneficial to our wallets, but the cruelty towards laborers, the environment, and ourselves that goes into cheap style must be stopped.

Style at the Expense of Others

The biggest reason fast fashion should die is all the lives it takes. For the clothes to be so cheap, the production must be even cheaper – or free. Fast fashion brands find free labor among impoverished children in third world nations such as India and Bangladesh. Kids are promised fair payment and food in exchange for their work, but those promises are empty. Children are much easier to slide under the radar, making them the perfect target. Child labor is used across all industries, but particularly in fast fashion because children are, often times, more suited for the jobs. Their small fingers make picking cotton significantly more efficient and the tasks are low in complexity. Under a year ago, Zara, one of the most successful fast fashion brands, experienced a PR disaster when notes appeared in the clothing reading, “I made this item you are going to buy, but I didn’t get paid for it.” That makes it undeniable that inhumane and illegal labor was being used within their brand and many others like it. Fast fashion needs to be stopped; we cannot allow children to continue being overworked, underpaid, and overlooked just so we can have a two-dollar crop top.

And at the Expense of our World

The fashion industry is one of the biggest in the world, but unfortunately, it is also one of its biggest polluters. The destruction fast fashion does to the environment is unbelievable. This industry is depleting non-renewable resources, emitting huge amounts of greenhouses gases and using massive quantities of energy, chemicals and water. Polyester, nylon, and acrylic; all synthetic fibers loved by fast fashion brands due to their low cost, are a kind of plastic made from petroleum, which means they could take up to one thousand years to biodegrade. This could potentially be fine, except that due to fast fashion’s constant production of new trendy clothes, we are constantly throwing out garments after just a few wears. On average, fast fashion pieces are thrown out every 35 days. In one month’s time we move on from one style to the next. We are so wasteful when it comes to our clothing due to this industry; thousands of tons of clothing are thrown into landfills each year because we grew bored. In addition to ending up in landfills forever, these polyester particles wind up in the ocean posing a serious threat to aquatic life. Small sea animals eat the microfibers, which then make their way up the food chain to fish and shellfish eaten by humans.

The Toll on Us

Human health goes overlooked when considering the drawbacks of fast fashion, but it is still a victim. Cotton grown worldwide is typically genetically modified to be resistant to the bollworm pest. Doing this improves yield and reduces pesticide use. Although this may sound good, it can lead to problems further down the line when superweeds, resistant to standard pesticides and need to be treated with more toxic pesticides, emerge to be harmful to livestock and humans. The huge amount of pesticides required by cotton led to the death of a US cotton farmer from a brain tumor, and serious birth defects in Indian cotton farmers’ children.

Fast fashion also has psychological impacts. The perceived need for the trendiest style, combined with the low price to attain them, can contribute to addictive shopping. After splurging on clothes, a buyer could come home and feel guilty or even borderline depressive. We have all been there. That one time we bought something we didn’t need and immediately felt guilt for it despite how happy it made us. It still haunts us. Fast fashion pieces are created so quickly and so cheaply that the quality is compromised after just a few uses but that’s okay because we can just buy ten more without making a dent in our wallets. It creates a culture of quantity over quality. We start believing that everything is replaceable rather than understanding its true value.

It’s Not Hopeless

As massive as this issue may seem, it is not irreparable. The Fair Wear Foundation has over 120 brands committed to its code of labor practices, banning child labor. More brands could join, putting an end to much of the child labor happening in this industry. To limit the environmental damage done, polyester-eating microbes can be developed. Polyester is hard to recycle, but this new type of microbe eats an old shirt and breaks the polymer down into a basic raw material that can be reused. Another approach is to create clothes using food waste. A method has been developed to turn citrus byproducts into raw material that can be spun into yarn. As for us, we can boycott fast fashion brands. We can also recycle or donate clothes when we grow tired of them rather than throwing them out into the seventh level of landfill. Fast fashion is a big problem facing our society today, but it can be stopped. Next time you make a purchase from Forever 21 or Zara, remember the eight-year-old child working 20 hours a day to make the shirt you love and need so much.

Image Attribute: Pixabay