The high price of fast fashion

Is shopping fast fashion ever okay? Two editors weigh in.

Fast fashion’s negative environmental impacts make it too unethical of a market to participate in

by Allie D’Amato | Opinion Editor

Not so fast, fast fashion! Fashion trends may come and go, but harsh environmental and social implications have a lasting effect. Throughout the past couple years, the fast fashion industry, including companies such as Shein, Boohoo, Fashion Nova and H&M, are becoming increasingly prominent and generating heaps of revenue. A fast fashion business model focuses on mass producing items of clothing that fit contemporary trends at an extremely low cost. The clothes are not meant to last a long time, as trends are constantly changing. People concerned with staying “in style” are willing to pour their money into fast fashion corporations in exchange for cheap and useless garments. Though I recognize that fast fashion companies do present some benefits, it’s clear that there are much more significant and damaging drawbacks.

One obvious downfall of fast fashion is it’s severe effect on the environment. According to Borgen Magazine, ten percent of global carbon emissions can be accredited to the fast fashion industry, as it is the second largest industry when it comes to pollution (right behind the oil industry). It heavily contributes to global climate issues with its greenhouse gas emissions, but companies are more focused on generating capital and appealing to fashion enthusiasts rather than taking a step back to reflect on the negative environmental impacts they are responsible for. 

The fast fashion industry is also accountable for creating 20 percent of the world’s wastewater (using about 100 billion cubic meters of water a year) and supplying large amounts of textile waste going to landfills. Many clothes distributed by fast fashion companies are made with synthetic fibers (like polyester and nylon) which are non-biodegradable. This means that once customers dispose of their old clothes in an effort to advance towards new trends, their garments will likely sit in dumping grounds for long periods of time; worsening the international rise in textile waste and adding to the myriad of trash that is globally unaccounted for.

Another big problem I have with fast fashion is it’s obvious invasion of workers’ rights. In an effort to maximize their profits, fast fashion companies are notoriously known to exploit foreign workers for their own gain; many of these workers are underage women who need a source of income to support themselves and their families. Borgen Magazine also reports that workers are subjected to horrible and unsafe working conditions with minimal pay rates. In the past, there have been instances where many workers have died due to exhaustion, sickness or mishaps with materials/infrastructure. Fast fashion corporations do not take into account the well being of their workers, and they only see things from a financial standpoint. 

There’s no denying that fast fashion corporations provide accessible and extremely affordable prices. However, other clothing stores outside of fast fashion, of which are proven not to have the same detrimental effects, serve as great alternatives. Thrifting clothes is a much better option than fast fashion, as thrift stores sell clothing for less expensive prices than fast fashion retailers, and they ensure that previously worn clothing can be used for longer amounts of time before getting thrown in landfills. As of recently, thrifting has become more popular among today’s youth, and people are able to find very stylish and good quality clothing at places like Goodwill and Uptown Cheapskate. 

I don’t think I’ll ever be a fan of fast fashion, as it is the epicenter of too many complications. Yeah—the clothes are cute, but the lasting environmental and social imprint isn’t. 



Sometimes, fast fashion is the only affordable clothing option

by Elise Haulund | News Editor

If someone were to hold up two seemingly identical blue shirts and tell you that one was $5 but was made using unpaid labor, and the other was $40 but made fairly, which would you pick? Probably the $40 one, right? You’re a good person who obviously supports workers’ rights. 

But what if you changed the scenario? What if you were living paycheck to paycheck, being paid barely minimum wage at the two jobs you work, and that same person held up those same two shirts, except this time they said the $5 option could be ordered online in sizes XXS to XXL and would arrive at your house in two days, and the $40 shirt is only available in sizes S, M and L and will take 10–14 business days after shipping to finally find its way to your home. Then which one would you pick?

Fast fashion refers to clothing brands such as Shein, Forever 21, H&M and Zara for their exploitative environmentally unsound production processes. In a fast fashion business model, brands manufacture huge volumes of clothing in extremely short amounts of time, then sell them for equally extreme low costs. These products are trendy, flimsy and usually not made to last. Fast fashion appeals to the rhetoric that with trends constantly changing, what’s the point of spending $40 on a shirt that will just be “cheugy” in two months anyway?

This is obviously a flawed, wasteful mindset. Fast fashion is inhumane and detrimental to the environment. Working conditions are dangerous and unethical. It is certainly not okay to simply spend, spend, spend on without once considering the very real people working in sweatshops getting paid next to nothing in order to make those clothes for you.

I will be the first to declare that fast fashion is unquestionably a major issue that demands to be addressed; however, there is also a major issue with shaming individuals for their choices of consumption. Yes, fast fashion needs to be criticized, but when we begin to criticize people who are also victims of a different oppressive system, we veer into the territory of being classist instead of environmentalist. I’m not saying that the negative effects on workers and the environment are in any way negated or acceptable. I’m only saying that sometimes, it’s the only choice people have. 

Fast fashion’s most sellable trait is the modest price tags. For someone with a low budget to spend on clothing, it’s not realistic to invest in good quality, sustainable, ethically-sourced, expensive pieces. One can buy jeans for under $21 at Forever 21, instead of paying closer to $100 at Levi’s. In this way, fast fashion is infinitely more accessible to the majority. 

So if money is such an issue why not just shop at a thrift store? Well, fast fashion offers substantially wider size ranges than secondhand stores, making them often the only accessible and affordable option for plus-size individuals.

Fast fashion is also, as the name suggests, fast. It’s easy and quick to place an order with free shipping. For individuals who don’t have a lot of time on their hands (due to family obligations, jobs, school, the list goes on) it is the only realistic way to access fashion in any case.

In addition, there’s really no such thing as completely ethical consumption nowadays. The low-income person buying from Shein is not responsible for upholding the systems that pollute the environment and violate workers’ rights. If you’re not buying from Shein, you may still be ordering from Amazon (notorious for harsh working conditions and harming small businesses) or enjoying a cup of Nestle hot chocolate (a company that uses unpaid agricultural labor). 

You can’t spend $100 on sushi when 90 percent of fisheries are currently either “fully exploited, overexploited or depleted,” according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, then in the same day criticize a low-income individual for spending $20 on a few shirts because they need them. Trying to maintain a perfectionist holier-than-thou attitude around ethics and environmentalism not only doesn’t work, but is exclusive and classist.

Shaming individuals for their individual choices never has been, is not, and never will be the solution to the problems with fast fashion. We absolutely should advocate for change, for better workers’ rights, for more sustainability, but we should criticize the corrupt systems, not the people for whom their only choice is fast fashion.