Fast fashion: Why we need to slow it down.
The fashion industry was turned on its head in the 1990s when retailers began translating high-fashion trends, into low-priced garments, with exceptional manufacturing speed. H&M (Sweden), Zara (Spain), Primark (Ireland) and Forever21 (USA) are the leaders of the ‘fast fashion’ world. When Zara first came to New York in 1990, the store declared it would only take ‘15 days for a garment to go from a designers brain to being sold on the racks’. This was a gamer changer. It meant consumers could buy more affordable versions of what they saw in glossy magazines, sometimes before the glossy magazines were even printed. People who wouldn’t normally be able to afford ‘on trend’ pieces were able to keep their wardrobes fresh and new. This new model made ‘luxury’, attainable. Not everyone can own the ‘right’ house, or drive the ‘best’ car, but if you’re able to dress in a way that makes you feel good about yourself, well that feels like a luxury. That should be a good thing, right? Unfortunately, it’s really not and here’s why:
Cheap clothes keep us poor.
It’s true what they say, you get what you pay for. If you buy a $10 sweater, it’s not one that is going to last you for years, it may not even last you a whole season. It will either be out of style in a few months, thanks to our constantly changing trends, or the poor construction will start to show signs of wear after only a few washes. This is built into the fast fashion business model. If the garments are affordable enough, consumers will feel less guilty buying new products again and again. This often puts shoppers in the position of accepting quantity over quality.
Cheap clothes are bad for our mental health.
When we think quantity over quality, we often end up with more than we want or need. We have closets full of clothes, most of which we never wear. Studies have shown that when our homes (or closets) are cluttered, it interferes with our ability to feel satisfaction and ease. As humans, we also naturally desire community and a sense of belonging. Our market-driven society will have us believe that we are only deserving of such things if we have the latest technologies and trends. Fast fashion is one of the many industries which capitalizes on these impulses, presenting us with an ever-changing rotation of new trends, making it nearly impossible to keep up.
Cheap clothes are harmful to our health and our planet. The amount of water needed, the chemicals used and waste produced by the fashion industry is what makes it the second most polluting industry in the world. The number one most polluting industry is what the majority of fast fashion styles are made of...oil. Acrylic, polyester, nylon, and spandex are all petrochemical textiles, which are cheap to produce and easy to manipulate with dyes and chemicals. The production of these materials leach waste into our soil and waterways, killing agricultural land and destroying clean drinking water. These chemicals are still present when we purchase the garments, and they leach into our bodies through our pores, causing a wide range of health issues.
Cheap clothes are bad for humanity.
There is a quote by the British journalist, Lucy Siegle, “fast fashion isn’t free. Someone somewhere is paying”. Fast fashion retailers have not developed new technologies that allow them to manufacture clothing at this accelerated rate. They’ve been able to achieve this by taking advantage of cheap labor and loose labor laws in underdeveloped countries. Workers are often forced into unsafe working conditions and will sometimes even go unpaid, for months at a time. These working conditions can lead to lifelong diseases from exposure to toxic chemicals, or to fatal disasters like the Rana Plaza factory collapse in 2013, where 1100 garment workers were killed.
So while we may appreciate the accessibility to high fashion trends, and affordability of a shopping spree that fast fashion gives us, we have to ask ourselves, is it really worth it? We deserve better and we can do better.