Not So Fast, Fashion
By Wei Ni Zhang
Fast fashion has become a staple of the fashion industry, but at a closer glance, the eye-catching, low costs seem to bear a greater price.
We’re no stranger to the world of fast fashion. Stores such as H&M and Urban Outfitters are the hallmarks of our shopping endeavors. Made possible by low prices and excessive demand, fast fashion continues to fuel the fashion industry. But how ethical is fast fashion?
The fashion industry is the world’s second-largest polluter, right behind the oil industry, and the fast fashion business is a major attribute to that. The process of fast fashion clothing starts in a factory, where overworked laborers manufacture millions of clothing articles in unsanitary, crowded sweatshops. Then, it hits the markets and eventually into the hands of consumers. After being worn a couple of times, the clothes make their way into landfills, where they sit for years on end. Because the materials used in most of these clothes are not biodegradable, they cannot naturally break down.
The fashion industry, although short in history, is notorious for leaving a large carbon footprint. Fast fashion products are made almost entirely out of plastic fibers. With approximately 145 million tons of coal and two trillion gallons of water going into the production of plastic fibers, it takes a toll on our natural resources. That, along with the 80 billion clothing items that are manufactured yearly, can cause environmental problems to pile up quickly.
While plastic water bottles have been replaced with more reusable and eco-friendly ones to combat the climate crisis, the same precautions are not being applied when it comes to our wardrobes. People often do not realize the detrimental effects that their fashion choices as shoppers have on the world. Like plastic bottles, most of the clothes bought through fast fashion are made with harmful materials. Though affordability is typically favored, it’s important to prioritize sustainability in the fashion industry. Buying second-hand clothes from thrift stores and opting for more sustainable brands such as Reformation or Patagonia can make a difference in a shopper’s carbon footprint.
However, this brings us to another question: what if people simply can’t afford another alternative? Clothing from sustainable brands is often more expensive than their fast fashion counterparts because they have to source natural fabrics and appropriately pay workers. This makes sustainable shopping far less accessible to the general public. As such, fast fashion can be a double-edged sword. While environmentally and ethically immoral, fast fashion does provide a simple, uncostly solution to those who lack the money and resources to engage in more sustainable practices.
With limited natural resources and a planet in the midst of a climate crisis, we need to be more conscious of our purchases and buy only what is necessary. And if you have the means to do so, reduce, or even opt-out, of your fast fashion consumption because there are those who simply can’t.
Growing up, I always enjoyed fashion and going on spontaneous shopping excursions. I would look through clothing racks at Forever 21, Zara, and practically every other “fast fashion” store. Of course, I wasn’t fully aware back then of the harmful effects these clothing brands had on the environment or the immoral labor practices they employed. After doing more research into the fast fashion industry, it made me reevaluate my choices. This piece serves to inform others on the harmful contributions of fast fashion and other ethical concerns that arise. As someone who cares deeply for our planet and the environment but is also aware that alternatives to fast fashion are not feasible for everyone, I wanted to emphasize the importance of being conscious and aware of your consumption.
Wei Ni Zhang is a junior in high school who lives in Queens, NY. This is her first year with Girls Write Now as a Writing Works mentee. In her free time, she likes to write, read mystery novels and take walks around her neighborhood.