Is Fast Fashion Really That Bad?
To the surprise of absolutely no one, I spend an ungodly amount of time on social media. I can scroll with the best of them, which means --wanted or not-- I see opinions on everything from the best ice cream flavor to spoilers for the TV show that I’m currently watching (don’t you dare write anything about Manifest in the comments!)
A subject that I’ve seen repeatedly on almost every social media as of late is fast fashion. You probably shuddered just reading those words right?! Surely you’ve seen just as many Instagram posts and YouTube videos about the subject as I have and boy is the internet divided on the subject.
But what exactly is fast fashion? What is slow fashion? And how does it affect you?! I’m here to answer those questions and --just like everyone else on the internet-- give you my opinion on both because… why not?!
WHAT IS FAST FASHION?!
The official fast fashion definition, according to 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.” In layman’s terms; fast fashion is mass-produced pieces that are sold at affordable prices.
There are a number of stores that come to mind when the term fast fashion is brought up; Target, Forever 21, Zara, H&M, Primark… the possibilities are literally endless. Not only that, these are all stores that we (as in the collective we) have been shopping at for ages. Who doesn’t have a story of hitting up the mall with your friends in high school and purchasing those $5 tops from Forever 21, thinking you were hot shit. Of course, back then “fast fashion” and its impact on both the economy and the environment weren’t top of mind for anyone, and especially those shopping in the stores. So, why is it such a big deal now?
FAST FASHION AND THE ECONOMY
Apparel is something people love to spend money on! According to a 2017 article by Foundation for Economic Education, “the average consumer in the world is now buying more than 1.5 times the amount of apparel they did just 6 years ago.” We can assume there’s all sorts of reasons for this growth; people have more interest in purchasing clothes, there are more choices for clothing, or people are setting aside more money to keep up with the fashion trends. Whatever the case may be, the apparel market is growing faster than the global economy.
According to Smart Asset, Americans carry over $800 billion in credit card debt, yet clothing and shoes are not taking up much of their average budget. The article goes on to point out that Americans’ spending on “Apparel and Services” increased 11% between 2013 and 2014, to $1,786 per household per year, though --to be fair-- that is not that much money, especially when comparing it to the other things that Americans spend money on; like $2,787 on meals away from home in 2014, $1,112 on vehicle insurance and $1,788 on “cash contributions.”
We can hypothesize, based on these statistics, that the reason the fashion market is up, yet more money is not being spent, is because apparel actually doesn't cost that much when compared with vehicle insurance and going out to eat at restaurants.
FAST FASHION AND THE ENVIRONMENT
Economy, however, is not what many individuals bring up when arguing against fast fashion; it’s the environment. Fast fashion does have quite a big impact on the environment; according to Smart Asset, it can take more than 5,000 gallons of water to manufacture a T-shirt and a pair of jeans, which is because they use cotton — the world’s “thirstiest” crop. And, as Smart Asset goes on to point out -- between the carbon emissions resulting from the production of so much clothing and the pollution from dyes and chemicals used for synthetic fabric, fast fashion is anything but green.
It’s not just the production of fast fashion that harms the environment, they continue to impact the planet even after we’ve purchased a garment and brought it home. The University of Queensland pointed out that “a single synthetic garment can generate more than 1900 micro plastic [fibers] in one washing machine cycle.” Simply put, fast fashion is also partially responsible for the plastic that ends up in our oceans. Plus, a quick Google search will tell you that the only industry that has a more negative impact on the planet is oil.
The social environment is harmfully impacted as well, Oxfam pointed out in 2016 that “more than 60 million people work in the garment industry to fuel fast fashion: more than 15 million of those are based in Asia and more than 80% are women, often young and from poor rural backgrounds.”
THE RISE OF SLOW FASHION
To combat the negative effects of fast fashion, slow fashion has seen a surge in support from individuals in the fashion industry. Slow fashion is literally the opposite of fast fashion in every way; it’s ethical, eco-friendly, and lasting. With it being ethical, slow fashion attempts to provide people with equal opportunities. As Who What Wear points out, “if a brand wants to create basket bags with a design native to a particular area, the ethical choice would be to provide job opportunities by employing local artisans to make the bags.”
Slow fashion also leaves behind a smaller carbon footprint in a number of ways; using locally sourced materials reduces the need for fabric to be transported to produce the garments, while using reclaimed fabric cuts down on the production of fabric in general, meaning less of it will go to waste.
And lastly, we all know fast fashion doesn’t use to most top of the line materials and we find ourselves having to purchase pieces repeatedly. With slow fashion, materials are more quality meaning that they last longer and don’t require constant replacement.
I know you’ve been waiting for me to offer my opinion on both fast fashion and slow fashion, that’s the whole point of you reading this blog post right?! And I’m going to be honest: my opinion may not be the most politically correct!
Honestly, slow fashion is expensive and of course it is -- it requires more money to produce than fast fashion does and that means that you have to pay for it. Similar to organic food being slightly more expensive than food that isn’t organic, you’re paying for the fact that higher quality production is being used. That being said, wages are not growing. Business Insider just recently published an article pointing out that “average real labor earnings for male household heads working full time were 18% and 27% higher for Gen Xers and baby boomers when they were young compared with millennials.” And --being 30-- I’m defined as a Millennial and I can tell you… money is scarce.
Business Insider then goes on to say, “they're forced to be choosier about what they buy, and certain purchases remain out of reach for many.” While this may not have a direct impact on slow fashion, it’s not unrealistic to assume that where people can save money, they will. If one can purchase a pair of black boots for $50 rather than $550 -- wouldn’t they?! Yes, of course!
One rebuttal to this argument is a valid one -- shop secondhand. Shopping secondhand is a great way to make sure that less clothes are going to waste, as well as donating one’s own clothes that one may no longer wear. However, if you take a peek at a secondhand shop, special sizes are hardly available. Being 4’11, wearing a size 5 shoe, and being all around petite, I strike out at secondhand shops pretty often -- in fact, most of the times I attempt to shop secondhand, I come away with nothing. Women who are tall or wear plus sizes may also experience the same problem.
At the end of the day, most of the places that I purchase my clothes from are fast fashion due to the more affordable prices and the more encompassing sizes. I do, however, donate my clothes frequently to shops like Out of the Closet, which is a Los Angeles based nonprofit chain of thrift stores whose revenues provide medical care for patients with HIV/AIDS.
WHAT SHOULD YOU DO?!
Well… whatever you want to do. Whether you want to build a wardrobe with some or all pieces from slow fashion brands or you prefer to ease of popping into a shopping mall and grabbing affordable pieces, it’s all up to you. What I do encourage, however, is donating pieces that you no longer wear to charity or passing them along to family and friends.
Also, I encourage you to do more research about both slow fashion and fast fashion because really, the more research you do and more information you have, the better decisions you can make!
SO, WHAT’S NEXT?!
I am actually quite excited for next week’s post, but I don’t want to give anything away so my lips are sealed on what exactly it’s about. But, I can reveal that I’ve done a bit of shopping for more Harry Styles inspired outfit posts so you can expect more of those (like duh!)
All the love,
Photography by Shakala Kyle