Op-Ed: Slow Down Fast Fashion

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Tag from Shein, a fast fashion giant, Influencers face backlash after gushing over working conditions at Shein factory : NPR

The fast fashion industry profits from exploitation of others while posing a huge threat to the environment and its customers.

One of the most unfortunate trends of our current time is fast fashion, a practice that makes cheap clothing as quickly as possible to keep up with new styles and fashions. This is an extremely harmful practice, creating a constant need for new clothing. Between the harmful materials in the clothing to the way they’re disposed of, fast fashion lacks the ability to safely sustain itself.

The core issues of fast fashion come from rapid consumerism, worker exploitation, and environmental harm. With the creation of new clothing trends every day, brands have started pumping out low quality, cheap clothing to keep themselves fresh and relevant. While of course encouraging reckless consumerism is scary enough, fast fashion has severe environmental consequences.

Earth.org notes that fast fashion is the second largest consumer of water across all industries, consuming 700 gallons of water for one cotton shirt and 2000 gallons for one pair of jeans. As it consumes water in monstrous quantities, the fast fashion system actively pollutes it.  To keep costs low, fast fashion companies use low-grade synthetic fabrics like polyester, nylon, or acrylic, fabrics that take a very long time to properly degrade. An estimated 35% of microplastics in the ocean come from washing these fabrics. Both producing and disposing of these clothes is problematic. With everything in mind, these clothes don’t last long. They don’t necessarily have to, as the average consumer of these products is likely just waiting for the next trend to hit. These poor-quality clothes end up in landfills, spreading more microplastics into the ground.

                Large fast fashion brands are often found exploiting their workers, making them endure long hours with measly pay. As found by a BBC probe, companies like Shein take advantage of underserved communities and cut as many corners as possible to make the profit they do. Workers are exposed to dangerous equipment and chemicals, but by targeting migrants and underserved regions, big corporations can get away with their sweatshops. Studies show cases of forced labor in numerous countries including Argentina, Bangladesh, Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Philippines, Turkey, and Vietnam. There have been severe incidents, including a 2013 factory collapse that killed over 1,000 workers. This doesn’t even touch the possibility of unreported incidents with people who fear losing their jobs or simply don’t have the resources to speak up.

                Fast fashion’s opposite, slow fashion, isn’t the perfect solution. Slow fashion prioritizes quality, making clothes in small batches outside of factories. Because of material quality and the time spent crafting these kinds of clothes, the price of these items can be exorbitant. Many people now just don’t have that much money to spare. That’s what allows companies like Shein, H&M, and Zara to become so popular; people need something cheap, and these businesses have the aggressive marketing to stay in the public mind.

                The extreme advertisement, especially from Shein, encourages people of all financial situations to buy from them. No one wants to spend loads of money on the latest trend that will only last 2 weeks, and they know this. They push urgency, changing their inventory quickly and constantly changing with what is popular while pushing coupons and deals that are too good to miss. They prey on insecurity and fear of missing out.

                Knowingly buying from fast fashion companies is unethical. If you can help it, shop locally and sustainably. Unfortunately, expenses are rising while pay has stayed the same. We shouldn’t shame people who can’t afford to buy eco-friendly products. Most big companies are in some way unethical. The best solution is to pressure a select few companies into change so that others follow suit. Spreading awareness can protect workers exploitation and keep the world a little cleaner.

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