Today, we’re going there. Fast fashion. Probably one of the most, if not the most controversial topic in fashion. Love it or hate it, fast fashion is everywhere, and has been for the last twenty years. Zara, H&M, Forever 21, Asos, Primark, Topshop…the list goes on, and is added to all the time. I shop at these retailers, you probably shop at them-you can’t walk through a mall or shopping district without spotting an H&M or Zara bag dangling on the arm of the fashion conscious.
And let’s not kid ourselves, there’s big time appeal with fast fashion. For starters, you can’t beat the price. Under $20 for a shirt, maybe $40 for a dress, shoes for less than it costs to get your nails done. Fast fashion is affordable. And when the average US yearly income is around $55,000, fast fashion make sense from an individual income perspective. Personally, when I was a college student on a church-mouse budget, being able to buy a new shirt for $20 (or less) was a godsend. I could still look stylish and up-to-date even if the idea of shopping at a nice department store was laughable. And for a fashion blogger, being able to purchase and feature the latest trends is very important.
Fast fashion has also helped bridge the gap between rich and poor in terms of appearance. How you might ask? Well, imagine your favorite period drama (mine are Outlander and Victoria!). In these shows, the rich are well-dressed, and the poor, not so much. Their clothing is mended, made with cheaper fabric, and probably out of style. And this is how it used to be. You could roughly guess a person’s economic status based on how they dressed.
But now? Good luck. Sure, there are outliers. That girl in line at Starbucks toting a Chanel 2.55, or the man wearing a perfectly tailored suit. But in general, its not so easy.
Another advantage of fast fashion is, well, that’s it fast. If you’re a fashionista, or a fashion blogger, this is especially important. Being able to get this season’s latest trend item so soon after it appears on the runway (from a fast fashion retailer) helps drive traffic to your blog, instagram, or youtube channel, and helps you stay relevant. And, honestly, instant gratification is so nice!
The drawbacks to fast fashion are serious ones. The most alarming are the human costs. By now we’re all probably familar with this image of the Savar building collapse in 2013.
This factory was a manufacturer for brands like Primark, Mango, and Walmart. There were indicators before the collapse that the building was in trouble, but the factory owners threatened workers with unemployment if they didn’t show up for work. Over 1,100 people died when the building collapsed.
While the Savar building collapse is thankfully not a common occurrence, the sweatshop environments and exploitation of workers is. Child labor, grueling hours, lack of benefits, and pitiful pay are a common theme in a lot of these factories. The pressure to meet production quota and keep costs low from factory owners has a direct, and often harmful effect on the people who actually make the clothes.
And let’s not forget the environmental impact. The fashion industry is the second most polluting industry on the planet, second only to oil. Some of this pollution is obvious, big factories produce air pollution, and oil/other polluting fuels are used to run the factories. But there’s also the problem with water. Cotton, one of the most used fibers in the fashion industry requires a lot of water for growth. This reduces water levels in countries that grow cotton.
Then there’s the water pollution that garment production creates. Dyes, and other chemicals used to produce fabric (think polyester) are regularly duped, or seep into waterways. Chemicals like lead, arsenic, and nonylphenol, an endocrine disruptor. These chemicals are thought to stay (to some extent) in the clothes produced, potentially affecting the health of the wearer.
Post production clothing pollution also has an impact on the environment. Polyester, one of the most common fabrics used for clothing, sheads fibers when washed. These fibers make it into our waterways. (Nylon and acrylic do too.)
Where I Stand
I know what you’re thinking by now. After all that, do I still buy clothing from fast fashion brands? I do, with some caveats.
- I try to buy mostly experimental items from these brands. Few staples. Mostly pieces I’m not sure will work for me and I don’t want to spend tons of money on.
- I try to avoid polyester. Several years ago I did a polyester purge on my wardrobe. Since then I’ve been extremely selective on adding polyester pieces.
- Mend and make do. I try not to throw away anything I still fit into and like just because it has a little hole. A little tread and some patience extends the life of my clothes.
- Buy staples from more sustainable brands. If you’ve been reading my blog for a while you know I like the brand Everlane. I buy a lot of wardrobe staples from this brand.
- Sustainable lines. Some fast fashion brands like H&M have environmentally friendly lines. H&M’s is called “Conscious.”
I think there is hope for the fashion industry, and even some for fast fashion. Lots of brands (probably due to consumer pressure) are moving towards better practices like using organic cotton, instituting recycling programs, and improving working environments for their employees. There’s still a long way to go, but I do think the industry is moving (however slowly) in the right direction.
Have you read my last blog post about 2019 Spring fashion trends? You can here!
(feature image credit: shenglefashion.com)