Ditsy Floral Cami Dress… $11.00

Floral Tie Back Halter Romper… $11.00

4 Pack Solid Tank Top… $23.00

Rib Cut Out Bikini Swimsuit… $16.00

Rib-knit Crop Halter Top… $9.00

Shirred Knot Waist Solid Pants… $12.00

1pc Elephant and Tropical Print Tapered Pants… $11.00

Is consumerism our norm?

Last year, my friend raved about her purchases from an exclusively online clothing store, praising its extreme affordability and trending styles. After hearing a few more positive stories, I decided to pursue my own shopping experience. Above, you’ll see the items and cost of what I ordered from the seeming one-of-a-kind and ground-breaking clothing vendor, Shein.

Shein’s mission is for “everyone to enjoy the beauty of fashion,” boasting how their trending styles “won’t break the bank” and ships to over 220 countries worldwide.1 Shein sells on-trend clothes that you can find at other stores like H&M and Zara but at a cheaper price. When it comes to the manufacturing of Shein’s products, “advanced machinery and professional handiwork come into play.”2

These vague descriptions are not taken out of context; you can go to Shein’s website and see them for yourself. In 2020, Shein was valued at $15 billion,3 yet this company clearly works off fast fashion.

Fast fashion is the business model in which clothing designs move quickly from the catwalk to stores to take advantage of trends. Companies like H&M and Zara have been caught and ousted for their fast fashion model since it encourages unethical production processes.

“Zara alone churns out roughly 840 million garments every year for its 6,000 stores worldwide, often at sub-poverty wages for its workers.”4 These practices also harm the environment as the fast fashion industry is responsible for nearly 10% of annual global carbon emissions, not to mention the fact that the synthetic materials used in designing these clothes cause damage to our water systems when tiny plastic microfibres are shed during laundry cycles.5

Recent years have suggested that fast fashion is running out its clock as one of America’s fastest-growing fast-fashion retailers, Forever 21 filed for bankruptcy in 2019. Despite their underground sweatshops working in Los Angeles, Forever 21 saw a significant decrease in sales when their styles missed the mark on what’s trending, proving that the fast fashion model is not sustainable.6

While we know fast fashion is not sustainable or ethical, we are sucked into its ability to anticipate market trends and deliver desired goods before we know we desire them. Fast fashion decreases the wait time while increasing the affordability of trending products since fast fashion companies are constantly competing for their consumers.

However, this is a façade of the fast fashion industry, and its disillusionment will hopefully change your perspective. With the increasing globalization of the world, we should all be somewhat aware of the realities of sweatshop labour. A sweatshop refers to a factory that violates labour laws, involving crowded workspaces with very poor, socially unacceptable, or illegal working conditions. The work may be difficult, dangerous, climatically challenging, or underpaid. Yet this is how we get most of our clothes because these working conditions allow lower prices and quick access to desired goods.

Mass clothing production also leads to environmental degradation since there are extreme energy costs in manufacturing. For example, “fiber production takes roughly 145 million tons of coal and between 1.5 and 2 trillion gallons of water.”7

The fast-fashion model causes people to turn over their wardrobes more than needed because they want to fit within the current trend (which is an issue to discuss later), causing more textiles to end up in the landfill. Even when we donate our unwanted clothes, second-hand stores do not always have space for the extra clothing or deem it worthy to go on the floor. Regardless of how you dispose of your unwanted clothes, they will end up in the landfill.

This excess of waste is also wasteful for your wallet. While buying clothes from these companies may seem more affordable and accessible, you will end up buying more clothes not only when the trending style changes but when the cheaper material is destroyed after few uses. For example, if you buy a shirt for $7 and it is unwearable after a few uses, you will want to replace the shirt for the same price or more. But if you spent $20 on a better-quality shirt, you would get more use out of that article of clothing and reduce your waste.

With the constant production in the fast fashion model, it’s impossible to say exactly how much energy and resources are being used to satisfy consumer desires. Additionally, mass production systems do not account for the products that won’t be sold, causing greater waste when the product is no longer in consumer demand.

Pros of Fast Fashion

  • Mass production allows trending styles to be made and shipped to the consumer quicker
  • Anticipating and manufacturing trending styles to beat their competition allows companies to decrease their prices and make their products more affordable for the consumer

Cons of Fast Fashion

  • Due to their drive for low prices and quick access, fast fashion stores are often associated with subcontracting manufacturers in countries like Bangladesh, which leads to the exploitation of workers
  • Mass production of textiles consumes a lot of energy and resources
  • Excess of mass-produced clothes end up in the landfill
  • People end up spending more money on cheaper clothes and creating more waste, as opposed to buying more expensive clothes that will last longer

So, what can we do?

While we have all fallen victim to fast fashion, it’s never too late to change our habits. Check out the infographic below on how you can change your shopping habits. Even if you can’t make all these changes in our forceful fast-fashion society, every little bit helps!

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