The Cost of Fast Fashion

Not until the 1990s was the concept of fast fashion a relatively unbeknownst phrase. In fact, many people today have never heard of this concept; and for most, the idea reminds individuals of fast food. Well, one can say that fast fashion flows in this same vein.

In one of my other posts, “Minimalism & Faith,” I discussed how I came across the concept of minimalism, which revolutionized my way of thinking in terms of materialism and consumerism. I mentioned that at one point in my life, I had well over 1,000 garments of clothing, more than enough to keep me from wearing the same outfit twice in a year. How I was able to afford such a wardrobe should not surprise you simply because I had done like so many others by partaking in the fast fashion industry.

If you have ever shopped in stores like H&M, Forever 21, and Zara, then you are already indoctrinated in this type of industry. Fast fashion stems from a designer’s ability to create new designs based on the latest trends, which are then manufactured, shipped, and delivered to mainstream stores within days. What’s more appealing are the sticker prices for many of these trending pieces, which are incredibly affordable, even for young teenagers. What many people may not realize, however, is that while the costs to purchase these items are low, there is a significant price paid by those who create the garments, not to mention the industry’s dramatic toll on the environment.

A recent study found that the number of Americans purchasing more clothing has risen dramatically over the years.

This is largely in part to our ability to acquire new clothing at faster rates and cheaper prices. To some, this may not seem like a huge problem; but when we consider the environmental costs (among other issues), we find that fast fashion is indeed a poor choice for Americans. Each year, about 85% of unused textile is thrown into land fields; another 15% is donated to local thrift stores. Why? Simply because fast fashion clothing is deliberately created to be disposable. That means that stores like Forever 21 and H&M have no desire to create clothing that will last; rather, they want you to continue coming to them for more and more, especially because your previous purchase may have only lasted you a couple of weeks.

Another downside to the fast fashion industry is the poor working conditions that laborers are often forced to encounter while making these cheap clothes. On April 24, 2013, more than 1100 Bangladesh workers were killed while laboring in a textile sweatshop. These were workers that manufactured clothing for retail stores like Wal-Mart and The Children’s Place. Repeated complaints about the dilapidated building had been made; but due to the pressure of producing such large quantities of clothing, workers were still required to manufacture here. Consequently, this building collapsed, killing several people, injuring thousands of lives, and leaving hundreds of children orphaned. The question we should ask ourselves is, Could this have been avoided if fast fashion had not been a factor?

Often times, it’s easy for us to become numb to what is happening around the world, especially when we benefit from the cheap labor of others. But as consumers in this country, we do have the power to make a change, even if it is small. While I would not advocate a strict boycott of these retail stores, I would challenge the reader and consumer to reconsider their shopping habits. This was something that I did, and I am proud to say that my efforts are helping to bring a change.

  1. My first step in changing this phenomenon was to alter my own spending habits. After decluttering my wardrobe, I decided to only purchase items that would be of greater quality. While this did mean that I would have to spend more on each item, I understood that each piece would last me years.
  2. I decided to limit my shopping to stores that produced better quality clothing. My favorite store is White House Black Market. While they are relatively expensive, one can very easily find quality pieces on sale, especially during Black Friday or by shopping at their outlet. One of the other reasons why I love this store is because they are very cognizant of the fast fashion industry, and they have assured me (yes, I did ask them) that they adhere to strict regulations regarding better working conditions for their manufacturers.
  3. Instead of having hundreds of clothing pieces, I reduced my wardrobe to about 40 great items, which I can mix and match to my heart’s desire. Not only has this reduced my stress level in terms of figuring out what to wear each day; it has also eliminated my textile waste habit. I am no longer inclined to throw away my clothing because each piece is durable, attractive, and costly.
  4. Forget the trend! Trends come and trends go, but your personal style will always remain the same. I abandoned the desire to be “with the times” because it changed too often for me. Instead, I wanted a wardrobe that spoke of who I was now and who I wanted to be in the future.
  5. Last but not least, I continue to educate myself on what is important in life. Seeing the video footage of the collapsed building and the deaths of all those workers awakened my understanding to the international effects of fast fashion. It’s more serious than we give it credit.

So, consider the true costs associated with fast fashion. While it may be less of an impact on your wallet, it certainly presents costly effects to others around the world.