Op-ed: Fast Fashion is Cheap, but at What Cost?

Fast fashion has gained immense popularity since the late 1990s. Trendy clothing from companies like Shein and Fashion Nova show up constantly in haul videos on social media platforms from influencers and celebrities alike. 

These brands offer fashion pieces for extremely low prices. The clothing is marketed as convenient and cheap. However, fast fashion has a major impact on human rights and the environment.

First, you must look at how the clothing itself is made and what material it’s made from. Most material nowadays is made from synthetic fibers like nylon or polyester. These materials are plastics, and like most plastics, they won’t decompose for hundreds of years.

When the clothing is washed, little pieces of plastic are released and find their way into the ocean and harm ocean-dwelling animals. Textiles are also often cleaned with harsh chemicals and end up in rivers and streams near textile facilities.

Chemicals used to dye fabrics are also known to be toxic to wildlife. Perfluorinated chemicals which create water-proof fabrics have been linked to impacts on fetal development and increased risk of certain cancers.

The production process of sewing and stitching comes with a steep climate cost. In 2015, the textiles sector emitted more greenhouse gas emissions than the international shipping industry and the aviation industry combined.

Shein, Fashion Nova, Zara, and H&M are popular fast-fashion stores. The clothes from these stores usually have a short lifespan resulting in clothes ending up in landfills. Consumers buy new pieces to replace their worn-out clothes.

Fast fashion takes a toll on people as well. The clothing for fast fashion is made in poor countries like China, Bangladesh, Vietnam, and India where cheap labor is abundant. 

Few people making the garment are paid a living wage. Along with cheap labor comes the exploitation of child labor. Children as young as five years old work 14 to 16 hours a day. This is one of several reasons why fast fashion is so inexpensive. 

Of course, sustainable fashion is not accessible to everyone because unlike fast fashion it is more expensive. And who doesn’t love a deal, right? However, considering the impact it has on the planet and human beings, I’ve learned it’s best to invest in quality pieces that will last longer. 

I would love to participate in every fashion trend, but if I did, I wouldn’t wear half of the clothes that would end up in my closet.

It’s best to ask yourself, “Do I actually like this? Or is it just to be part of a trend and to fit in?” If it’s the latter… I say skip it. Just because it’s a good deal, doesn’t mean it’s worth it in the long run.


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