Op-Ed: The Collateral Damages of Fast Fashion

Fashion is a quickly changing, constantly evolving, rapidly growing industry. It is because of this that in order to not only keep the public’s emerging needs met but also to not be left behind in the whirlwind of every clothing trend coming and going, the concept of fast fashion is seen as a necessary production tool to have on our planet. This necessity blinds people into ignoring the harmful effects that fast fashion has on our planet.

Fast fashion is the quick and cheap production of merchandise; it is also described as the production of “clothing designs that move quickly from the catwalk to stores to take advantage of trends. The collections are often based on styles presented at Fashion Week runway shows or worn by celebrities.” In other words, it is the perfect combination of cheap and convenience for the customer that can’t imagine a life where they’re not staying in the loop. This fast-production of clothes, however, has so many collateral damages, damages ranging from the exacerbation of climate change to the industry’s connection to sweatshops.

While sweatshops are imagined by most people as something that is only seen in third world countries, there have been some of these inhumane factories in the US too, and the reason for them, you guessed it, fast fashion. A few years ago, in as close as California, there were workers producing and manufacturing clothes for Fashion Nova, an American fast fashion retail company. These people were working for as little as $2.77 an hour: “One worker who stitched Fashion Nova clothing at a factory called Coco Love told the Times she earned just a few cents for each part of a garment she sewed, such as four cents to sew on a shirt sleeve. To earn her average of about $270 a week, she worked seven days a week in dirty conditions.” She confessed that there were cockroaches and rats and that the conditions in which she was working were not good.

Many of the workers that are cheated out of fair pay and are working in these barbarous conditions developed by fast fashion are undocumented people. This makes it hard for them to actually report what is going on for fear of being caught. This is how fast fashion companies foster inhumane working environments without the threat of exposure.

Shein, a Chinese online fast-fashion retailer, is notoriously known for its lack of transparency when it comes to reports. It has been publicly exposed for not only making false statements but also withholding information that is required by law to report: “the company until recently falsely stated on its website that conditions in the factories it uses were certified by international labor standards bodies…Shein’s “social responsibility” page states that it “never, ever” engages in a child or forced labor, but does not provide the full supply chain disclosures required by British law.”

Fast fashion is one of the main contributors to child labor, and it doesn’t stop there. Regardless of the fact that there is public information that exposes companies by name that still use sweatshops in 2023 and have been known to use child labor in the past, there is nothing being done for this violation of human rights.

The tyranny of fast fashion doesn’t stop on humans; it also affects our environment. In fact, environmental science professor Jesse Blanchard calls it one of the biggest environmental offenders out there. Also saying that: “When you wear clothing once and throw it out, it becomes a solid waste issue that we currently have no real solution for. We just pile it up, and that’s pretty much it,”

The industry is supposedly currently responsible for more carbon emissions a year than all international flights and maritime shipping combined. All because of all the cheap clothing that was bought and discarded, or made and discarded, within the same year.

How does this happen? Well, after ruining the quality of millions of workers by making them create an unrealistic amount of clothes in an unrealistic amount of time, some of this unnecessarily fast-produced mound of clothes, of course, goes unsold. And it’s cheaper for them to burn them than to reuse or recycle them.

This not only wastes resources but it causes the fast fashion industry to pollute waterways with toxic dyes and increases the number of microfibers in the ocean through the use of fossil fuel-based fabrics.

Fast fashion is the cause of so many things: depletion of non-renewable sources, emission of greenhouse gases, exploitation of underpaid workers, the use of massive amounts of water and energy, the aggravation of climate change, etc. So before considering either partaking in the popular clothing “haul” trend or going to a thrift store to buy only what you need, first ponder which one causes the most damage, and then make your decision.

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