The term “fast fashion” refers to “an unsustainable apparel-making method that produces inexpensive clothing rapidly in response to the latest style trends.” The practice negatively affects the environment and the workers producing the garments. Most clothes sold in department stores and online retailers use unsustainable and unethical means to create the fabrics and the clothing items themselves. The biggest retailers of online fast fashion are Shein and Romwe.
I understand why buying clothes on Shein and Romwe is enticing: low, low prices; constant sales; the ability to always stay “on trend.” Influencers constantly promote these sites through hauls on YouTube and TikTok, oftentimes giving the companies free promotion as they are not paid or given free products to do so. Massive haul videos get thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of views which incentivizes not only the viewers of those videos to buy from these sites but also the influencers to order massive amounts of clothes to film more successful videos. Fast fashion has also made “on-trend” clothes more accessible to low-income individuals.
There are three main issues with fast fashion production: the fabrics, the labor and where they end up.
Polyester is the main fabric used to create fast fashion clothes, a cheap fabric derived from fossil fuels. This becomes a problem not only in creating these fabrics but also in washing them. Washing polyester and other cheap fabrics releases microplastics into waterways, polluting them and making them dangerous for human and animal consumption. The dyes used to color the fabrics are toxic and cheap – making the fashion industry the second largest polluter of clean water globally.
These fast fashion articles of clothing are also, in almost every instance, produced in countries that don’t have protections for garment makers. According to Business Insider, workers in Chinese factories that supply clothes to Shein get as little as four cents per article of clothing made while often working 18-hour shifts. By paying these unsustainable wages, retailers can keep their costs low for customers and maintain one of the most enticing aspects of fast fashion.
Because of the market they’re serving, these clothes are not meant to last – most articles of clothing can only survive a couple of wears before they tear, pill or start unraveling. This follows a key aspect of fast fashion – producing items that are “on trend” for the time.
Since the 1990s, fashion cycles have been getting shorter and shorter, meaning that styles go out of fashion much quicker than they used to. Fashion trends used to last months but now can last as short as a few weeks, meaning that a garment might not even get to be worn a couple of times before it is out of style. Studies show that the average person only wears 20% of their closet, while consumers buy five times as many clothes as they did in the 1980s.
Because of this overconsumption of clothes, every second, one garbage truck worth of clothes is burned or sent to landfills. This has done irreversible damage to the environment – one staggering statistic is that the fast fashion industry accounts for 2-8% of all carbon emissions.
Obviously, these horrendous realities are due to the actions of the corporations that cause them. Having said that, though, I still encourage everybody to stop shopping via fast fashion because continually putting money in their pockets allows their behavior to continue. Options such as thrift or vintage stores are more sustainable – and often have cuter clothes anyway.