Many millennials and Zoomers alike have grown up in the age of mass consumerism. We have all heard of the phrase, “shop ’til you drop,” and for some of us, this is how we are used to spending our money. Shopping malls are always the go-to weekend place, and with online shopping at our disposal, purchasing an entirely new wardrobe has never been easier. Like so many Americans, I had become accustomed to this way of life.
Then, the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic happened. With malls closed and delivery services delayed, I no longer had a need to purchase anything other than necessities. Shockingly enough, I have only purchased about three items of clothing since the onset of the pandemic. This realization led me to question why I had ever even purchased so much clothing in the past.
Taking a step back from shopping has made me realize the many ways in which fast fashion harms not only people but also the planet. Although my shopping habits were subdued largely due to the pandemic, there are plenty of other (serious) reasons why people should consider giving up fast fashion.
Popular brands like SHEIN, Fashion Nova, PrettyLittleThing, Boohoo, Forever 21, etc. are popular by demand, but have you ever taken a step back to explore how these businesses operate?
Despite what many of us would like to hear, fast fashion is grossly unethical and is detrimental to consumers, employees and the planet. Findings show that many fast fashion brands criminally underpay their workers and, in some instances, utilize child labor to manufacture their clothes. Oftentimes, people are quick to boast about “how cheap” these clothing items are.
A big part of the reason why these clothes are so cheap is because these companies do not pay their workers a livable wage. As consumers, we have to start paying close attention to the kinds of businesses we are fueling our dollars with.
In November 2012, a garment factory in Dhaka, Bangladesh, caught on fire, killing more than 100 workers. Less than a year later in April 2013, the same garment factories in Dhaka collapsed, killing more than 1,000 people. A quick Google search will bring up hundreds more similarly tragic occurrences.
The uncomfortable truth is that quite literally, these lucrative fast fashion industries are costing people their lives. Many of the factories in which these clothes are manufactured have unsafe and hazardous working conditions. Workers have no rights and are rarely able to unionize.
The inability to organize and strike means that these workers, mainly women, are often greatly exploited by the companies they work for. Nonetheless, many of these places still remain open due to their popularity and the demand generated by Western consumers.
As if the aforementioned reasons were not enough, fast fashion is also destroying the very earth that we call home. Many of the materials used in these factories consist of polyester, rayon, spandex, etc., and research shows that non-biodegradable textiles such as spandex and polyester can take anywhere from 20 to 200 years to decompose!
To make matters worse, many of the clothes produced do not last very long and are quickly discarded by consumers. In fact, approximately 85 percent of textiles that are wasted eventually end up in landfills or in incinerators. Textiles make up approximately 5 percent of the landfills in the U.S., and Americans throw away a whopping 70 pounds of clothes per person each year.
Additionally, textile dyeing requires many chemicals that eventually end up contaminating waterways. Many of the local people who live in these places where the textiles are dyed end up with contaminated waterways that can make them ill.
The only real beneficiaries of this lucrative industry are the businesses that generate millions in revenue. So you might be asking yourself, what can I do with all this information? Well, as a consumer, there are some ways you can help. The most effective approach is to limit the amount of shopping one does.
I am sure, as a kid, you once heard the phrase, “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.” Though it seems as though many people only ever acknowledge reusing and recycling, reducing the amount of clothes you buy is the most environmentally friendly choice.
If reducing does not seem feasible for you (though you really should consider it, because even your pockets will thank you), then reusing is the next best option. Reusing clothes might mean shopping at a second-hand store or thrift shop.
Thrift shopping reduces waste tremendously, and as a bonus, you are always bound to find some really unique pieces. By re-wearing pieces that are already made, you can lessen the demand for new clothes and prevent more clothes from ending up in a landfill.
Lastly, you can recycle. Most of the things that we tend to throw away, such as clothes and beddings, can actually be used for other purposes. Nowadays, there are even some environmentally conscious companies that will help recycle your clothes for you!
We can keep up with fashion without destroying our planet and fellow human beings in the process. As Western consumers, we have a lot more responsibility for the state of our modern world than we would like to admit. All of us can do our part to make a difference, one conscious choice at a time.
Vanessa Darkoa is a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore majoring in English and minoring in history and education. Her column, “As It Is,” runs on alternate Mondays.
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