In a world where ICT Tac dictates the latest fashion trends and Instagram is the new “Vogue”, our consumerist culture has become increasingly based on buying clothes quickly. When a celebrity sports a coveted fashion item, fast fashion websites create a cheaper replica within the same week. Folks away from Hollywood can get the same look for less and can emulate their favorite style icons. Sure, it’s wonderful in some ways – fashion and self-expression should be accessible to everyone. Style is no longer as cemented in wealth and class status as it once was – everyone can feel confident and comfortable in beautiful clothes at an affordable price. But at the same time, this culture of quick fire and quick execution is incredibly harmful to the environment and the garment industry.
Recently, a new term has emerged to describe this culture of immediacy regarding the reproduction of fashion trends. “Micro-trends” are fashion pieces often inspired by celebrities and influencers that are only meant to last for one fashion season. These parts are made quickly and from inexpensive materials, which means that even if they were meant to last a long time, they physically could not withstand significant wear and tear. Websites like SHEIN and Zaful have capitalized on this rapid trend cycle and are known for their miraculously low prices and hundreds of new articles daily.
From a purely stylistic point of view, I understand the appeal of these micro-trends and fast fashion pieces. I’ve been on the internet and seen styles that I like and wanted to replicate them. But in reality, fast fashion falls short of its style and self-expression goals. The pieces sold on these fast fashion sites go out of style within weeks and eventually become irrelevant. When they’re still relevant, they become so over-popular that everyone wears the same thing. See a cute top or pair of pants on TikTok and chances are next week everyone will be wearing them. Of course, following trends is certainly not a bad thing, but this fast fashion monolith has destroyed fashion’s individuality and self-expression. Is it really fashionable if everyone wears exactly the same thing?
Plus, fast fashion is incredibly damaging to the environment. The garment industry contributes 8-10% of global carbon emissions. 35% of all microplastics found polluting the ocean come from the creation of synthetic textiles like the polyester used in the production of fast fashion clothing. The garment industry is responsible for using the second highest amount of water of any industry – 700 gallons of water are needed to create a single shirt. When dyeing clothing, toxic chemicals are used that eventually leach into excess water and pollute entire water systems. At the same time, 85% of textiles end up in landfills every year. What’s more, after this incredibly environmentally taxing fashion design process, fast fashion items are almost immediately tossed in the trash.
Moreover, fast fashion is also ethically irresponsible – the workers who produce these garments are forced to work in sweatshop-like conditions for minimal pay. Even when brands pay minimum wage to their employees, that wage is only between half and one-fifth of the living wage that families need to meet basic needs. Working hours are also horrendous, with many workers working unpaid overtime and being forced to work with exposure to toxic substances and particles in unventilated spaces. Moreover, the buildings themselves are often unstable and deadly — in 2013, the Rana Square in Dhaka, Bangladesh, which housed five garment factories, including one for popular brand Zara, collapsed, killing at least 1,132 people and injuring 2,500 others. People are literally dying to make these micro-trends happen.
I am a student. I understand the desire for cheap and cute clothes that fast fashion brings. However, the culture created by fast fashion is beyond unhealthy. It has elevated an increasingly consumerist throwaway cycle in which five minutes of style are bought at the expense of the environment and human life. We need to stop adhering to this system, especially when there are so many other ethical and sustainable options. Thrift is an affordable alternative that is exciting and keeps clothes out of landfills. On a purely utilitarian level, buying more expensive clothes that last longer is more convenient than cheaper alternatives that don’t last as long – you get what you pay for and are doing the world a favor. The fast fashion industry cannot survive without its consumers – so I urge you to take a step back and reconsider your clothing choices.
Hailey Robbins is opinion writer for The Cavalier Daily. She can be reached at [email protected]