Slow down your shopping: how college students are falling victim to fast fashion and how to stop it


It is already well known that in the world of socially responsible shopping, fast fashion is a dirty word. But when endless trend cycles and overconsumption are so normalized, how do we get off that high-speed train to nowhere?

The fashion industry accounts for around 10% of global carbon emissions and uses more energy than the aviation and shipping industries combined, as reported by the BBC.

Starting with raw materials, growing the cotton needed to make a pair of jeans requires more than 2,500 gallons of water, the same article reports. Then there are the emissions from transporting products from overseas factories to stores or homes. Even when used, washing polyester clothing releases microplastics into our water. And when we’re done wearing them, the items are likely to head to a landfill.

The BBC reported in another article that almost 60% of young people feel very concerned about climate change. But even with these values, the social aspect of fashion combined with tight budgets makes students very sensitive to fast fashion.

“Fast” fashion is specifically an industry where clothes are made in inexpensive, fashionable styles for consumers to quickly browse, throw away and then come back for more. Marked by overconsumption, the cycle is only accelerating.

“Before, there were only four seasons: winter, spring, summer and fall,” said Emily Trujillo, who served as chair of the DePaul Fair Trade Committee before graduating last year. trimester. “Now there are 52 fashion weeks. Companies are trying to get the best out of their workers.

Fast fashion does not only have an environmental impact, but a human impact. Part of Fair Trade’s mission is to counter the poor working conditions and underpaid labor that are all too common in the manufacture of garments for major fashion brands. Fair Trade promotes more ethical alternatives, where products must pass rigorous social and environmental standards to be certified as Fair Trade.

DePaul’s Fair Trade Chapter held its “Fashion Revolution” event last month with an ethical clothing fashion show, clothing swap and guest speaker. The annual event is in remembrance of the Rama Plaza factory tragedy, when a garment factory in Bangladesh collapsed. More than 1,000 people have been killed making clothes for fast fashion brands, including Primark, which has a three-story store a few blocks from the DePaul’s Loop campus.

“I think we as consumers have this concept out of sight,” Trujillo said. “We only check the label to see the name [of the] brand, not to verify where it was made.

Barbara Willard is an associate professor at DePaul. She specializes in environmental communication and works to promote pro-environmental behavior among consumers.

“The tricky thing is there’s something called the attitude behavior gap,” Willard said, where people’s actions don’t align with their stated values. “So it’s a challenge to try to really get people to change their behavior.”

But trying to buy sustainably isn’t always easy: Most fair and sustainable brands are priced outside the student budget, and few include size. And to young people’s credit, fast fashion has been largely all Gen Z has ever known, with the production model starting in the 90s and exploding in the years since, as one article explained. by Vox.

“It’s not like you can just tell people [the negative impacts of fast fashion] and they will stop behaving that way,” Willard said. “They must have a practical alternative.”

Online second-hand shopping has added convenience to saving with apps like DePop and ThreadUp. But often, searching for a second-hand item isn’t as easy as shopping for clothes at department stores or with Amazon Prime.

“Our culture needs to take a serious and critical look at our desire for convenience and what it costs us socially and ecologically,” Willard said.

Willard noted that social norms also have a big impact on people’s shopping habits. Working to stigmatize fast fashion shopping while promoting activities such as thrift and upcycling as trendy, as many savers have done via social media, can help the shift into a fad. slower to look easier and more appealing.

But trends are also picked up by the “transports” on TikTok from brands like SHEIN, where buying dozens of cheap pieces online is both normalized and glamorous.

Hannah Lau, president of the DePaul Fashion Society, described how social media has exacerbated the normalization of overconsumption when it comes to clothing.

“I think the problem is also that people photograph what they’re wearing, so they’re really scared of repeating their outfit,” she said.

And when influencers market things they wear or a certain item goes viral, often with an Amazon link posted, it encourages purchases of items that are too specific to be found at a thrift store. Buyers should buy new if they want to get the exact item or style that is in fashion at any given time.

“I think it’s tough because the marketing of some products has been really good,” Lau said. “Something is going to hit your brain and create this dopamine.”

But as a fashion enthusiast, Lau finds ways to balance her love for clothes with a goal of conscious consumption.

She suggested trying a capsule wardrobe, where a person is limited to repeatedly wearing a few versatile items. She also tried a “no purchase” for three months, limiting any new clothing purchases entirely.

But if those methods are too harsh, Lau suggested shopping with a friend to empower each other and just be more aware of what to buy.

“My dad instilled in me that whenever you buy something, always think 3-7-21,” Lau said. “If you look at an item and it’s a plain white shirt and it looks great on you, you’re going to wear it 21 times. But let’s say it’s neon: how many times am I going to wear that? It might being seven could be three, but it’s really internalizing what you have and how you’re going to wear it.

Lau adds that microtrends are very different and more harmful than regular trends, which makes niche styles short-lived to excess. But she also thinks there’s no real need to follow trends in the first place.

“Then you look like the rest of the other people I see on Instagram, and it gets a little boring,” she said.

Trujillo enjoys finding styles in a sustainable way by doing clothing swaps with friends and family. Overall, she agrees that the fashion downturn doesn’t require a major lifestyle change. Even if you continue to buy fast fashion brands, just buying purposefully and wearing items longer will be a step in the right direction.

“I’m not saying never buy fast fashion,” Trujillo said. “It’s okay, we’re not all perfect… We’re just asking that you subconsciously think and care, ‘where does my stuff come from?’


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