Wei Ni Zhang
If you have ever bought from brands like Zara or Urban Outfitters, chances are you have come across fast fashion at least once during your shopping sprees. Made possible by cheap labor and production costs, fast fashion continues to fuel the fashion industry as consumers opt for inexpensive clothing.
However, many have fallen victim to the desirably low prices and convenient access that stores offer. They are not aware of the true cost of manufacturing a pair of jeans, which is the environmental equivalent to driving a car for more than 80 miles. Due to this ignorance, fast fashion has become common when it comes to big retail companies and the real cost is often overlooked.
The fashion industry is the world’s second-largest polluter, right behind the oil industry, and the methods of fast fashion are a large contributor to that. The process starts at runway shows where fashion retailers try to rapidly recreate designs and then manufacture them in mass quantities in order to make them more accessible to the public. From there, the designs travel to stores, then to consumers, and eventually to the trash.
“The environment is worth more than the clothes you buy and wear. The amount of resources poured into fashion is unnecessary,” Melanie Vasquez ’22 said.
The rapid pace at which companies produce clothes often causes the quality to suffer. A bigger issue, however, is the cost that fast fashion holds on the environment.
The life cycle of fast fashion begins with millions of articles of clothing being manufactured in poorly maintained factories. These articles of clothing eventually end up in landfills, where they sit there for years on end. Unfortunately, the materials used in most of these clothes are not biodegradable, meaning that they cannot be naturally broken down. The excess waste produced by non-biodegradable items poses a danger to the environment as it leads to water and soil pollution and and contact to toxic chemicals.
The fashion industry, although short in history, is notorious for leaving a large carbon footprint. Big retailers such as Forever 21 and H&M are some of the main culprits of the pollution our world currently faces. Its products are made almost entirely out of plastic fibers, which takes a toll on natural resources as approximately 145 million tons of coal and 2 trillion gallons of water go into the production of plastic fibers. The rough 80 billion items of clothing that are manufactured each year cause environmental problems to pile up quickly. It is rare that consumers know about the environmental effects of their shopping habits. “The environment is worth more than the clothes you buy and wear. The amount of resources poured into fashion is unnecessary,” Melanie Vasquez ’22 said. In a world where our natural resources are limited and we buy more than we need, Vasquez argues that this problem should be acknowledged more.
While plastic water bottles have been replaced with more reusable and eco-friendly ones to try to combat the climate crisis, the same precautions are not being applied when it comes to wardrobes. People often do not realize the negative effects that their fashion choices as shoppers have on the world. Except, like plastic bottles, most of the clothes bought through fast fashion are made with harmful materials. Though affordability is typically favored, sustainability should be a primary focus in the fashion industry. Buying second-hand clothes from thrift stores and opting for more sustainable brands, like Reformation or Patagonia, can make a difference in a shopper’s carbon footprint.
Therefore, the next time you shop for clothes, think twice about how they were made and where they came from. When it comes to fast fashion, inexpensive, trendy clothes may seem desirable at first, but in the end, the planet, and us along with it, will have to pay the ultimate price.