We need to stop normalizing fast fashion

January 20, 2021

We, the younger generation, pride ourselves on being “woke.” We post about social activism on our Instagram stories, march for pride and climate change, and speak passionately about current events. Yet, most of us buy into one of the biggest human rights and environmental issues we face today: the fast fashion industry.

The fast fashion industry mass-produces cheap, trendy fashion. It is readily available and we see it everywhere. Fast fashion, however, comes with unseen costs: the severe exploitation of workers in developing countries, working at sweatshops to earn a wage that barely supports their living costs, and tremendous environmental impacts, such as contributing on vast scales to greenhouse gas emissions, water pollution, and waste production.

Polluted Water at Dakshinkali
Many fast fashion brands dispose of waste irresponsibly, leaving tremendous environmental damage. (Source: ankraut, licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0, no changes were made.)

Why is fast fashion still normalized even by the most socially aware of us? This question came to mind during one of our lunchtime club meetings. We were writing a petition addressed to UNIQLO, a massive fast fashion contributor, urging them to abide by UNIQLO worker rights by paying their unpaid workers in Indonesia. When I looked across the room, however, I found that most of us were wearing fast fashion, whether it be UNIQLO Heat-Tech, a Brandy Melville gingham skirt, or Nike Shoes. This left me deep in thought. 

I sent out a form to Sacred Heart’s high school community. Out of the 53 who responded, roughly 70% responded that they buy fast fashion regularly, 23% said they were in the process of phasing it out, and 7% said they do not buy any. As can be seen from the data, fast fashion makes up the majority of our closets. I then asked, “We all know fast fashion is unethical. If you do, why do you think you still buy into it?” I was shocked and honestly disappointed with how little the responses answered. The majority of the responses can be summed up by these two answers:  “because it’s cheap” and “the clothes are nice.” 

Teenagers browse through a Brandy Melville store. (Source: Wikipedia, licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0, no changes were made)

I think fast fashion continues to be normalized is because it is still normalized. Our favorite celebrities promote Zara, our friends wear Bershka. It’s hard to feel like you’re doing something wrong when so many others around you are doing it, so we continue to turn a blind eye.

There is no one identifiable solution to fast fashion — it will be a long journey. The elimination of fast fashion brands is an unrealistic solution. But we can improve the fast fashion industry. How do we do this? 

We, as consumers, need to call fast fashion industries to action by showing these brands that their ways are no longer accepted by the world. The only way for fast fashion industries to stay relevant is through improving: dedicating more of their profit to improving conditions for their workers and reducing their environmental impacts. We must force fast fashion brands to respond. We have to participate actively in petitions and boycott fast fashion until they improve their production means, for the fast fashion industry will survive, without change or improvement, as long as consumers continue to feed into it. 

Boycotting fast fashion will not be convenient. It will come at the expense of our comfort, but how can we continue to call ourselves empathetic, educated, and “woke” if we continue to feed into fast fashion? 

We throw around the words “I’m so broke” carelessly, but what we often forget is how extremely privileged we are. It is a huge privilege to have the financial means to be able to choose to make more ethical choices. Yes, being students, many of us are under tight budget restrictions, but we cannot pretend that we are “too broke” to make any efforts to make more ethical choices. Most of us make an incredibly small amount of effort to work within our budget restrictions. Because if we give thought to how we can work within our budgets, we will find that there are so many alternatives to fast fashion. 

Thrift shopping in Tokyo is expensive, but online resources have opened my eyes to amazing alternatives. I was amazed to find a great selection of budget-friendly clothes on Etsy, a platform used by small businesses to sell their handmade or vintage items. What more, many of Etsy’s handmade items can be tailored to individual sizes. It takes more time to find what you want, but with patience, you can find incredible vintage pieces and high-quality handmade clothes. Here is a great list of affordable brand options and another article on how to start building a sustainable wardrobe on a budget.  

You can also choose to invest in good quality, high-end pieces that will definitely last you years such as Reformation, a chic, aesthetic, and 100% sustainable brand that has been getting increasing attention on social media. Here is an article to get you started on your search to find your favorite high-end online clothing brands. 

I will not pretend my closet consists only of ethically made clothes. I still have many fast fashion pieces from the years of ignoring this issue. But I am changing, and I want to encourage the world and the Sacred Heart community to do so as well. We should never forget the people who made the things we use every day. We will probably never know the people who grew the coffee beans we use every morning, nor will we ever know the people who made the carpets we use at home. This article shines a light on one of these issues.

I hope we can all begin to open our eyes to what goes behind the things we use every day, and be willing to help improve our world. We have to stop normalizing fast fashion. 

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