When we browse the racks of vibrant back-to-school clothing at our local mall, prices are often on the top of our list of things to look out for. Rarely do we consider why prices are the way they are. Instead, we stay away from brands that sell clothing for prices we view as too high, without realizing that these prices improve the treatment of workers. However, with the growing social awareness about company history and practices, we consumers are running out of excuses to continue shopping at places like Forever 21.
Fast fashion is a modern term used by fashion retailers describing designs that are released quickly to model the changing trends. Brands like Forever 21, Zara, and Topshop are at the forefront of this fashion retail revolution, and the term has become associated with disposable fashion due to the low prices the clothes are sold for. However, despite the cheap prices, fast fashion has a high cost, both ethically and en- vironmentally.
In 2013, an eight-story commercial building in Bangladesh, named Rana Plaza, collapsed, resulting in the deaths of 1,134 people. Despite the Rana Plaza’s obvious structural problems, the workers were ordered to complete orders for buyers due to the short production deadlines demanded by fast fashion brands. The Rana Plaza incident is only one of the many incidents that have occurred as a result of unfair labor practices.
However, unfair labor practices do not just exist in remote areas outside of the U.S.; a prime example is Forever 21, where behind everysweater you pick up is a tired, overworked, and grossly underpaid sweatshop worker. The U.S. Department of Labor has confirmed thatForever 21’s workers face working conditions similar to those belonging to sweatshops, earning only $4-6 an hour, which is far below the minimum wage ($12 in Los Angeles). Unfortunately, companies like Forever 21 and Ross are retailers rather than manufacturers, and the U.S. Department of Labor can only enforce laws on companies that hire and break labor laws themselves.
The practice of fast fashion and our mass consumption of clothing have taken a toll on the environment as well. According to the En- vironmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates, the average American throws away about 81 pounds of clothing every year. 95 percent of used textiles can be recycled, but rather than being recycled, 85 percent ends up in the trash. Synthetic fabrics, often used by fast fashion brands, take hundreds of years to decompose. Consumers are buying more and more clothes not only because they want the clothing and think it’s fashionable but also because the low prices enable them to buy more for less. As a result, the average person buys 60% more clothes but keeps them for half as long as someone 15 years ago, which generates a great amount of waste.
Of course, some people simply cannot afford to buy higher quality clothing because it usually entails a higher price. As a result, trendy fashion with cheap prices can come as a blessing, and it is improbable to suggest that these people switch to more expensive options that they cannot afford.
However, many people actually have the means to switch to non-fast fashion brands, but choose not to. If you don’t have the extra cashhandy, a visit to your local thrift store is always an option. Also, before buying anything, consider how many times you will wear the outfit;this practice will hopefully help lessen the number of T-shirts in your closet accumulating cobwebs. It’s not always easy, but buying frommore ethical brands, such as Zady, People Tree, and Everlane, is also a feasible option. They don’t provide the cheap fix many are used towith fast fashion, but knowing your clothing doesn’t come with skeletons in the closet is worth the extra dollar to many consumers. And of course, if you are skilled with a needle and thread and are willing to spend a little extra time on creating your own clothes, that’s always a cheap and fun way to add new additions to your wardrobe.
In short, buying from fast fashion brands not only condones the usage of sweatshop workers but also contributes to a greater footprint on the environment. No piece of clothing is worth the violation of human rights or the desecration of the environment. So next time you take a trip to the mall, take a moment to search up the history and sustainability of the brand before buying.
Nicole Iwamasa / Features Editor | Eui Jin Song / Associate & Editorials Editor
Image Courtesy of Miss Hawaii USA Pageant