Fast Fashion's Effects and What We Can Do To Help

by RORY BRADLEY '22

Think about the clothes you are wearing right now. Maybe it's sweatpants and a shirt you've had since grade school, or a nice top and a pair of expensive jeans. Regardless of whether our clothes come from a small boutique or a large company, someone is hand making them. Something we tend to forget is who is actually making our clothes and how they are treated.


What is fast fashion?

We spend hour after hour shopping, online or in stores, looking at the newest trends and finding stores that sell cheap and affordable clothes we can wear to fit in with what our favorite celebrities are currently wearing. No matter what kind of clothes you may be shopping for, fast fashion is an issue the world has been dealing with for decades. Fast fashion is the method by which large retailers produce inexpensive clothing in response to up and coming, usually leaving the clothing-makers working for extremely low wages in dangerous conditions. Brands such as Shein, TopShop, and Fashion Nova are just a few examples of companies that underpay their workers and provide poor working conditions for their employees. Companies compete with one another to produce the cheapest clothes as quickly as possible in order to make the most money, disregarding the lives of their employees.


Why is fast fashion an issue?

People working for these large clothing companies are getting paid almost nothing, and many of these people have families to provide for. The reason one may get trapped into working under these conditions are the lack of knowledge about a company and a desperation for a way out of poverty. In 2006, Gap employers came out with statements revealing they've been working 100+ hours a week, going unpaid for six months. Many sweatshop workers earn as little as three cents per hour. People are going in with the assumption they are getting money which further benefits their lives and their families lives. Most of the time children joining their parents at work due to a lack of money for school or daycare. In developing countries, children as young as six years old have been working 16 hour days along with their parents and siblings. They don’t realize that they will be working under dangerous, possibly even deadly conditions.


One historical example of fast fashion we learn about in school is the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire. Women were in need of jobs, and Isaac Harris and Max Black gave hundreds of jobs to those in need of them. What came along with these jobs were poor conditions and little pay. Broken sewing machines, locked doors, no bathroom access, and flammable materials all led up to the disastrous fire in New York, 1911. A rag bin in the factory caught on fire, later killing 145 workers. This is just one example of early fast fashion, but it continues today as companies compete to rapidly produce clothing in order to make the most money.


How can we avoid supporting businesses involved in fast fashion?

There are many ways by which you can help put a stop to fast fashion! Anyone can make a difference, whether it be thrifting more frequently or looking at other brands to shop from. One way you can help is by buying second hand clothing from places such as Snooty Fox or Clothes Mentor. Buying second hand reduces the amount of business that fast fashion companies receive. When looking at a retailer’s website, look to find a mission statement or an ‘about us’ page towards the bottom of the site. From here, you can check to see if this clothing brand is ethically producing their products and properly treating their workers.


Maybe patterned pants and cropped t-shirts are all the rage right now! Go in your closest and give some attention to some clothes you may not wear anymore due to a dead trend from years ago. Ask yourself, "How could I reuse these?" Upcycling and finding a purpose for old clothing isn't for everyone, but if you have something you don't love anymore, donate it! Someone else would love to wear that old Justin Bieber sweatshirt you got 10 years ago. We as a society can make a huge difference in the fashion industry by helping support local clothing businesses who treat their workers properly.

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