Lately, I have read and heard a lot about something called Fast Fashion. At first I thought maybe this was some new trendy look that I had to get the latest scoop on. But as I researched this term I was deeply affected by what I learned and I wanted to share this information with my fellow recovering shopaholics since we, as shoppers, need to be mindful not only about how our shopping affects our lives and bank accounts, but also how it affects our planet and more importantly the lives of others.
You might be asking (just like I did) “What is Fast Fashion?”. Perhaps you assumed it referred to those fads that seem to enter and exit in the same season (think harem pants). Fast Fashion really refers to companies that copy the upcoming season styles and trends, and then mass create them quickly and cheaply with much lower quality and a much lower price tag. In a nutshell, if you’re shopping for clothes and you are amazed at the trendy, yet cheaply priced choices, then you are likely shopping Fast Fashion.
Through my years as an overshopper, I have had many ideas about how to “fix” my shopping problems. For starters, I am always “cleaning out” my closet, and tend to do this several times a year. I want to rid myself of the items that I am not using…the purchasing mistakes that I need to let go and forget. At the same time I am making room for more…and more…and more. Each time I clean out my closet I create three piles…clothes I will sell, clothes to donate, and clothes that just need to be thrown out. I don’t throw away a lot of clothes, but there is always a discard pile no matter how small. Until now, I’ve never stopped to consider what happens to these unwanted items, especially the ones that end up in a landfill.
As I’ve developed plans for spending less, I’ve reasoned that cheaper clothing may be the answer to my problems. I can get more for my money right? So I am drawn to buying cheap trendy clothing. After all, I can buy more clothes that way and feel good that I didn’t pay outrageous designer prices. I actually feel smart that I paid less. Why should I pay $100 or more for a top when Zara, Amazon, and H&M all have super cute similar tops for so much less? I certainly felt like a responsible consumer…until now. I never thought to question how certain brands can manufacture their cute, trendy clothes so cheaply compared to other brands.
I must admit that when I began to research Fast Fashion I had very little knowledge of the fashion industry and how clothing is manufactured. I didn’t realize that people…actual human beings…make the clothing I wear. Sure, I knew that my designer handbags and shoes may have been handcrafted in Italy, but that’s about it. I just assumed everything was made in factories by machines. I did not know that there were actually millions of people working to create all the pretty things I wear. And these people have families, hopes and dreams just like me. I had no idea that the majority of garment workers are young women under the age of 24 and most of them earn mere dollars each day (sometimes only $3 per day). On top of that they work long hours in terrible conditions and are often subjected to physical, sexual and verbal abuse. By supporting certain companies who sell cheap Fast Fashion I have supported the poor treatment of these workers. This made me incredibly sad which pushed me to look further into these fashion companies and how they can sell their clothes so cheaply. Here are some quick facts I learned about Fast Fashion:
Fast Fashion clothing are made to fall apart. You read that right…they are purposely made to NOT last. It is intended that consumers will continue to purchase more cheap clothing. In some cases clothing may fall apart after just one washing and then tossed in the garbage. This leads right into the next point…
Since so much of these cheap, low quality fashion items end up in the trash, there has been an incredible increase in the amount of clothing that is dumped into landfills. Believe it or not, Americans dispose of over 20 million tons of textiles each year. That is a frightening amount of waste which will only worsen if we keep buying clothing that needs to be thrown out so quickly. I was also shocked to find out that the fashion industry is the second largest polluter in the world, second only to oil. Crazy right? Yet it is true. There is excessive landfill waste, water waste, and energy waste. For instance I read in an article by Carmen Busquets (https://www.carmenbusquets.com/journal/post/sustainable-fashion) that it can take three years worth of drinking water to produce the cotton needed to make just one t-shirt.
The fashion industry also has a terrible carbon footprint because of the extreme amount of gas emissions due to manufacturing and shipping. I never even thought about excessive shipping before, but it is common for cotton to be grown here in the U.S. and then shipped to one country for spinning and then another country for dyeing and then another for sewing and then shipped right back to the US (where it all began) for selling! I’ve always considered myself a fairly responsible environmental person because I recycle my plastic bottles and papers, turn off lights when not needed, and am careful with conserving water. Now I realize that by supporting Fast Fashion I have contributed to this massive waste and pollution problem!
There can be harmful chemicals including pesticides, formaldehyde and even lead in Fast Fashion merchandise. Many of these companies do not care about the environmental impact of their manufacturing, causing polluted air and waters. I am so diligent about buying organic food, not using dangerous household pesticides or chemicals, and even avoiding formaldehyde based Keratin hair treatments. I never realized I could be walking around wearing all these chemicals that I’ve tried to avoid! Did you know that cotton is one of the most chemically dependent crops in the world? I didn’t.
The last point I’d like to list is about the children. As a mom of four, there is no secret that I love kids. I love to watch them discover, grow and play. Now I’ve learned that cheap clothes are often made by underage workers laboring long hours who get underpaid (sometimes starvation wages) and harassed. Yes, child labor and sweatshops still exist. Why do Fast Fashion companies do this? Because children are very cheap labor which allow for very inexpensive clothing. When we buy cheap clothing there is a strong chance it was made by a child laborer. This alone is enough to ensure that I will no longer support Fast Fashion brands.
You may not have heard the term Fast Fashion before, but likely you too have been a victim of it, if like me, you have happily and proudly thought you were saving money and being responsible by buying cheap clothing. But now, we need to be educated consumers and understand that these clothes are cheap for a reason. That reason involves hurting other people, hurting our planet’s environment, and also potentially hurting our own health. I must add that some of the issues I listed apply to many companies in the fashion industry, not just Fast Fashion companies. But since Fast Fashion is producing the most clothing items with the intent of them falling apart (so we continue to buy more of their cheap clothing), then I feel that they lead the pack for producing the most negative impact on the world. This new knowledge that I have about the fashion industry changes how I will shop going forward. With this information I can now truly become a smart, responsible shopper.
We overshoppers are purchasing the most and therefore we can be the leaders to make a positive change. In next Tuesday’s post I will discuss what we can do to help change the negative effects of the fashion industry. I’ll also provide tips to avoid Fast Fashion, shop smarter (even on a budget) and how to identify which clothing brands are best to buy.
If what you read here today makes you yearn for more information about Fast Fashion and also about the manufacturing of clothing, I would recommend the following links to articles and also an online course on how clothes are made:
Be Global Fashion Network
Future Learn’s FREE online course on Who Made My Clothes