Fast fashion creates complex problems

This affects all of us

Jill Stone

What is fast fashion? You may or may not know. However, you have most likely participated in it. Fast fashion is inexpensive clothing produced rapidly by mass-market retailers in response to the latest trends.

For most of human history, people have worn what some people would refer to as “slow fashion” because it takes much longer to manufacture and it usually holds up longer, and is of better quality. Traditionally, most people or someone in their household knew how to sew and make clothing for the family and repair damages to clothing.

Fast fashion is consumed by people of all ages but it is primarily bought by low-income families, young adults, and teenagers who have less money to spend than the average adult.

Because of the incredibly low prices and extremely short fashion cycles of fast fashion websites, these companies often have to apply questionable business practices. Fast fashion companies exploit poor communities in countries with looser labor laws than the U.S. so they can cut corners to maximize profits.

This is why they are able to use child labor and abuse communities that are so poor that they have nowhere else to go. They are trapped. These companies act as a labor monopoly because they supply the only source of income for isolated communities and they give nothing back to the families they harm.

It is important to be aware that most people have been conditioned by fast fashion to expect that clothing should be cheap and that making clothes is not a skill that should be compensated like other forms of labor. This belief stems from misogyny and classism. Garment making is seen as “woman’s work” and is therefore discredited.

Because of the drastically different life experiences of people in America, compared to poorer countries that depend on the labor supplied by fast fashion companies, it can be hard to understand what these exploited laborers go through. Imagine you are asked to make a garment and have to make hundreds of them in one day, or you won’t be paid your full paycheck. You have to work until two in the morning on top of an 8-5 work day. You finish the order and they are shipped off to be sold in American stores and websites.

The item you made is sold for $34.99 each. Your labor isn’t valued so you receive 10 cents for every garment you made from the company your factory works for. Think about that. It gets worse from here. The building you work in is structurally unsound and the same company that issues orders to your factory pollutes the local water system causing people in the community to become sick.

Not only do fast fashion companies endanger their workers, but most of these companies have a history of stealing designs from popular retailers. This is a dishonest practice but where these companies do the most harm is when they steal from independent or small-time designers and these designers receive no credit or royalties.

I don’t believe it is appropriate to shame people for buying fast fashion because these online rentiers are often some of the only few options for low-cost and size-inclusive clothing. Low-income families and people deserve to be able to buy new clothes and feel good about themselves.

The problem lies in when people who have more than enough money and more than enough clothes buy excessive amounts of fast fashion and share it on social media. The glorification of overconsumption is a significant problem because it normalizes buying clothing for single use. This is just another way in which fast fashion contributes to waste and pollution.