Fatal Fashion

Maeve Touhey, Writer

ASOS, Forever 21, H&M, Topshop, Uniqlo. Chances are, you have something in your closet from one of these stores or have at least seen their sprawling inventory in the mall. All of these stores are known as “fast fashion” retailers.

First off, what is fast fashion? Fast fashion, which became popular in the 1990s-2000s,  is simply when retailers sample (or in some cases, copy) ideas and trends from the most recent runway shows and make them cheap and accessible to the general public in little to no time. These retailers typically have similar clothing to high end stores for very cheap like these Forever 21 leggings ($17.90) compared to a specialty store like Athleta ($98)

You might be saying to yourself “Wow, this sounds great! I can have high end looking clothes for cheap” and yeah, that’s what I thought too. Most people who aren’t walking down the red carpet every few months don’t have the funds to splurge on the latest clothes from Gucci or Prada every time the seasons change.

Fast fashion, however, does come at a cost. No, it’s not a cost you’re going to see on your latest bank statement. It is an environmental and humane cost. Fast fashion is a blight on the fashion world because of the many problems that come with it.

The first concern I want to discuss is the environment. Everyone reading this has thrown out clothing in their life, for whatever reason they have. Did you know that in the United States, the average American throws out about 81 pounds of clothing every year? That’s the average weight of an 11 year old girl. In the UK, 235 million clothing items were thought to have been sent to the dump in 2017. How often do you hear about conservation efforts to keep clothing out of landfills? That’s right, rarely. People don’t think that because that random t-shirt has a hole or that pair of jeans is too small that it can be recycled. I recently had to throw out a pair of Forever 21 leggings, guess why. They were so worn through that you could almost see through them. This pair of leggings was bought maybe a year ago. Clothing made by fast fashion retailers is made of low cost, but low quality materials that hurt the environment. 

A popular material that fast fashion retailers use is polyester. Polyester is great for something that needs to be waterproof, for something like a tent. But guess what most of polyester is made from? Ethylene, which comes from petroleum, which adds to global warming. Polyester is also non-biodegradable, meaning those polyester leggings that I had to throw out are going to be sitting in a dump for anywhere from 20 to 200 years. To add on, the dyes used in polyester to keep its waterproof and stain-proof attributes are not environmentally friendly. Any dye in the water waste of factories is moved to the oceans, where it can harm the wildlife there. Furthermore, the dye itself is toxic for humans. According to GoodOnYou.com, “worldwide totals indicated that dye workers contract cancer and lung diseases more than the average population

Besides environmental issues, there are humane issues involved in fast fashion. Fast fashion retailers, wanting to keep costs low, usually look to overseas for manufacturing. Like many items, you can see tags in clothing that say “Made In China” or “Made In Bangladesh”. The problem with this? The people, mostly women, who work in overseas sweatshops work long and arduous hours for little pay, all while facing major safety dangers.

One garment worker, named Afria, started working in a Bangladeshi factory when she was 10. By 2008, when she was 20, she was working for 13-14 hours a day for as little as 2200 taka ($26.24 USD) a month. That is about 3 taka an hour, equal to $0.036 USD. At the time, her family of five was spending about 5000 taka a month ($59.65 USD) on basic needs. This was more than anyone in that family made combined.

Normally, the biggest concern about the sweatshops is the lack of safety. Common major complaints and concerns include locked or nonexistent fire escapes, faulty wiring, and cracks in the plaster of the walls. All of these concerns can build up and then come crashing down, literally. The world saw this in 2013, when Rana Plaza, a sweatshop in Bangladesh, collapsed. Reports say 2,500 people were injured and 1,134 people were killed in the 90 seconds it took for the eight story factory to become rubble. Most of the survivors of this disaster gained life changing, permanent injuries.

Mahmudul Hassan Hridoy walks with a crutch now thanks to being pinned under a concrete pillar. Shiuli Begum’s spinal cord was crushed, and she now lives her life confined to a wooden plank bed. Shila Begum has to wear a medical corset, because her kidneys were crushed as well as her right hand. None of these people can make money and support their families due to the inhumane conditions of Rana Plaza. All of this happened because the fast fashion manufacturers wanted cheaply produced clothes for their masses of customers.

Next time you see a sale at Forever 21, or go on a shopping spree at ASOS, think of how that clothing got there and the effects it will bring. Personally, I’d rather spend more money on clothes that were ethically produced, knowing that I am not contributing to the greed of the fast fashion conglomerates.

Interested in more? Check out The True Cost, a documentary about fast fashion or this Adam Ruins Everything video about fast fashion.