A few weeks ago I downloaded the Urban Outfitters App. I was trying to track down a dress that I saw in a recent Tik Tok.
If you are wondering, I bought the dress. Only, not from Urban Outfitters. I dug around and bought it secondhand from a reseller on Depop.
I really like the aesthetic of Urban Outfitters, but any clothes that I own from them I purchased secondhand. This is largely motivated by cost – I don’t consider their clothing to have the value that the price tag suggests. And as a secondary benefit, buying secondhand extends the life of that item of clothing. This makes it more valuable to myself.
I get a message from the app every time they drop new clothing to their site. I quickly realized how criminally fast fashion they are.
Their new arrivals has upwards of 1000 new pieces. And I have received at least 2 notifications of new arrivals in a month. Who is buying 2000 new pieces of clothes? And then multiply this number by how much stock the brand regularly keeps on hand.
In addition to the dress, I also purchased (once again secondhand from Depop) this amazing mushroom t-shirt dress. But both the dress and the t-shirt are newly listed items. Why are people reselling them so quickly?
Urban Outfitters is just one example of just how unsustainable fast fashion really is.
The 3 Problems with Fast Fashion
Fast Fashion is Unsustainable
Fast Fashion is an unsustainable business model, unsustainable for the environment, and unsustainable for the consumer.
Unsustainable Business Model
Conscious Style explains why, despite high profits, these business models are not sustainable. “Fast fashion can only be profitable because it doesn’t take into account the true costs of clothing production. The model of FAST, CHEAP, and MORE inherently requires exploitation of people and the natural environment.”
If fast fashion brands truly practiced an ethical supply chain, they would have to work substantially harder to obtain the same level of “success.”
Unsustainable for the Environment
Fast Fashion is problematic for how it implicates the consumer in unethical practices and damaging actions towards the environment.
Yes, we have a responsibility as consumers. A responsibility to educate ourselves on whether a company’s policies are ethical. But this responsibility can be hard to fulfill. Many fast fashion brands lack transparency and practice greenwashing. Blatant lies can prevent us from knowing what we are buying.
There are also many people who can only afford to shop fast fashion brands. This is due to lack of accessibility because of cost, sizing, or other issues. How is it fair that your only reliable source of clothes is unethical?
Fast Fashion Hurts Others
You are standing inside Target distracted at the newest drop of clothes for Fall, forgetting that you only came into the store for toothpaste.
While chilling on the couch before going to bed, you get a notification from Old Navy that everything is 50% for 24 hours only.
That dopamine hits and we forget about everything else. That is marketing. While marketing is neither inherently good or bad, it is problematic when it distracts us from reality.
What is that reality? The success of fast fashion depends on the exploitation of humans.
Part of that exploitation is stealing creative designs (exact copies), especially from small artists and businesses.
Elexiay is one of the most recent and infamous examples of this. NPR highlights that “The designer behind Elexiay, a Black-owned fashion brand, said . . . that Shein had copied the design of its Amelia top, a crochet sweater that’s handmade in Nigeria and costs $330. Shein’s offering, mass-produced in the nearly identical color scheme, was sold for $17 until it was removed from the website.”
Beyond ripping off other designers, there is also a culture of extreme violations of human labor laws and rights.
The Problem with SHEIN and Other Fast Fashion Brands
SHEIN is trending all over social media.
SHEIN is well-known for cute clothing with an inclusive size range at very low prices. They are attractive for their accessibility and their appeal to teens and adults.
SHEIN has been criticized for their treatment of workers and for ultra fast fashion practices. They encourage massive hauls that are quickly donated or thrown out less than a year after purchasing.
A recent investigation proves that these claims are not only valid, but much worse than anticipated. The employees who are producing your clothes from SHEIN work 18+ hour days, 7 days a week. Those in one factory earn $555 a month with a bonus of $0.02 for each additional item over 500. In a second factory, they only earn $0.03 for each item produced. And if they make an error, they are punished with a reduction of 2/3rds of their pay.
Clothes Horse Podcast sums up the devastating reality well. Stating that, “it’s cheap because someone didn’t get paid.” “SHEIN relies on overconsumption, of buying more than we need. We need to ask ourselves “what is more important?” A steady stream of new trendy clothes or the human rights of the people making those clothes?”
SHEIN, unfortunately, is not the only guilty party. Almost all of our favorite fashion suppliers engaging in similar unethical practices. On-trend companies such as H&M, Zara, and Victoria’s Secret, are just a small example. Sustainably Chic blog has a great list of several of these companies sharing the ways that consumers are being mislead.
From unsafe working conditions, utilizing child labor, “employing” workers in a form of modern-day slavery, and lack of transparency, fast fashion brands are egregiously harming others for profit. And through clever marketing, we are tricked into becoming part of the problem.
Fast Fashion Damages the Environment
The average American generates 82 pounds of textile waste every single year, states Sustainably Chic.
Approximately 85% of clothing ends up in a landfill. Landfills are not magical places where our trash goes to decompose, but it is instead preserved. Landfills are anaerobic, and organic materials need oxygen to be able to break down efficiently. Because of the compact nature of landfills, even the most organic material will stay preserved for hundreds of years.
According to Earth.org, “The fashion industry is the second largest consumer industry of water, requiring about 700 gallons to produce one cotton shirt and 2 000 gallons of water to produce a pair of jeans.” They go on to say that “A 2017 report from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) estimated that 35% of all micro plastics – tiny pieces of non-biodegradable plastic – in the ocean come from the laundering of synthetic textiles like polyester.”
The environment is probably the last thing you would think about when it comes to clothing. But the impact it too large to be ignored. What is even more frustrating is the poor response of large corporations to address these environmental issues. Instead of taking proactive measures to mitigate the damage being done, many fast fashion brands engage in “greenwashing.”
Often, fast fashion campaigns of going “green” are empty promises. To protect profits, these companies elect to harm others and the planet.
Where Do We Go From Here?
The problems with fast fashion are incredibly frustrating. As consumers, we like the clothing and it is hard. not to purchase them. Even though I purchased secondhand, the dress and shirt were still made by Urban Outfitters. Is it still ethical for me to wear the label, essentially advertising the brand? Despite knowing the harm they are causing?
The responsibility for ethical practices ALWAYS falls on the company. But, as consumers, we need to continue to educate ourselves and push these brands to act better. Ethical living is not about perfection, but about trying to be the best human we can be every day.