This post is composed of many synthesized sources all of which I make sure to give their proper credit and link to their respective authors and work.
In early January of 2017, it was announced that 68 Macy’s stores would be shutting down promptly across the United States. Countless jobs would be lost and it seemed as though even one of the most well-established retailers is not safe from the uncertainty of the fashion industry. Many speculated that online shopping hindered department stores vastly while others seemed to question another entity: fast fashion.
Chances are if you are reading this, then you are already familiarized with brands such as Zara, H&M, and Forever 21. These are some of the indisputable powerhouses of fast fashion, an industry that has revolutionized everything that we know.
To comprehend what fast fashion is, it is crucial to know how the industry works. In its most simplest form, new clothing arrives to your local mall in 5 steps.
Fiber Production: Fibers are gathered or synthesized and later, processed and dyed if necessary
Yarn Production: Fibers are twisted with one another to make what is called a yarn
Fabric Production: Yarns are interwoven to make long sheets of fabric
Design: Clothing is constructed based off of patterns
Production: Clothing is mass produced and sent to local stores
The amount of time from start to finish is what is known as a lead time. Generally, most brands may have a lead time of about 4-6 months meanwhile Zara impressively manages lead times of as little as 2 weeks!
This is where the name fast fashion is derived from. Dozens of mini collections are released throughout the year and all the current trends, colors, and designs are displayed at storefronts at a mindblowing pace. If it’s trending, it’ll probably be in Forever 21. If it’s the season must-have, Zara already finished producing it. It’s not difficult to imagine why these companies have seen much success.
Of course, much of this triumph does not happen without any drawbacks.
To begin with, the environmental impact is tremendous.
People love to ride their high horses and claim that fashion is unimportant and for the superficial, yet it remains a fact that is a trillion dollar industry. It has much worth to many countries and their GDP and as a result, it becomes one of the most problematic for the environment.
According to EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) statistics, 85% of textile waste ended up in landfills in 2013. It’s horrific when you realize that Americans threw away about 14 millions tons of textile waste that year. Approximately 12 millions tons went into landfills and the rest was possibly recycled. 12 million tons.
Once clothing makes its way into landfills the pollution does not cease. Since many fabrics undergo treatments such as bleaching or dyeing, these toxic chemicals are released into the air when put through the incinerator which in turn, lowers the quality of the air we breathe.
According to journalist Alden Wicker, synthetic fibers such as polyester, are produced from a petroleum based product and do decompose over time. It doesn’t take that long either. Just a couple hundred or thousand years or so. Not very long huh?
Natural fibers aka cotton or linen will also experience much difficulty to biodegrade because they have been chemically treated and proccessed during their production that it becomes difficult for them to integrate into the soil efficiently.
Cheaper Price, Cheaper Quality
Because of the extreme rapid lead times, not all clothing can be assured to be good quality. The fabrics used are cheap in order to make more profit and since production is instantaneous, the quality tends to be overlooked. That is not to say that everything you purchase will fall apart in two days, but perhaps it is more likely.
Realistically, many consumers do not have the money to shell out for higher quality pieces. Sure, vintage stores and thrift shopping are a thing, however not everyone enjoys purchasing secondhand clothing. Maybe a college student working part-time jobs will find that fast fashion is suitable for their needs without breaking the bank.
You see, these retailers pander mostly to the younger demographics who have yet to obtain an established, well-paying career. The majority of teenagers cannot afford to regularly purchase higher end items on a minimum wage salary. On top of this, young adults are more likely to worry about fashion as well as their self-image in comparison to older adults, which makes them the perfect victim for this industry.
The result is terrifyingly effective. Prices are low. Consumers buy more. Profits are maximized. Everybody wins! Right?
Well, not really. A vicious cycle has now been established. The consumer will purchase more often. The clothing will wear out quicker. And the consumer will buy more. Clothing essentially becomes disposable. It goes on and on and on. And it never stops.
Safety of workers
In 2013, breaking news had documented a building collapse in Bangladesh that had killed 1,135 workers. The tragedy could have been prevented with consistent safety inspections however it is clear that these were not conducted. All of the workers were part of manufacturing garments which provided for many clothing brands across the world. Evidently, there was more importance placed on profits rather than humanity, otherwise appropriate safety measures would have taken place and money would have been spent to handle those repairments.
Should human life be valued less than a company and its revenue?
Of course not! Yet, extremely low wages and poor working conditions seem to say the opposite. Third world countries suffer meanwhile first world countries are too busy deciding what to buy. It is difficult for families in third world countries when they experience long work hours and very little pay. Our basic necessities such as clothing or food are practically luxuries to them. It’s simply inhumane.
So is it worth it in the end?
Depends. To some, it is and to others, not at all. For this write-up I summarized lots of sources yet there is still much more I didn’t even mention to avoid writing huge blocks of paragraphs.
The purpose of this post is not to guilt readers from purchasing in these stores but rather to push forward the idea of becoming an informed consumer. While ignorance may be bliss, it is not correct when we have access to all this information at our fingertips. At the end of the day, the choices we pick in our lives will always be up to us however it is crucial to always have knowledge of what you are buying and where your money is going. If we fail to do so, then we only perpetuate the problem forward.