What got me to start questioning fast fashion was one of my favorite ethical clothing brands, Everlane. The brand is renowned for its radical transparency and affordable prices on very high quality basics. And what exactly is radical transparency? It's the belief that customers have the right to know where their products are made, the working conditions, and the cost to make the product.
Seeing the transparent pricing charts throughout the Everlane website made me think twice about how items are priced and the working conditions of overseas factory workers. Everlane has done a fantastic job finding the best factories around the world and paying their overseas workers higher than minimum wage for their craftsmanship and hard work, but the same can't be said about fast fashion retailers like Forever 21 and the Gap.
Fast fashion retailers often bring in new inventory every two weeks nowadays, as opposed to each season like it used to be. Have you ever asked yourself why most of your clothing is made overseas? Well, that's because the production cost is much less than producing clothing in the United States. In order to keep up with the crazy demand, working conditions have drastically decreased and in some situations they have been deadly. In 2013 1,100 Bangladeshi factory workers died when the Rana Plaza building collapsed. That building housed the factories of Canadian fast fashion brand Joe Fresh, British fast fashion giant Primark, Italian brand Benetton, among other fast fashion retailers.
This event and the fact that several companies have been repeatedly tied to sweatshops made me think of this: Is getting a good deal on clothing even worth it? Am I seriously more concerned about getting a pair of jeans for $10 than the working conditions of the people who made them? Why are we endangering people's lives and our environment for the sake of getting the best deal? A lot of questions started going through my head when I sat down and actually took the time to question what I thought was normal for the longest time.
Apart from the poor working conditions, fast fashion is also considered disposable fashion. Let's be real, are you really going to wear your fringe AC/DC top from Forever 21 10 years from now? How about 5 years from now? Or perhaps 2 months from now? Like I mentioned before, fast fashion retailers are now bringing in new inventory quicker than ever and with that comes some environmental issues. A lot of the synthetic textiles that we wear on a daily basis (like polyester, nylon, and acrylic) get thrown in the trash and unlike natural textiles (like cotton or linen), the synthetic textiles don't decompose very easily. Now this would be less of an issue if more people donated clothing or passed it on, but a lot of people simply throw out clothing in the trash.
This brings up another issue- the quality of the clothing. It's no secret that fast fashion clothing can often just fall apart or lose its shape. I've actually experienced that multiple times when I've purchased from Forever 21. And while that $14 blouse seemed like a great deal at the time, I wound up throwing that blouse in the trash because it was "ruined" and went back to the store to replace it. The cost of replacing clothing that rips or falls apart ends up costing more than just purchasing a good quality item that may cost more upfront.
Let me give you this real life scenario to put things into better perspective. I purchased the $20 Everlane Ryan Tank back in August of 2014 and have worn that tank top easily over 40 times by now. Perhaps $20 sounds like a lot to pay for a basic tank top, especially when you can get a similar option for $3.90 at Forever 21. In my experience with Forever 21 basics, I would have to buy up to 6 shirts or tank tops in a year because they would not withstand the constant wear and washes. So let's do some basic math, if I were to buy 5 additional tank tops just to replace the original one that fell apart I would be spending $23.40 a year (that's without tax). And to take it a step further I would have spent $46.80 (without tax) on cheap tank tops over the course of two years, instead of buying one tank top that can last me well over two years. For me the answer is very simple, I would much rather buy one amazing quality item than spend more on replacing the cheap item multiple times.
And it's that mindset that really made me reconsider supporting fast fashion. I honestly started feeling so guilty about all those time I looked for the best deal possible, all those times I settled for cheap clothing, and all the times that I gave zero thought about where and who made my clothing. And while I now look at my existing clothing from fast fashion retailers and cringe, it would be more unsustainable to throw them all away. Even the thought of replacing everything would not only be extremely costly, but it would also create an unhealthy binge shopping reaction. So for now I'll continue to wear the clothing I purchased in the past, but I don't plan to walk into a Forever 21, H&M, or Zara to purchase anything until they make some drastic ethical changes.
Hopefully this post will make you question the fast fashion practices that we have come to think as normal. I do plan to create content that will help you to become a more ethical shopper, especially when it comes to clothing.
What are your thoughts about fast fashion? Let me know in the comments below.