If you were to open a social media app of your choice right now, you would likely be overwhelmed with cheap fashion and consistent new trends.
From Shein hauls on TikTok to Zara ads on Youtube, fast fashion and the competitive fashion industry have created something of a neurological frenzy for consumers. With just one click you can purchase the $8 color-block jeans that you saw someone in class wearing. Those jeans will arrive at your door in just a matter of weeks, but at what cost?
The real price of these garments are paid by overworked laborers in under-developed countries. Fast fashion companies, like Shein, H&M and Zara outsource their labor and materials in order to cut costs. This means that instead of hiring factory workers in Spokane, for instance, to work for $13.69 an hour, these companies are paying factories in under-developed nations to mass produce clothing.
Fast fashion brands are headquartered in high-income countries but outsource production of clothing to Tier One companies elsewhere on the globe. These Tier One companies aren’t associated with the fast fashion brands that subcontract them and therefore carry no legal obligation to ensure safe working conditions for their employees or fair pay.
In 2016, The United States Department of Labor investigated 77 Los Angeles garment factories and found that laborers were paid anywhere from $4 to $7 an hour, and these employees typically work 14 to 16 hours a day.
Considering that most of these workers are women with families to support, these wages are far from livable.
Underpaying employees is the primary reason why brands like Shein, Zara and Forever 21 are able to sell their clothes at such low prices.
These factories, also, often do not follow any safety standards, putting employees at risk. The collapse of the Rana Plaza factory in 2013 that killed 1,134 garment workers is just one example within this unregulated industry. These factories or sweatshops, often have no ventilation, forcing workers to inhale dust and toxic chemicals, putting their health at risk.
It is true that most of these aforementioned details don’t affect us. The horrors of sweatshops are an abstract idea to the privileged and a reality for many others across the globe. The climate crisis however, will impact all of us, if it hasn’t already, and fast fashion is one of its largest contributors.
A 2021 report from the World Economic Forum identified the fashion industry as the third-largest polluter worldwide behind food and construction. This industry emits approximately 1.2 billion tons of carbon per year. Most suppliers of fast fashion mass- overproduce products to anticipate demand, resulting in overwhelming amounts of waste that pollutes the ocean and consumes landfills.
While it is true that we are not individually responsible for the climate crisis, and it is not our sole responsibility to mitigate its effects ourselves, it is important that we make conscious decisions to not contribute to it as best as we can.
Why is it so hard for people to collectively break this chain? Why is it so hard to say no? Simply put, shopping sustainably is hard.
Sustainable brands are incredibly hard to come by and are exponentially more expensive than brands like Shein. This price difference is reflected in the materials these brands use, which are often recycled, and the fact that these brands properly compensate their employees for their work.
These factors make sustainable, planet-friendly fashion unattainable for most college students. If I had to choose between a t-shirt or groceries for the next month, I would undoubtedly choose the groceries.
This is not to say, however, that there aren’t other options. One of my personal favorite pastimes is thrifting. In my own experience, I have been able to find clothing suitable for each and every trend that I see on social media. Now that Y2K is in season once more, I ensure you that each thrift store boasts a surplus of low-rise jeans, short skirts and tank tops.
Almost every garment of clothing I own was purchased secondhand and for under $5, making thrifting the most eco-friendly option of all.
Additionally, apps like Depop and Poshmark allow for the resale of trendy used clothing with minimal adverse environmental impacts and without the exploitation of sweatshop workers.
While it is no easy feat, think twice before clicking “purchase” the next time you find yourself on any fast fashion website. Shop smarter. Both impoverished workers and the environment will thank you.