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Why Fast Fashion is Unethical

By Caitlin Haviland

The pressure of fashion can be all-consuming. Every day it feels like there’s some new trend to follow, some new style faux pas to avoid, some new connotation tied to every garment. One day zip-up hoodies are cute, the next some girl on TikTok declares them appalling.

On a college campus, the pressure is tenfold. All of a sudden, you notice everyone’s wearing mom jeans while you still have on skinnies. One day everyone is in sneakers, and the next it’s back to booties. It feels like you have to keep up, but it’s nearly impossible to do so.

Like many other college students, I learned to solve this problem with online shopping. Because I felt like I constantly needed new clothes, I learned to buy cheap, low-quality pieces, knowing they would soon be out of style and need to be replaced with the next big thing. I bought from Shein, Pretty Little Thing, Zara, etc., looking to get as much as I possibly could for as cheap as possible. While the clothes weren’t the best quality, they were cute and would last me from trend to trend.

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to dress in style. There’s nothing wrong with needing to shop on a budget. The problem, however, comes when you begin to consider the implications of your shopping habits. There’s a reason these brands are able to produce trendy clothing for such cheap prices, and that is where the issue lies.

Fast fashion refers to the process in which companies take inspiration from luxury brands and popular culture, and in turn, rapidly mass-produce on-trend clothing. Because of their quick supply chain, these fast fashion brands can release new styles around the clock, rather than seasonal collections designed and sold by traditional brands.

The problems created by fast fashion are vast and widely unknown by the standard consumer. While I was frivolously buying new outfits from Shein, I was unknowingly feeding into an industry riddled with environmental and ethical issues.

To be produced so cheaply and quickly, fast fashion is often produced in sweatshops overseas, where workers are forced to work long hours in unsafe conditions. Many fast fashion brands have been accused of human rights violations, in addition to their immense environmental impact.

Because fast fashion is created to follow short-term trends, the garments are cheaply made and more likely to be thrown away after limited use. This leads to bulk textile waste, in addition to the fashion industry’s extreme production of carbon emissions and water pollution.

Since learning of the ethical implications of fast fashion, I have been in a bit of a fashion limbo. It’s extremely hard to purchase from these brands knowing you are perpetuating this human and environmental damage. At the same time, however, I’m a college student who loves to shop, and can’t afford to constantly do so at more ethical brands. It’s a difficult situation, but I am slowly figuring out how to maintain my love of fashion while lessening my carbon footprint.

To begin, I swore to stop throwing away old clothes, and instead, I either donate or repurpose my out-of-date pieces. I also have slowly begun investing in more quality, timeless pieces to build my wardrobe without feeding into the buy-and-throw-away cycle. Finally, I have accepted that I am not perfect, nor is anyone else. Sometimes there is a trendy piece that I just have to have. However, I always make sure it’s something I really do love and am not just buying because it’s “in.” Before buying, I search thrift shops and local boutiques, and if I can’t find it, I do buy it, but with the intention to get its full wear out of it before donating or repurposing.

Buying ethically is a challenge, especially for those of us on a budget. If nothing else, I’d encourage everyone to educate themselves on the impacts of fast fashion, with the hopes that they will at the very least buy more consciously. Every step is important, and if you can do anything to lessen your contribution to the fast fashion industry, I’d encourage you to do so.


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