Student Editorial: The Hidden Costs of Fast Fashion | Introductions

Editor’s Note: The following editorial was written by a UConn senior English class taught by Jessica Cawley at Wheeler High School. Class members include Lucy Smith, Kiara Korten, Cydney Sottile, Benjamin Nave, Jason Mazzella, Payton Osborn, Madeline O’Gara, Nora Broderick, Lexi Taylor and Cat Coombe.

Fashion is an integral part of pop culture, as fashion trends define and shape a time period. These trends follow a cycle that usually consists of 20 years, meaning that every 20 years a trend reappears in one form or fashion. However, in recent years, social media has allowed trends to change at an astronomical rate, giving rise to the need for fast fashion.

Fast fashion is mass and low-quality clothing that follows high fashion trends as quickly as possible. This affects not only the clothes we buy, but also how much we buy. Social media fosters a platform where people promote microtrends, which perpetuates the overconsumption of clothing. Microtrends are exactly what they sound like – short-lived trends that gain popularity and die out very quickly.

There are websites and brands known for their cheap, readily available, trendy clothing that thrive on this passing movement. SHEIN is a website where people can order clothes and it has gained huge popularity due to these fast changing trends. Influencers and average consumers share their loads of SHEIN clothing on social media, bragging about the amount of clothing they got for a relatively low price. Other brands include Forever 21, Fashion Nova and Zara. A piece of clothing or a style can become an overnight sensation given the fast-paced nature of social media platforms like TikTok. These trends lose popularity as quickly as they gain it.

There is a positive side to fast fashion, as it can provide affordable and trendy clothing for all individuals. It allows people to express themselves without spending money. Low-income individuals have access to trends and pieces inspired by haute couture. Fast fashion is inclusive and practical. Fitting in has never been easier. Access to clothing has never been easier. Nevertheless, the substitute for cheaper clothes is of good quality. These clothes are usually of low quality, which means they can be disposed of more often and thus create more waste.

Furthermore, fast fashion is produced by workers who work in harsh working conditions, and the by-products are harmful to the environment. explained the impact of the fashion industry on the environment. It has been proven that fashion production produces 10% of global carbon emissions. Additionally, the fashion industry is responsible for being the second largest consumer of water. This residual dyeing water often ends up in rivers, ditches and streams due to disposal. Affordability also creates overproduction, resulting in leftover clothing from previous trends that drop significantly in price and value. Fast fashion creates countless amounts of waste and damages the environment.

Textile workers in manufacturing countries such as China, Bangladesh and India are forced to work in inhumane conditions. explains that these workers are paid a “living wage,” which is barely enough to afford the bare necessities and an amount that is nearly impossible to live on. Hours of hard work can range from 14 to 16 hours a day, 7 days a week. The health and safety of these clothing production workers is threatened by little or no ventilation, inhalation of harmful chemicals and fiber dust, and frequent accidents, illnesses, fires, and injuries. They are usually not allowed time off, especially not in the stamp season, nor are they paid enough to take time off at all. In addition, the workers include children, especially young girls from poor families, who are traded for their labor in exchange for a small amount of money on top of a low wage. Garment workers are forced to work in unimaginable conditions for barely living wages almost all day, every day.

Although there is currently no solution to this problem, awareness of the circumstances that gave rise to it is a step in the right direction. Buying clothes isn’t really a problem, but shopping habits are; think about how often you buy and what you actually use. Also consider the companies you buy from. Is it worth harming the environment or the employee following a fad? Social media makes it incredibly easy to buy the clothes you see your favorite influencers or friends wearing with the click of a button. Fast fashion can be a way to look your best for a low price, but it is crucial that young consumers think about what products they buy and from which companies, as they are the ones being targeted.

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