The Ethics of Fast Fashion
For many including myself, retailers like H&M, Forever 21, and Zara are go-to locations for new clothing and shoes. As a full-time student working three minimum wage on-campus jobs, these retailers are practical and affordable solutions for my overwhelming broke-ness; shopping there is easy, convenient, and affordable… but like many other things, this facility is what helps me avoid thinking about the questionable aspects of these brands. But let’s begin with what’s good and appealing about fast fashion. Fast fashion retailers bring trends to the general population. Oftentimes, trends are created by high fashion designers and are then taken by fast fashion retailers to produce affordable versions of these trends. Without fast fashion, most people would have a more difficult time shopping within a budget and have a significantly limited selection to express themselves through fashion. All in all, it makes our lives a thousand times easier. These brands also specifically cater to the general population. While high fashion brands often lean towards the wealthier consumer, fast fashion provides the average consumer a welcoming niche in the fashion world.
However, even if fast fashion seems like the most practical choice by far, we shouldn’t completely ignore the cons of fast fashion. The good doesn’t counteract the bad, it only attempts to cover the bad... and the bad sides of fast fashion are pretty unpleasant.
First of all, fast fashion is not that original. This isn’t necessarily negative since the demands of the average consumer are not that high and fast fashion requires speedy production. Yet, there are issues of plagiarism that are difficult to ignore and it makes us wonder if we really are morally allowed to wear a shirt that looks exactly like something we saw on the Kenzo runway this Fall. Are we letting off fast fashion retailers too easily? Are we letting them be lazy by averting our eyes from the truth? If we really consider fashion to be unique and a form of art, we shouldn't be letting fast fashion retailers steal designs and patterns so easily. We should at the least be more outraged.
Second, the prices might be cheap, but quality tends to decline with cheaper prices. I know I’ve bought plenty of t-shirts that turned ratty and rough after just a few laundry cycles. They become unwearable in no time, not even worth the low price. What's more, cheap fashion tends to look cheap, and that's probably not the look most of us are going for.
Third, these price tags are not just cheap because of the low quality fabric or because fast fashion retailers are sympathetic towards the consumer. Cheap prices equal low wages for the workers making the clothing. The retailer may be catering to the consumer, but the laborer is taken advantage of and is sadly on the short end, receiving preposterously low wages. It's quite selfish really, or maybe I'm the only who used to get irritated looking at the blinding price tags of designer fashion because it seemed unjust to me, when really, this probably signifies that the producers are getting fairly paid for their labor, and then I was blissfully happy to see fast fashion's low prices, unwilling to think about how these clothes are made and what could possibly make them so ridiculously cheap. But I'm a little more aware now, and am ready to change, as maybe you are as well.
I’m well aware of the difficulties of shopping in non-fast fashion retailers, but there are things that we can do to shop in a more conscious manner. Budget-friendly non-fast fashion retailers exist like Reformation, Everlane, Ethica, American Apparel (although AA is getting a little more questionable these days), and many, many more. You can learn a little more about some of these brands in our past article. Department stores like Macy’s, Nordstrom, and Saks Off Fifth also offer designer clothing at fractional prices.
Another thing that I’ve really been trying to do is live more minimally. I’ve realized that whenever I look through my closet, there are so many things that I don’t like and wish that I had never bought. So since the beginning of the year, I’ve been cleaning out my closet, selling pieces at thrift stores and on Princeton’s Free & For Sale page, and promising myself that I’ll shop more thoughtfully. It’s much better to buy a few, higher quality pieces that I’ll wear for several years, than it is to buy a larger quantity of lower quality pieces which I may or may not like that much. The former method can definitely be budget friendly, while promoting ethical shopping and closet satisfaction. A win-win-win situation.
It’s easy to shrug my shoulders and say that I don’t really have a choice in where I shop, but while I may have fewer choices than those who have more economic stability than I do, there are existent alternatives, if I’m willing to be more conscious and thoughtful.