Students consider costs, ethics of “fast fashion”

Wholesale of socks in Tehran, Iran. Fast fashion is clothing driven by the latest styles. Photo courtesy of Arpourbedin/wikimedia

For many teens, clothes are a way to express themselves. 

Riverside students wear lots of popular brands, such as Urban Outfitters, Nike, H&M, and Pacsun. But a lot of them don’t know how their clothes are produced.   

Many popular teen clothing brands offer ‘trendy’ clothing at low prices. By doing this they produce billions of dollars in revenue, but it comes with consequences for the environment, customers, and the workers manufacturing these clothes.

What is fast fashion? 

Fast fashion is clothing that is driven by the latest trends from social media and celebrities. They are made with chemicals and toxins that are harmful to the human body and the environment. These clothes are also made with non-sustainable materials, and the workers hired to manufacture these clothes are often not paid a living wage and are forced into bad work environments. 

“93% of brands surveyed by the Fashion Checker aren’t paying garment workers a living wage.” wrote the Fashion Checker in 2020.

Many Riverside students know the industry well. 

“[Fast fashion is] clothing that’s made very cheaply and not ethically,” said freshman Gwyenth Bernhardt. “It’s harmful to the environment and worker’s rights.”

“[It’s] fashion that comes and goes quickly,” said freshman Braum Slaughter.

“Things like Amazon and Target come to mind,” said sophomore Quinne Rizzuto.

Is it okay to promote fast fashion brands? Students offered mixed opinions. 

“I don’t know,” said sophomore Jack Gilmore.

Rizzuto said no because behind a lot of them are child labor, poorly paid workers, and terrible working conditions.

“One of the biggest issues with buying better and more responsibly is the fact that, as you point out, it is a luxury for many consumers,” said chief fashion critic Vanessa Friedman in her article titled “Can I Buy Fast Fashion and Not Feel Guilty?” for the New York Times. Her article talks about how where you buy your clothing isn’t the only thing that affects the environment. She explains that in order for us to make our clothing really sustainable we need to only buy clothes that we need and use for many years to come.

“I think that’s what a lot of people have to buy because they can’t afford sustainable clothing,” said  Bernhardt. “It’s very expensive.”

“It’s not super helpful to villainize fast fashion as a whole,” said Holsonback.

For some people, fast fashion is the only type of clothing they can afford. Because sustainable clothing brands use materials that are far better for the environment and generally pay their workers a more livable wage, their products cost more. Often a lot more. And people who can’t afford them are more likely to settle for fast fashion. 

Teens are the biggest buyers in the fast fashion industry because they usually want the cheapest option available. 

“It would be awesome if everyone had the resources to buy sustainable fashion but that’s not realistic,” said Vert and Vogue Content Manager Elsa Holsonback. 

People who have the means to purchase more expensive clothes should lean toward buying more sustainable clothing. Many brands that are more expensive and popular are not sustainable; they just use more expensive materials and manufacture them in a non-environmentally friendly way. 

Some teens who are aware of what fast fashion does to the environment, have found ways to either limit how much fast fashion they buy or have found equally inexpensive ways to buy sustainable clothing.    

“I usually buy from Thredup,” said Bernhardt.                          

Online websites like Thredup and Depop give teens an alternative to fast fashion at a cheaper price, they are online thrift stores where people can post clothes they want to get rid of for other people to buy. These websites are good for people that can’t afford sustainable clothes but also can’t get to a thrift store.

“I normally go thrifting,” said freshman Lucy Gray. “But if I’m going to buy from a brand I buy Madewell.”

“I always try to shop local,” said Rizzuto. “Or thrift stores because thrift stores are the best.”

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