Mendenhall: Replace Fast Fashion with More Ethical Alternatives


(Photo by Tembela Bohle | The Daily Utah Chronicle)

By Addison Mendenhall, Opinion Writer


The term “fast fashion” has gained lots of traction in the last few years, but what does it actually mean? Fast fashion consists of fairly cheap “trendy” clothing items that move into retail stores extremely quickly. Because trends constantly change, fast fashion promotes quick shipping and manufacturing times. What consumers don’t see is the ugly underbelly of the fast fashion industry.

Employees are often not paid fairly and subject to unsafe workplace conditions. Environmental problems are just as serious, with the fashion industry contributing to over 20% of industry related water pollution and 25% of globally-used chemicals. 

Fast fashion consumerism remains both unethical and harmful to the environment, yet with our support, has grown to massive proportions. We can cut back on this by shopping sustainably, wearing clothes we already have and minimizing impulsive shopping.

Who Contributes?

Many popular retail stores are fast fashion empires. Some of these brands include H&M, FashionNova, Forever21, BooHoo and SHEIN. These brands all cut as much time as possible between design, production and delivery. However, their products are characteristically disposable. The poor garment quality prompts consumers to toss clothing out after just a few wears. Many young adults consider a garment worn “once or twice to be old.” Young adults — the biggest fast fashion consumers — make up the target audiences for these brands.

Unethical Exploitation

In 2013, a mass clothing production warehouse collapsed in Dhaka, a major city of Bangladesh. Dubbed the “Rana Plaza incident,” it forced people to question the morality of fast fashion working conditions. The factory’s many structural problems caused the collapse, killing at least 1,132 people and injuring more than 2,500. 

Nothing can excuse the negligence displayed by management, who ignored the many concerns their employees expressed. This is just one of many examples that we need to acknowledge of the unethical conditions of fast fashion empires.

An Unsustainable Business Model

Fast fashion companies follow a volume-based business model. Following this model, products get sold, used and then discarded. Overproduction plays a key role in the process, and the products that don’t get sold go to waste. Wasted, minimal-use garments end up plaguing landfills. Over three in five fast-fashion clothing items from 2018 ended up in landfills.

Many environmental factors also come into play when factories mass-produce garments. The fashion industry accounts for 10% of greenhouse gas emissions. The quick shipping promised by the fast fashion industry also demands more energy than aviation and ground shipping combined.

Becoming a Conscious Consumer

Becoming a conscious consumer can effectively help us reduce fast fashion on an individual level. A conscious consumer is someone who buys and consumes goods that align with their own beliefs and ethics. Finding out if a piece was ethically and sustainably made supports conscious consumerism. Quality pieces may be more expensive, but the materials used to make them are often of much higher quality. Shopping intentionally for high quality, long-lasting clothes significantly cuts back on disposable fashion.

Shopping in person also helps to reduce the environmental impact of fast fashion. And most importantly, so does wearing what you already have in your closet. Reducing impulse buys shrinks the amount of clothing that goes to waste in disuse.

Shopping second hand is one of my favorite ways of avoiding fast fashion while sticking to a budget. Local thrift stores and small businesses have lots of variety, you just have to be willing to put in the work. Some thrift stores in the SLC area that I love to support include Revive Thrift Boutique, Uptown Cheapskate and The Other Side Thrift Boutique. The added benefit of supporting small businesses doesn’t hurt, either.

Finding a Compromise

Many people enjoy fast fashion because of the lower prices. The ability to buy many different cheaper items as opposed to one higher-quality piece is attractive to those looking to save money. Thrift stores represent a great avenue to compromise and meet in the middle. Sometimes while thrifting, you luck out and find a high-quality item. Other times, you find several different, unworn SHEIN shirts. In any case, purchasing and wearing discarded clothes extends the circle of sustainability.

Fast fashion is a global problem but isn’t widely acknowledged due in part to lack of information. More attention has been drawn to the issue in recent years, but it still hasn’t been taken seriously enough. Learning how to reduce your support for fast fashion as an individual seems small, but it’s an essential part of making any changes. By thrifting, buying locally and resisting the urge to shop online, we as individuals can help combat the negative local, global and environmental effects that fast fashion has on the world.


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