Imagine this: You open up Tiktok to find an outfit-of-the-day pop-up. The comments are flooded with responses like:
“How could you support fast fashion”
“Imagine buying Shein”
“This is disgusting…”
Fast fashion has been one of the raging topics within the past few years. I remember being introduced to it in my grade 10 class and was immediately put off from the idea of it in the fashion industry. Yet, people still purchase from them. I never understood why until I gained insight into overconsumption within the fashion industry, as well as the lack of accessible fashion available to everyone.
Every one of these videos in which fast fashion is worn, will inevitably receive some form of hate. And I get it. I used to be the person who preached ethical fashion and the promotion of sustainable clothing, and remains someone who continues to do so.
However, this issue of fast fashion and sustainable clothing is much more nuanced than a simple wrong and right.
What is fast fashion and sustainable clothing?
Fast fashion is defined as;
“inexpensive clothing produced rapidly by mass-market retailers in response to the latest trends.”
When we think of fast fashion, our minds go to brands like H&M, Zara, Shein, etc. These companies in themselves are inherently negative. They leverage the lack of labour laws that exist in developing countries and in turn, exploit millions of unprivileged lives. There is the use of harmful chemicals that contaminate fresh water in these areas. The quality of clothing in itself is cheap, which is why we buy clothing from these brands cheap. In turn, big brands profit off of large margins; which means they profit off of extreme labour and environmental hardships.
Sustainable Fashion is defined as;
“clothing, shoes and accessories that are manufactured, marketed and used in the most sustainable manner possible, taking into account both environmental and socio-economic aspects. Sustainable fashion is what is most ideal. It takes into account the number of raw materials used as well as taking into account the labour that is put into the actual making of the clothing”.Green Strategy
It’s what society considers as being “ethical”. However when we are discussing fashion in the society we live in today, nothing technically is “sustainable”.
Now, I’m not saying that we should jump towards fast fashion and unethical brands and embrace them and repeatedly ignore the problems that they are related to. What is being said is that this issue has more to do with the overconsumption of products and trends.
With the rapid growth of trends and the internet dictating what is cool and what isn’t, the fashion trends that are in place now, could be out in the next week. We as a society have an issue with overconsuming products. One statistic claims that every individual throws away around 80 pounds of clothing annually. With these fast-changing trends, fast fashion is where people are turning to seem “cool”. Fast fashion is a result of our need to create and destroy trends as quickly as they come. In reality, these fast-changing trends are a direct result of us. We over-consume and populate the problem. Whether we are going to purchase from “sustainable brands” or “fast fashion” we are still overconsuming products at a rapid pace.
Overconsumption also exists in places like thrift stores. I work at one and I see overconsumption every day. It gets to the point where even in places like thrift stores, prices are bumped higher and higher for the simple fact that people overconsume. This is not to say that seeking out thrift stores is bad, but overconsumption anywhere is.
It begs the question: If fast fashion was not here, would overconsumption change?
The Elitist Argument present.
At the end of the day, fast fashion is accessible to everyone. It doesn’t matter whether you are poor or rich, you can shop the same trends within these businesses. Telling people it is wrong to shop fast fashion because it is unethical is elitist. It ignores the fact that sustainable brands aren’t accessible to everyone else. It’s similar to an argument that some vegans make about how eating meat and animal-based products is wrong. It ignores how affordable fruits and veggies aren’t available to everyone.
Affordable, sustainable brands are not available to everyone. When we ignore that, that’s when comment sections are filled with hate, over elitist arguments. Again, it’s not a simple this is right and this is wrong. It’s simply, I can’t afford to buy the $65 version of this so I turn to the one that is $5. Even thinking about this argument is a privilege. Many others don’t have the time, resources and abilities to look into each and every brand present and how they cause harm to others. Adding to how this argument of sustainable fashion is elitist.
Fast fashion is a product of our choices. We weren’t always buying clothing at the rate we do today, that’s a fact. Yes, we should seek out fashion that is more sustainable, allowing for it to be more accessible to a wide range of customers; thus moving away from harmful brands. But, while making the argument of buying clothing “consciously” there should be a conscious understanding of what fast fashion comes from and why people shake it out. No one wants to purchase clothing that is harmful to the environment, but in the climate that is present, no choice is given to buyers.
I know for myself, I’ve tried my hardest to move away from “fad” like clothing and things that I believe would go out of style eventually. This way my clothes last longer. I try to invest in pieces that I know will stay for a long time in my closet. This is my way of battling overconsumption. Do I still purchase from fast fashion brands? Yes, because monetarily speaking I don’t have the resources to continuously purchase clothing from sustainable brands.
As you can see, fast fashion does allow for quick and accessible alternatives to high fashion. That’s one of its selling points. However, again, this comes at the cost of the environment and labour workers. It capitalizes on what is considered as “fad fashion”.
Everyone should be more conscious of the things they buy. With generations to come, the amount of clothing being put into landfills and people dying from these working conditions, fast fashion is harmful and dangerous. But, that battle can’t be won by bullying with elitist arguments. It won’t be done by ignoring the lack of clothing that exists for plus-size women that fast fashion offers. It’s done by figuring out the root of the issue of overconsumption and the trends that exist. How they play out and how long these trends last are the biggest determining factor of the number of clothes being produced every year.
As we move into conscious consumption, it’s important to recognize that others’ positions don’t reflect yours and never will. Staying informed is the first step and everything that comes after is up to you. Moving away from overconsumption and fast fashion isn’t easy and I don’t expect everyone, myself included, to fully stop buying from these brands immediately. However slowly and consciously buying clothing is the biggest and first step towards true ethical fashion.