Fast Fashion: sweet dream or a beautiful nightmare?

You walk into your favorite clothing store and you see it. That shirt, those jeans or shoes you’ve been looking for; or caught your eye. Better yet, it’s on sale! Or costs less than you expected. We all have had similar experiences of a planned or spontaneous shopping trip. As a formerly self-proclaimed fashionista, I’ve had many.

I once fell in love with a certain skater skirt from Charlotte Russe for $19.99. I saw it again months later at another location on clearance for maybe $5.00. It has since taken residence in my wardrobe.

Clothing stores like Charlotte Russe (i.e. Forever 21, H&M, Zara and Topshop) are categorized as fast fashion brands. That means they sell mass produced runway-inspired (or trendy) styles of clothing, fast and at discounted prices.

Fast fashion can also be found at department and super stores like Macy’s, JCPenny’s and Target. I believe most of us are consumers of fast fashion.

Fast fashion can be beneficial for those that care about fashion to any extent. We can have the latest trends without going broke. For us the cost is cheap. However, I’ve been confronted with the fact that fast fashion isn’t beneficial or cheap for everyone.

I recently watched “The True Cost,” a documentary about the effects the fast fashion industry has on workers and environments in foreign countries from which the clothing is made.

Here’s how fast fashion works and why it’s become problematic. Fast fashion is made quickly to be consumed for cheap at an even faster rate.

Forbes reported, “Styles cycle in and out of stores (and websites) as quickly as every three weeks. Because sales cycles are so short, product development cycles must ALSO be short.” Hence, the clothes aren’t made to last long.

The Huffington Post reported that some fast fashion items contain lead. The film’s site reported, “Fashion is the world’s second most polluting industry after oil.” My understanding is that this puts a strain on those who produce the clothing.

The big issues in fast fashion are human rights, globalization and the brands.

In an interview clip from the film’s website, Executive Producer Livia Firth described her visit to a Bangladesh factory where workers were required to make 100 pieces an hour. According to the site, 97 percent of items are produced overseas and 85 percent of workers are women. Firth also mentioned the strict rules and poor conditions of that factory.

Another contributing factor depicted in the film was pay. Workers aren’t nearly paid enough in proportion to the hours they work. The films expresses that when profit is the focus, human rights are often lost. The trillion dollar-plus (fashion) industry profits well but surely the working from sourcing countries don’t see a quarter of that.

For me, this was shocking to a degree. I consciously stopped shopping a certain “dirt cheap” stores after I had a hunch that their products might be made in child or harsh labor. I guess I was naïve to think my blazer from Wet Seal wasn’t possibly made under similar conditions.

According to Conor Boyle from the Better Work Program, companies source their products in poor foreign countries that lack the infrastructure to meet certain regulations. They often don’t and it’s the responsibility of the brands to ensure this but they don’t.

Executive Director at War on Want John Hilary explained in a clip from the film’s site, “The promise of globalization was that it was going to be a win-win. Consumers in the rich world would get cheaper goods and the people in the poor parts of the world would get jobs, and those jobs would give them an opportunity to work their way out of poverty.” The promise was gone unfulfilled.

Firth said, “The business model is completely unsustainable, unless you change that model you can’t change anything.”

Of course after watching this I feel a degree of responsibility for my fashion consumption choices. I was ready to support the cause. I thought I could support other brands that source better and fairer. Then I remembered I’m a college student with limited funds and not shopping at certain stores would be challenging.

I think many of us face this dilemma. Most people don’t think about where exactly their clothes might have come from and the conditions they were made in.

“The True Cost” challenges consumers to be more conscious and offers a few tips (on their website) for buying better: ask yourself if you’ll wear a prospective item 30 times and detox your wardrobe by buying brands that aim to phase out toxic substances; see list at

My simple tip is to wear and take care of the clothes you already own, unless you need to buy an item, it decreases consumption.

Jada Fisher, staff writer

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