In a world where TikTok dictates the latest fashion trends and Instagram is the new “Vogue,” our consumerist culture has become increasingly predicated on the rapid buying of clothing pieces. When a celebrity sports a coveted fashion item, fast fashion websites create a cheaper replica within the same week. People far outside Hollywood can get the same look for less and can imitate their favorite style icons. Of course, this is wonderful in some ways — fashion and self-expression should be accessible to everyone. No longer is style as cemented in wealth and class status as it once was — everyone can feel confident and comfortable in beautiful clothing for an affordable price. But at the same time, this rapid fire, quick-turnaround culture is incredibly harmful to the environment and the garment industry.
Recently, a new term has emerged to describe this culture of immediacy regarding reproduction of fashion trends. “Micro-trends” are fashion pieces often inspired by celebrities and influencers that are only meant to last for the duration of a fashion season. These pieces are made quickly and out of inexpensive materials, meaning even if they were intended to be long lasting, they physically could not withstand significant wear. Websites like SHEIN and Zaful have capitalized off of this fast-moving trend cycle and are famed for their miraculously low prices and hundreds of new items daily.
From a purely stylistic standpoint, I understand the attraction of these micro-trends and fast fashion pieces. I’ve been on the Internet and seen styles I love and wanted to replicate them. But in reality, fast fashion doesn’t achieve its aims of style and self-expression. The pieces sold on these fast fashion websites go out of style within a few weeks and end up being irrelevant. When they are still relevant, they become so over-popularized that everyone is wearing the same thing. See a cute top or pair of pants on TikTok and the chances are within the next week everyone will be wearing them. Of course, following trends is certainly not a bad thing but this fast fashion monolith has destroyed fashion’s individuality and self-expression components. Is it really fashion if everyone wears the exact same thing?
Additionally, fast fashion is incredibly detrimental to the environment. The garment industry contributes 8 to 10 percent of global carbon emissions. 35 percent of all microplastics found polluting the ocean come from the creation of synthetic textiles like polyester used in fast fashion clothing production. The garment industry is responsible for using the second largest amount of water of any industry — 700 gallons of water are required to create a single shirt. When dyeing clothing, toxic chemicals are used that end up seeping into the excess water and polluting entire water systems. At the same time, 85 percent of textiles end up in landfills each year. Even more so, after this incredibly environmentally strenuous fashion creation process, fast fashion items are almost immediately trashed.
Furthermore, fast fashion is ethically irresponsible as well — the workers who produce these clothes are forced to work in sweatshop-like conditions for minimal pay. Even when brands do pay the minimum wage to their employees, that wage is only between half to a fifth of the living wage that families need to sustain basic needs. Working hours are also horrific with many workers doing uncompensated overtime and being forced to work with exposure to toxic substances and particles in unventilated spaces. Moreover, the buildings themselves are often unstable and deadly — in 2013, the Rana Plaza in Dhaka, Bangladesh, which housed five clothing factories, including one for popular brand Zara, collapsed, killing at least 1,132 people and injuring 2500 others. People are quite literally dying in order for these micro-trends to be fulfilled.
I’m a college student. I understand the desire for cheap, cute clothing that fast fashion provides. However, the culture that fast fashion creates is beyond unhealthy. It has uplifted an increasingly consumeristic, disposable cycle in which five minutes of style are being purchased at the cost of the environment and human life. We need to stop buying into this system, especially when there are so many more ethical and sustainable options. Thrifting is an affordable alternative that is exciting and keeps clothing out of landfills. On a purely utilitarian level, buying pricier clothes that last longer is more practical than cheaper alternatives that won’t last as long — you get your money’s worth and you do the world a favor. The fast fashion industry cannot survive without its consumers — so I urge you to take a step back and reconsider your clothing choices.
Hailey Robbins is an Opinion Writer for The Cavalier Daily. She can be reached at [email protected].