Fast fashion, an old generational trend with its consumer implications and unfortunate repercussions both environmentally and socially, has gained momentum since the 2000s. As a business model that promotes quick turnover in garment production, quick sales in stores, or online for targeted periods, and in a continuos cycle of brands un-strategically following the same trends, the model has been a go-to strategy for veteran and emerging fashion labels. The production timeline and quality of these garments are intended to be worn for one season and then discarded afterward, allowing for no actual retail value of the purchased item. Forever 21 is quite possibly the most recognizable chain for this practice. Still, other brands such as H&M and Zara, and more recently Fashion nova, and Pretty Little Thing, engage in similar, if not the same, business models.
H&M made waves in the fast-fashion world in April 2019 when it announced it’s new “transparency” approach to tell customers about where it’s labor is sourced from and how successful their efforts towards sustainability are. While that is commendable, and certainly a step more brands should be taking, it is far from everything they are making it out to be. H&M is an integral member of the fast fashion movement that emphasizes stylish, inexpensive clothing. This trend has contributed significantly to unethical labor practices, waste production for the average American, and other definite disadvantages seen in consumer culture.
This trend, only leading us further and further down a winding path towards the hypocrisy of a late-stage capitalist society that claims to be working towards a greener future. For example, while promoting chic style and a fashion-forward attitude, Forever 21 has continually used sweatshops and underground workers from Los Angeles to Bangladesh. According to the LA Times, these underground workers (at least the ones found in LA) are paid about $6/hr and expected to put out absurd amounts of product to brick and mortar strip malls and online shoppers. The conditions are far worse in foreign production areas, with extended hours, and shockingly low pay.
Fast fashion brands produce millions of tons of waste that fills our oceans, impacts our glaciers, and contributes to a growing global waste issue. They will never make this knowledge accessible unless asked directly. The rise in popularity of “vegan” clothing brought to you by misguided, well-intentioned, animal rights activists, has led to a considerable increase in plastic and fossil fuel products found in clothing. Typical vegan leather or “pleather” is a PVC product that creates far more harm than good. While it may save a cow’s hide, which is a worthy cause, it overloads our landfills with non-degradable products. A smarter way to both saving an animal’s life and avoid contributing to our already bursting landfills is to wear used/preowned or thrift leather.
All hope is not lost, many of these brands are taking strides to address these issues (as described on most websites), representing a good start. There are also always used clothing stores that are gaining more and more popularity. The end all be all is this: the onus is on us, as the consumer base, to stop allowing these big brands to pull the wool (or rayon or spandex) over our eyes.