According to Vogue, the summer 2021 trends seem to be heading towards a more retro style with lots of color and statement accessories. Prints are also on the rise ranging from psychedelic patterns to 60’s/70’s inspired floral to the classic preppy knit. Being the young adults that we are, we want to keep up with trends. However we have one limitation: money—something most of us do not have much of. So how to we keep up with the styles as the seasons filter through? We do it with fast fashion.
What is fast fashion? Fast fashion is a design, manufacturing, and marketing method focused on rapidly producing high volumes of clothing mostly utilizing trend replication and low-quality materials in order to bring inexpensive styles to the public. Examples of these stores include H&M, Forever 21, Urban Outfitters, SHEIN, Zara, etc. Most girls, like myself, are very conflicted when it comes to fast fashion. Trends come and go fast, so we want to buy clothes that are in style, but cheap enough so that we do not waste considerable amounts of money for not wearing them when the season returns with something new. However, many companies that provide these trendy clothes utilize production methods that do not sit right with my moral compass.
The most obvious and well known unethical production method these companies use is child labor. These companies are constantly looking for cheaper labor opportunities, typically within countries that rely heavily on the textile industry. According to Sofie Ovaa, global campaign coordinator of Stop Child Labour, “there are many girls in countries like India and Bangladesh, who are willing to work for very low prices and are easily brought into these industries under false promises of earning decent wages.” In a report done by the Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations (SOMO), and the India Committee of the Netherlands (ICN) revealed that recruiters for the manufacturing sights in India convince parents in impoverished areas to send their children to spinning mills promising a well-paid job, comfortable accommodation, three nutritious meals a day and opportunities for training and schooling. However, the research of the SOMO and the ICN display the reality under those false pretenses as they show horrific working conditions comparable to the United States at the start of their industrial revolution, if not worse. They are forced to work long hours with exposure to the toxins of pesticides and fossil fuels produced by the factories, all while being paid below minimum wage. You are probably also wondering why these recruiters take special interest in children rather than hiring adults. These jobs require low-skill labour that could probably done more efficiently by children. For example, the small size of their hands and fingers make it easier to pick cotton without damaging the plant and work the mills faster. Children also tend to be more obedient than adults, making them easy, vulnerable targets.
In addition to utilizing cheap, child labor, fast fashion also contributes to the carbon footprint that is detrimental to the environment. According to Business Insider, fast fashion makes up about 10% of all humanity’s carbon admissions. On top of all of that, they are also the second-largest consumer of the world’s water supply and pollute to ocean with micro plastics. Take Uzbekistan for example, where cotton farming used up so much water from the Aral Sea that it is now mostly dried out. An area that was once one of the world’s 4 largest lakes, With clothing production roughly doubling since 2000, there are also many concerns regarding textile waste. Rather than recycling them, about 85% of textiles go to the dump each year, most of these textiles being polyester, which releases 2-3 times more carbon admissions than cotton and does not break down in the ocean.
Because I do not want to be a contributing factor to the effects of fast fashion, I try my best to find alternatives. For example, I like to thrift. Thrifting is great way to find affordable clothing while reducing your carbon footprint and discouraging child labor, and with the cycle of fashion bringing us back to 60s, 70s, and 90s, you are able to find clothing that is coming back in trend. However, in order to be satisfied with your thrifting experience, it takes a lot of time dedicated to search every rack and bin of clothing. Sometimes you come up empty handed. Fast fashion is convenient and cheap, which makes it more appealing to shop from. While over half of the clothes I wear are thrifted, I still can’t help but partake in purchasing from those brands. This summer, it is so tempting for me to buy 10 bikinis that are about $7 each from SHEIN rather than more ethical and sustainable ones that range from around $40 to over $100 and not even for a complete top and bottom set.
And with that comes my dilemma. Do I put my money with my morals or do I shop for the convenience of myself?