Story by Elizabeth Walztoni, Reporter
With the speed at which our modern world turns, it can be difficult to keep up with trends, much less do so on a budget. An easy answer to the well-dressed individual’s dilemma would appear to be the world of fast fashion. Chain stores like Forever 21, H&M, and TJ Maxx provide current clothing styles at manageable prices–the two dollar leggings, the six dollar dresses we have all purchased at least once.
However, the true cost of these products does not lie in dollars and cents. The entire system supporting production of cheap clothing undermines both human and environmental health the world over.
One of the most clearly visible consequences of the fast fashion business model is its treatment of workers. Many manufacturers rely on sweatshop labor, paying workers, many of whom are young children, a pittance to work inhuman hours in unsafe conditions. Consequences can be deadly, such as the collapse of an H&M factory in Bangladesh five years ago and several factory fires in 2017 alone. Employees can also be exposed to harmful chemicals in the dyeing of garments and handling of synthetic fibers.
Beyond immediate production, the long-term business model of fast fashion is even less sustainable. In search of the cheapest wages, corporate conglomerates move their operations from underdeveloped country to underdeveloped country. When workers will no longer accept below a living wage–be it due to unionization, a rising local economy, or governmental regulation–the company will move to a new area, leaving thousands of jobs behind.
The social effects of this model are compounded in the environment. Immense resources, such as water and pesticides, are required to grow natural fibers such as cotton. Manufacturing of synthetic fibers such as polyester leave an enormous pollutant footprint, from extraction of required chemicals to toxic leftovers. On the manufacturers’ end, toxic emissions and byproducts are largely dispersed without regulation from fabrication to production. Transporting hundreds of tons of clothing overseas results in significant energy usage and carbon dioxide emissions.
The damage does not stop with the producer, however. The very nature of “fast fashion” clothing makes it will be undesirable within several year; fast fashion is a large part of the EPA ‘s estimated 10.5 million tons of textiles that enter landfills annually.
As with most environmental issues, the solution lies in public awareness. This industry developed because of demand and will die without it. Making ethical choices, such as shopping second hand, supporting ethical businesses, and generally becoming a conscious consumer help to change the societal conditions that created the fast fashion industry.