The High Cost of Cheap Fashion
Posted on November 04 2019
In a world where just about everyone is concerned with which celebrity is wearing what (to dinner with who), and where #OOTD [outfit of the day] is constantly trending on Instagram, the fashion industry is more important to us as a society than ever before. Traditionally, the fashion calendar consisted of four seasons: fall/winter and spring/summer. Fast forward to 2018, and fast fashion brands have chopped these four, standard seasons into a bite-sized, 52-week, micro-season system. This means every week we’re seeing new trends and new products on the market, which also means that you’re on the constant look-out to buy (and be able to afford) the next hottest trend… constantly. After all, Heidi Klum from Project Runway has been saying it best since 2004, “As you know in fashion, one day you’re in… and the next day, you’re out.”
[Zara in Las Vegas, NV. Photo by Shrader Martinez Co.]
Now, let’s get into specifics. In the late 1990’s and 2000’s, low-cost fashion reached its peak, as well as when online shopping took off and fast fashion retailers took over high street fashion. This is the first time the fashion industry really saw brands taking looks and design elements from the top fashion houses and fashion weeks, and reproducing them as cheaply and quickly as humanly possible. This movement is pure joy for anyone and everyone who gives a hoot about being on-trend… right?
"Clothing chains like H&M (above) and Forever 21 design and distribute new styles so quickly and cheaply, they've been dubbed "fast fashion" retailers." -Kathy Willens/AP
Although the hottest pair of leggings for $17.90 sounds like a great deal, there is often a higher price to pay in ethics. In order to offer these insane deals, fast fashion retailers source garments and accessories from factories in countries where the labor costs are extremely low. Fashion editor, Jill Di Donato writes, “In Colombian mines, Bangladeshi factories, or Vietnam textile mills, labor standards are so low that even though apparel is the largest employer of women globally, less than 2% of these women earn a living wage, according to The Huffington Post. These women can’t even afford to buy the cheap, fast fashion they’re producing to ship overseas.”
With cheap clothes, comes cheap materials and cheap fabric; and with cheap materials and cheap fabric, comes more trips to the landfill. When it comes to fast fashion, that’s just the problem- its life span goes by… fast. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, “The United States generated 16.22 million tons of disposed textiles in 2014 and recycled only 2.62 million tons. Ten and a half million tons of textiles ended up in landfills that year.”
"Vetements displays old clothing at Saks Fifth Avenue in New York to bring attention to the issue of clothing waste. (Michael Ross Photography/Saks Fifth Avenue)" -Chicago Tribune
Big oil takes the cake for the dirtiest industry in the world, but the fashion industry brings home the silver medal. Often, when we sit and think about our environmental impacts when it comes to the pollution we produce, we think about our cars, coal power plants, etc. We tend to completely pass over our brand new, Forever 21 romper for $12.90 that we just had to have. From the chemicals used to make the ten new items you just added to your wardrobe from your H&M run, the pesticides used when planting a cotton farm, the fossil fuels burned from getting your garment from half-way across the world, to the chemicals going back into the water every time you wash that garment, well… you get the point, the list goes on and on; and it’s not a good list.
Now… do we give up our love for fashion in the name of mother nature? Hell no. Because, we don’t have to. We have options; and what better way to counter fast fashion? You guessed it: slow fashion. If you’re going to take away anything from this lesson in slow fashion, just remember: quality over quantity is key. We don’t have to support brands that rip off other designers and we don’t have to support brands where the person producing the garment doesn’t see any sizable fraction of that profit. One aspect of practicing slow fashion means buying pieces that are meant to last. Materials and sourcing matters to slow fashion brands, which means that your garment won’t be trashed after one wash cycle, forcing you to throw it out and go buy another. Slow fashion pieces are made for enduring style, and focus on the fact that less really is more! After all, a clean and minimalistic closet is the sign of fashion-efficiency. Where fast fashion focuses on what is the most edgy and trending piece of that week, slow fashion is all about the “chameleon” pieces that are practical and versatile- meaning you can get the most use out of them, and feel good about them even when they’re just hanging in your closet.
[Photo by 303 Magazine]
Slow fashion means just that… slowing down. It’s important to stop, smell the roses and take it slow- really read up on what you’re buying as the consumer. If the cutest necklace you’ve ever seen is only $5.99, why is that? Is that brand/company taking the time to research how the product was made? What could this necklace be made of if it only costs as much as a few cheeseburgers from McDonald’s? Could I make this myself? Could I support a local designer instead? There are endless questions you can ask yourself to make sure you’re doing your best to shop slowly and ethically. Do your research! Shop locally, shop vintage, shop ethically, and shop smarter, because sometimes the cheapest fashion actually has the highest cost.
[EcoVibe Apparel, photo by Good Companies]
“In Trendy World Of Fast Fashion, Styles Aren't Made To Last.” Edited by Jim Zarolli, NPR, NPR, 11 Mar. 2013, www.npr.org/2013/03/11/174013774/in-trendy-world-of-fast-fashion-styles-arent-made-to-last. Photo.
Di Donato, Jill. “Why Fast Fashion Is Killing the Planet and Your Ethics.” Culture Trip, 13 Feb. 2017, theculturetrip.com/north-america/usa/articles/why-fast-fashion-is-killing-the-planet-and-your-ethics/.
Gorden, Audrey. “Fast Fashion Can Kill Your Wallet and the Environment - Here's How You Can Help.” Chicagotribune.com, 5 Sept. 2017, www.chicagotribune.com/lifestyles/style/sc-cons-0907-fashion-industry-waste-20170825-story.html.