OPINION: Fast fashion is so last generation

Cheap, mass produced fashion is a wasteful form of consumerism and should be avoided to protect the environment.

With stores like H&M, Zara and Forever 21, cheap fashion is right at our frugal fingertips. However, factoring in the environmental and the labor costs of these items, these clothes are more than you bargained for.

“When I was growing up, you had four seasons of clothes. You go into a store and if it was, say spring. You saw summer fashion, if it was the end of summer you would begin to see fall fashion. So the fashion corresponded with the seasons,” says Christie Klimas, an associate professor for environmental science and studies at DePaul. “Now, you can go again and again in an extremely short period of time and you can purchase new clothes because the cycle is much faster.”

Fast fashion are clothes that are trendy and are produced quickly and cheaply. This type of clothing production arose in the mid 2000s in response to a growing demand. Fast fashion brands use methods in the production of their clothes that have major environmental and labor costs that fail to be reflected on the price tag. This has only led to the increase in consumption of fast-fashion.

“Clothing has become disposable,” says Klimas.

According to A Sustainable life, we are consuming 400 percent more clothes now compared to 20 years ago.

But with all of the clothes being made, a good fraction of them might not be even sold.

“We produce too much clothing. So some of the clothing never gets sold. We’re making things that we don’t even expect to sell, it’s just a waste of resources,” says Klimas.

According to The New York Times, more than 60 percent of fabric fibers are synthetics that come from fossil fuels and don’t decompose in the landfills, where about 85 percent of textile waste end up.

Because these microfibers don’t decompose, they can end up in the ocean or anywhere on land.

The fashion industry also produces 20 percent of the global wastewater and 10 percent global carbon emissions, according to the United Nations Environment Program.

Another impact of fast fashion that completely outweighs the cheaper prices of clothing is the extremely harsh labor conditions. Most fast fashion brands manufacture their clothing overseas in developing countries like China, India and Bangladesh. There, fast fashion brands can get away with paying workers far less than below western living wage, according to Attitude Organic.

In addition to this, workers work in very dangerous conditions. One of the worst disasters in the textile industry happened in 2013 in Bangladesh. The Rana Plaza factory exploded and collapsed, killing more than 1,000 people and injuring 2,500.

This wasn’t just a fluke. In Bangladesh alone, more than 500 workers died in factory fires between 2006-2012, The New York Times reported.

The workers in these factories also work outrageously long hours. In Bangladesh, sewing machine operators work as long as 100 hours or more a week, according to Vox. In addition to this, fast fashion factories are known to employ child workers for less money.

These extremely harsh working conditions are the reason why fast fashion brands are able to charge such cheap prices.

No fear, frequent shoppers. There are many alternatives to shopping at fast fashion brands. Companies like Pact, Kotn, Patagonia and REI are based on being environmentally and ethically conscious. These brands are more expensive, but that’s kind of the point. These brands incorporate the environmental cost into them. Having more expensive clothing also allows them to take more time to produce longer-lasting clothing in more environmentally sustainable ways.

Higher costs also means that the workers will get paid more. This obviously helps the developing countries that make your clothes.

There are other alternatives to fast fashion brands that are both environmentally conscious and inexpensive. One of the best alternatives is going to thrift shops. Thrift stores are great ways to recycle clothing while continuing to keep up with trends.

“To avoid fast fashion I purchase the majority of my clothes from thrift stores,” says Grace Berent, a senior and environmental studies major at DePaul. “Primarily,  these are local stores, that way I am not only avoiding fast fashion but supporting local business.”

Thrift stores are also great places to swap clothes. Swapping clothes allows you to exchange clothes you no longer wear for clothes that better fit your style.

“My style is kinda weird so I usually like taking clothes from my friends,” says Medea Gough, a senior at DePaul.

If you have no other choice but to buy from these fast fashion brands, the best thing you can do is buy less and be weary of low prices.

“Make sure you buy less and you’re questioning prices. If you’re buying something for $5, It is unlikely that it includes the full cost of production. We shouldn’t be surprised later to find out that that company was using child labor,” says Klimas.

Fast fashion is one of the most unsustainable practices our consumer culture has produced. Buying clothes from brands that are more environmentally friendly and ethical shows that we, as consumers, put value and are concerned about those issues.

While higher costs are never fun to pay, they mean that those brands are acting in more sustainable and ethical ways.