On an average day at just about any high school in America, the majority of the students are covered head to toe in trendy garments that cost $50 or less. Many of them don’t know much about the downsides of fast fashion and even if they do, they don’t tend to do anything about it. I know this because I am a high school student and I witness it everyday. However, at age 16, I did my research and decided I just could not continue to support the cycle of fast fashion anymore.
You might think that fast fashion – the practice of manufacturing cheap garments and accessories based on the designs of fashion brands and a very fast pace – is a good thing. For instance, it saves parents money on clothes that teens will undoubtedly grow out of and lose interest in. It also makes runway looks, ones that are often far out of the price range of most people, affordable for teens. These are good things.
However, people tend to overlook the effect that these fast fashion garments – the ones sold by retailers like Forever 21, H&M and Nasty Gal – have on the fashion industry and the millions of people who work in it. Large companies that blatantly rip off designers should not be the norm and the women and children who work in the factories to make these garments should be guaranteed proper wages and safe working conditions just like the rest of us.
Since the practice of high fashion first began, there have been people who create simpler versions of designers’ creations out of cheaper fabric so that they could sell them for a cheaper price to the masses. And while this isn't the most ethical practice, the majority of the time it isn’t considered illegal - except when it is. A person’s intellectual property is a serious thing and something that should be valued. Designers work tirelessly to come up with their designs, some of them even making upwards of six collections a year.
When a fast fashion company copies them for a cheap dollar, it is unfair to the designer, who is being robbed of his or her work. While it’s true that the consumers of fast fashion companies are most likely not going to be purchasing Yves Saint Laurent or Gucci or Prada, the practice is taking away credit from the creators while simultaneously enforcing the commercialization of high fashion (a conversation for a different day!). In fact, copying is such a huge problem now that famous fast fashion copiers are now copying each other. Fast fashion is doing little more than promoting a society in which it is considered acceptable to copy someone else’s work.
But fast fashion does not only affect the fashion industry alone, it also affects the workers who create the clothes and it affects the consumers who buy these clothes, as well. This year fast fashion was named “The Second Dirtiest Industry In The World” second only to Big Oil, which is not known for it’s environmentally friendly practices. Toxic chemicals have been found in dye used on fast fashion garments that can be very dangerous to the consumer. The harm does not stop there, though because that same dye is often then dumped into rivers and streams, causing environmental pollution, as well. When you can buy a pair of jeans for the price of a McDonald’s meal the chances are that the jeans were not ethically made.
Thousands of women and girls are forced to work in unsafe factories in third world countries for extremely little pay. Factory collapses are not uncommon and can result in hundreds of deaths and injuries. In 2013, a factory collapsed in Bangladesh where over a thousand people were killed and many more injured. And even after all of the suffering that these people go through everyday fast fashion giants just don’t seem to care. Many of the companies involved in the Rana Plaza collapse have not even paid the damages that are needed to fix the factory and pay for the medical bills of the people.
So, if we have all of this proof about the horrors that lay in the fast fashion industry then why do so many people continue to purchase clothes from these titans year after year? Many of the problems with this industry are kept under wraps by the giants themselves in order to keep their businesses alive and booming. But another, sadder factor plays into this idea – people don’t really seem to care about how bad fast fashion is for society. People want clothes that are cheap, on trend, and easy to replace next year or next month. Until people begin thinking about the fact that pair of nice jeans probably can’t be made for under $30, this will continue to be a problem in our society. And who knows what has to happen in order to get people to stop thinking this way.
MOLLY RECKER is a 16-year-old high school student in New York. She plans to pursue a career in fashion merchandising.