Fast fashion: cheap clothing at a great cost

by Alexandra Zuniga

In February 2019, Kim Kardashian took to Twitter to express her disapproval for an online fashion company that is known to sell knockoff designer clothing. She complained that she had worn a one-of-a-kind dress, and in less than 24 hours a website had stolen her look and sold it online. The internet felt the shock waves of a fashionista dismayed. While her issue with this process is rooted in designer disrespect, it raises alarming questions: Exactly how do these fashion companies do it so fast, and why is their product so affordable?  

If you’re like me, it’s possible some of your best outfits have come from mall stores like H&M, Forever 21, Zara, UNIQLO and so on. If you’re even a little like me, it’s likely you prefer to spend less money shopping for trendy clothes. You can find many fully online stores selling articles of clothing for as little as a few cents. What is going on, and why do my orders take months to arrive on my doorstep? Allow me to introduce you to one of the world’s biggest problems today: fast fashion. 

Consumers of these companies may notice that the quality of product is rather poor, inviting a one-wear approach. Fast fashion companies thrive off of cheap textile production on a mass scale, mostly outsourced from China and India. These inexpensive materials include mostly synthetic polyester (the least expensive textile to produce), cotton, elastane, viscose and nylon. Pushing trendy products utilizing a quick output model comes at a great ethical cost. Not only is the quality and re-wearability of clothing sacrificed, but so is public health. 

Textile production is one of the most polluting industries in the world, responsible for emitting nearly 1.2 billion tons of CO2 (carbon dioxide, a killer greenhouse gas) per year, contributing to global warming, climate change and profound natural disasters. Humans have suffered extreme weather events as a direct result of our gaseous transgressions, such as wildfires, large tropical storms, severe drought and record-high heat. 

If that doesn’t quite paint the picture, know that every second, one garbage-truck full of clothing materials is dumped into landfills or burned. Burning synthetic material is toxic for our environment and reduces breathable air quality, causing a multitude of health issues in affected populations. You may have heard that the trash contents of landfills frequently make their way into our oceans, causing harm to our marine life. Fast fashion materials take exponentially longer to break down, plaguing our natural environment with toxins and adding to human-made disasters like the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. 

Many of us have been hearing these warnings from environmentalists for years. While we may be desensitized to what occurs on our turf, take into consideration the hands that touch your clothes before they are shipped across the world. Garment workers often face the poorest working conditions, working for mere cents per hour to produce our beloved Kardashian duplicates. Textiles are constructed by the hands of underpaid women and children who suffer in diseased factory conditions and poor living situations. This method of production relies on consumers like you and I who return for another one-time-wear outfit. Again, and again and again. 

While all of this information may seem overwhelming, there is something valuable gained by becoming aware of this crisis. You have just become aware of your power. These companies rely on you and I, and without us, they collapse. It is entirely possible to break the cycle of clothing waste with your participation. In the long run, you will save money investing in an ethically produced, higher quality garment that you can add to a rotatable closet and feel good knowing your product has never seen a sweatshop. 

Another great shopping alternative is hitting the thrift store. I have scouted some of my favorite high-fashion clothes at secondhand shops. I personally feel a higher rush of dopamine when I find a marked down Patagonia in great condition than paying full price in stores or online. I invite you to shop for your next outfit at your local thrift store; you may be surprised by what you find. If you’re not ready to shop secondhand but are starting to second-guess where you spend your money, a Google search can help you find out what companies push ethical product. 

Kim Kardashian is definitely onto something putting the spotlight on trendy, 24-hour turnaround sites. Let us be the generation that purges itself of this wasteful structure that has a grip on the working class — everywhere. You are more powerful than you think. 

Alexandra Zuniga is a student in the Communication Department at San Francisco State University.