Damaging effects of fast fashion: How can students make a difference?

Damaging effects of fast fashion: How can students make a difference?

Lindsay B., Editor-In-Chief

   Before the development of the fast fashion industry, consumers purchased clothing based on its quality and craftsmanship rather than its accessibility. However, in the 1980s, the rise of globalization led to a new clothing market. Digital marketing combined with clothing manufacturing in developing countries triggered a dramatic increase in clothing production and consumption. Due to this dramatic upsurge, manufacturers now use cheap materials harmful to the environment and exploit laborers in developing countries. 

   The emergence of globalization in the last fifty years has permitted the expansion of international markets, particularly in the fashion sector, allowing manufacturers to create affordable but low-quality apparel for international consumers. Globalization refers to the international participation of countries in the global economy through free trade. In Western countries, consumers have constant access to different fashion trends due to globalization (Ledezma). Different brands utilize digital platforms and marketing methods to attract potential buyers to their products. In 2020, online sales consisted of about thirteen percent of the entire fashion market. Globalization and digitalization share this responsibility, as technology and business strategies advance to meet the swift and consistent developmental changes of fast fashion trends (Gazzola et al.).

   One of the methods utilized by companies to quickly produce inexpensive clothing is by establishing their headquarters in developing countries, exploiting the low labor costs. In 2020, only 3.5 percent of clothing products purchased in the United States were made in the United States (“Fast Fashion”). These fashion companies primarily outsource their production in China, Mexico, Vietnam, and Thailand. In these underdeveloped countries, “production quotas do not exist and are not enforced,” allowing fast fashion companies to moderate cost and maximize profit while selling their merchandise to Western customers (“Fast Fashion”). Due to manufacturers creating their products in countries without production quotas, workers are subject to poor working conditions and abuse from their employers. The majority of the workers in these sweatshops are young women. However, children face exploitation by their employers as well. The International Labor Organization in 2020 estimated that 160 million children remain subjugated by child labor, many of whom work in “textile and manufacturing industries due to the Western demand for fast fashion” (“Fast Fashion”). Since employers do not pay their workers a minimum wage, laborers work for longer hours “in an attempt to earn enough to survive” (Ledezma). 

   The growth of consumerism towards fast fashion merchandise has also consequently triggered increased textile production, generating excess waste. In the fashion industry, misusing resources originates in ‘production waste,’ a term for the waste of manufacturing textiles and garments. Configuring the fit and pattern of fabric influences the cutting stages of clothing creation. Because of this, any mistake in the assembly yields excess waste (Niinimäki et al.). Buyers, however, also contribute to the mass disposal of clothing. Due to not only the toxic culture of consumers but also the unsatisfactory quality of these garments, when these products reach buyers, the clothes quickly arrive in landfills after a few wears.  Of the total quantity of post-production clothing waste, roughly fifty-seven percent of it “ends up in landfill,” triggering public health dangers to those living in nearby communities (“The Impact of”). When landfills burn, the release of poisonous gas permeates into the atmosphere, polluting the air in surrounding areas. 

   Throughout the continuous expansion of globalization in recent decades, consumer culture has simultaneously escalated to a stage where the authenticity and ethics of fashion have declined. To defeat competition and to meet the demands of buyers, businesses outsource their manufacturing sites and harm their surrounding environments. However, students possess the ability to hinder these effects by supporting slow fashion and reducing clothing waste. Instead of throwing away unwanted clothing, students can utilize thrift stores and apps like DePop to buy and sell second-hand clothing. If young people can decrease fast fashion consumption, companies will subsequently decrease their product output and increase their product quality, improving the environmental and ethical balance of the fashion industry.