Fast fashion is hurting people and the planet

By Felicia Roehm

I love to shop and buy cute new clothes and accessories, especially when they are affordable. Cheap clothes, however, create a serious problem. Fast fashion occurs when clothes are made quickly with poor quality materials, usually accompanied by employee mistreatment. Fast fashion creates a lot of waste, and there has been plenty in the past few years.

A New York Times article, titled “How Fast Fashion is Destroying the Planet” by Dana Thomas, explains that clothing companies aren’t making products that will last more than a few months and more than 60% of fabric ends up in landfills and will never decompose. Thomas is a retired style writer and wrote the book “Fashionopolis,” which explains how companies like Zara are contributing to piles of waste sitting in landfills and in oceans. Thomas created the term “slow fashion” which is “locally grown materials, often domestically manufactured or sourced on a relatively small scale.”

The fashion industry is infamous for unsafe conditions, one of the first to capture media attention being the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in 1911, killing 146 workers. One recent example is the Rana Plaza factory collapse in 2013 in Bangladesh, which killed over 1,100 workers and injured 2,500. Rana Plaza made a lot of fast fashion that was often sold in America and Thomas wrote that Americans “spent $340 billion on fashion,” and “much of it was produced in Bangladesh, some of it by Rana Plaza workers in the days leading up to the collapse.” Thomas also explains that none of this is uncommon. From 2006-12, over 500 employees at Rana Plaza died in factory fires. Many of these catastrophes continue to happen but fast fashion has not changed. 

Shein is one of the most popular fast fashion brands. Its popularity grew since people could find almost anything for just a few bucks, but Shein’s low-cost clothing has produced a variety of humanitarian issues. An article by CBS News, “Shein’s mounting ethical concerns may be pushing some Gen Z shoppers to look elsewhere” by Sanvi Bangalore, explains that Shein can create 2,000 new clothing items in a day which has a huge environmental impact. Neil Saunders, a GlobalData retail analyst from CBS MoneyWatch said, “Shein has taken the lead in low prices, which is achieved due to their low-cost model and improper labor practices, and the end result is a low price for a consumer and that is key.” 

Shein creates trending items quickly while using way less money than its competitors. Saunders added, “Shein are the ones that are taking fast-fashion to superspeed, leading to an enormous amount of unnecessary and disposable consumption, and that’s not great for the environment.” 

Clothing waste has doubled in America and Europe since the year 2000. America and Europe combined have created over 30-million tons of wasted clothing and less than 1% has been recycled. The clothing waste America produces often ends up in landfills in Southeast Asia which have waste piles so large they are visible from outer space. All of this waste forces the clothes to be burned which can cause air and water pollution. 

Unfortunately, fast fashion is not on the road to improvement as Shein and other companies are not changing their practices. We all love clothes that are affordable, but it isn’t worth the harm to the planet and the employees. Too many people have been injured and lost their lives due to this issue. It is not worth the planet being damaged for a pretty shirt that costs $3, which probably won’t last long.

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