Is there such thing as ethical consumption in the realm of fast fashion?

By Kate McCormick

In an age where fashion trends are constantly changing and options are becoming available at lower and lower prices, how conscious do we need to be about the products we are buying and the companies we are supporting?

People are quick to call out brands like SHEIN for fast fashion and instead promote options like thrifting or sustainable clothing companies, but how accessible are these options, and do they really make a difference?

One thing is for sure: there is no ethical consumption under capitalism.

When people hear the term ‘fast fashion’ they may think of brands like SHEIN, Fashion Nova and ROMWE, and while it is true that these brands all qualify, we utilize fast fashion far more frequently than we realize. Urban

Outfitters, Zara, Forever 21 and more all fall under the fast fashion umbrella. Fast fashion is any clothing turned out at an increased pace for cheap prices, often using cheap materials to bring trending designs and styles to mass-market consumers.

The issue with fast fashion is that it is the antithesis of sustainable and ethical production, both in terms of labor and pollution. Many of these brands have come under fire for utilizing sweatshops in their production alongside cheap synthetic fabrics which pose a threat to the environment. The EPA reports that, in 2018, over 11 million tons of textile waste were landfilled.

So how do we combat this issue? Many people turn to promoting options like thrifting and investing in sustainable merchandise, but these ideas come with a slew of their own issues and setbacks.

Thrifting has taken off as a trendy and popular way to avoid fast fashion and reuse garments before they end up in landfills, but there is also a socioeconomic toll to the practice. Being dubbed thrift store ‘gentrification,’ the rise in popularity of buying secondhand has, in turn, caused companies like Goodwill and Salvation Army to up their prices. This is simple supply and demand, but increased prices mean that people who need to rely on thrifting for clothing and other goods are now fighting against price changes. This problem is only exacerbated when people buy out thrift stores, only to turn around and sell items for profit.

The idea that people should start shopping exclusively from sustainable and ethical companies is also inherently classist, because, more times than not, the process of creating and selling eco-friendly textiles comes with a price tag.

It’s bad to support fast fashion, but people also shouldn’t thrift too much because it creates socioeconomic rifts for the people who depend on buying used items, and while sustainable clothing is wonderful, that option is not always accessible to everyone in regards to pricing and size inclusivity.

There are so many facets to this issue that it is virtually impossible for consumers to practice 100% ethical shopping techniques. Do what you can, where you can. Be a conscious shopper, but also remember that the burden of ethical consumption should not rest on the shoulders of the consumer, rather the corporations and capitalist systems that create these issues in the first place.

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