Over the past 60 years, there has been a shift in how many consume fashion. As a culture, we shifted towards the brands that produced the latest and greatest in fashion the most readily at an affordable price. Zara founder Amancio Ortega uses the term “fast fashion” to describe the store’s mission: it should only take 15 days for a piece of clothing to go from the conceptualizing stage to being sold on the racks.
At face value, this seems like a good thing– who wouldn’t want the latest in fashion trends for a fraction of many department store prices? Brands took notice of the desire for more clothes more quickly, and in just a few decades, some of the most well-known brands were developed: from H&M, to American Eagle, to Forever 21. Suddenly, one didn’t have to be wealthy to change up their wardrobe regularly.
For a while, the general consensus on fast fashion was positive. It is only in recent years that the term “fast fashion” has begun to take on a negative light. The rapid production of clothing and turnover has led to excess textile factory pollution and waste. On top of that, the fashion industry contributes to about 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions.
“Every industry is contributing to our global climate crisis, but fast fashion is truly the major concern these days,” says Leo Snetsinger, a businessman from Big Lake, Minnesota.
Workers across the world have spoken out against the unethical labor conditions many of these production factories operate under. Often referred to as “sweatshops,” these factories force their employees to endure extreme hours, little breaks, and less than sanitary workspaces.
In response to the outrage against fast fashion, many are turning to companies that produce “sustainable fashion” or “slow fashion,” companies who work to not only reduce their environmental footprint, but to treat their employees right. These brands make a conscious effort to utilize eco-friendly materials from local farmers/workers, which puts money back into their area and eliminates travel costs that might come with outsourcing materials.
Knowing the negatives of fast fashion, who wouldn’t choose the sustainable option? Unfortunately, sustainable fashion brings up a problem many people turned to fast fashion to solve: these new, sustainable fashion brands are far more expensive. While something can be said about spending more money on a higher quality product, some can’t afford those products.
A subsect of sustainable fashion turns away from buying new products. Instead, consumers are encouraged to buy their clothing second-hand– either at thrift store or online thrift retailers like thredUP. Those who comb through thrift stores are often pleased to find high-quality garments at a fraction of their value. So we should all be thrifting, then? Not quite. The problem with the higher demand for quality, thrifted material is that a higher demand equals a higher price– a problem for those who rely on thrifting for clothes in the first place.
So what is the business trend all clothing industries should be looking towards? Unfortunately, there isn’t one answer. It’s all about balance. Everyone should do what they can to limit their carbon footprint, but it is important that all have the ability to express themselves how they wish through affordable means. At the end of the day, it’s not about one person doing everything right, it’s about everyone doing some things right. That is what will make the biggest, positive impact on the world.