Fast Fashion 101: Uncovering the Problem

The ethical dilemma behind low prices offered by big name retailers like Forever 21 and Zara

Sarah Maberry | The Falcon
The low prices offered at budget-friendly retailers come with a hidden cost.

Let’s face it. We’re all broke college students who love to save pennies anywhere we can.

While out shopping, it can be easy to fall prey to low cost clothing that fits your college budget. When short on cash, Forever 21’s $1.90 tank tops and $10 denim seem too good to be true. Unfortunately, they are exactly that.

Ever wonder how your favorite stores like Forever 21 and Zara can offer you such a great deal on the latest trends? The sad truth is that these companies take major shortcuts.

Through outsourcing to low-cost factories in developing nations and using low quality fabrics, retailers can sell garments for an alarmingly low price. The ethics behind these factories around the globe is a complex topic that I could go on about forever.

So, for the sake of your short attention spans, we’ll talk about this another time and stick to the basics for now. Workers in developing nations take jobs in garment factories because their alternatives include menial rural work, which offers no further opportunity, and prostitution.

In these factories, garment workers are often forced to work over 100 hours per week in unsafe, unregulated working conditions, but they as producers cannot risk protesting, as they might lose their jobs. So, while low-cost trendy clothes may seem appealing to consumers, their short life cycles are part of a major global issue.

First off. What is fast fashion?

You’ve probably heard the term thrown around here and there without ever fully grasping what it means.

Fast fashion is a relatively new term coined by the fashion industry to define trend-focused clothing made with a short production time.

The rates at which retailers churn out new designs is increasing at an unnerving pace. In fact, Zara can take an item all the way from concept sketch to store racks in as little as two weeks. Previously, this process took around three-to-six months for most companies.

So, what’s the issue?

It doesn’t take much digging to realize that fast fashion is a huge issue. Huuuuuge. Type “Bangladesh Rana Plaza collapse” or “Zara rat dress” into your search bar, and you’ll see what I mean. Once you realize that your $10 dress may have killed thousands of workers or had a rat sewn into its collar, it may lose its appeal.

With consumers demanding lower prices than ever before, retailers are forced to cut corners in order to meet their budgets. This means paying unethically low wages to workers in economically unstable countries with lower safety restrictions. Using cheap quality synthetic fabrics (which, let’s face it, fall apart after a few short months) allows retailers to reduce their cost of materials.

The solution?

Think of your closet as an investment. You wouldn’t buy a car off the lot knowing you’d need to buy a new one in another six months, so think of your clothes in the same manner. Instead of purchasing 10 low cost garments that you will only wear a handful of times, pick high quality, well constructed garments that will last you for years to come.

And do your research before you buy. Simply check the company’s “About” page to get a quick overview of what they stand for. If you don’t find any information regarding sourcing and production, it likely means the company has a thing or two it is trying to hide. As a consumer, you have the power to pressure companies to use ethical production methods. Use it.

The scariest part of fast fashion is that most college students are blissfully unaware of the impact of their clothing choices. So it’s time we start talking more about the problem.

At a school focused on engaging with global cultures and causing positive change in the world, shouldn’t we care more about the impacts of what we wear?

This article was posted in the section SPU Styled.

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