Less is more:

the problem with fast fashion

By Anneka Dallin O’Grady

Last summer, a website and clothing company by the name of Shein rose to popularity, especially among teens. To no one’s surprise, due to Tik Tok and other social media platforms, Shein is now back. And why wouldn’t it be? Shein has a huge selection of cute and trendy clothes and is relatively inexpensive. However, having a big selection of clothing and being affordable comes at a price: fast fashion.

What exactly is fast fashion and what makes it so harmful? If a brand sells cheap, trendy clothes made from poor-quality material and has thousands of styles that it’s always restocking, it’s probably fast fashion. The problem with fast fashion is that it encourages consumers to buy and buy and buy. People buy way more clothes than they could ever need, wearing them once or twice until they go out of style or fall apart, finally just throwing them out. H&M, Forever 21, Gap, Zara and Shein are just a few examples of brands that fall into the category of fast fashion.

Overconsumption is a big problem. Every time we buy a new piece of clothing, we also assume its environmental impact, which is not small. A huge amount of water is used to grow the cotton for your fabric; synthetic fabric is made from fossil fuels, one of the biggest causes of climate change. Energy is used in the factories where clothing is made, and fossil fuels are used to power the planes, ships and trucks that transport your clothing to the stores or warehouses of online retailers. The impact isn’t over yet, because once you no longer like that t-shirt, those jeans or whatever you chose to buy, it ends up in a landfill.

Buying fast fashion is detrimental to the environment, but it has more flaws beyond that. To save money, brands often use sweatshops – factories, usually in developing countries, where workers are paid very low wages, working conditions are nowhere near safe and child labour is not unusual. Even if fast fashion had zero environmental impact and didn’t use sweatshops, there are still major drawbacks for consumers, especially with brands that operate online. It has become almost standard practice for online fast fashion brands to use photo editing instead of photo shoots to showcase products, which leaves many shoppers confused when their order arrives and what they bought looks nothing like the photo. Shipping can also take months, with packages being consistently lost in the mail. Furthermore, many online fast fashion companies offer little to no customer service, sometimes not even listing an email or phone number for the brand.

Fortunately, there are many ways to shop sustainably and ethically no matter what your budget. The obvious answer may be to just “do your research,” to shop locally and to “thrift” when possible, but there is a better solution. Avoiding fast fashion brands is a great first step, but we must get to the root of the problem: overconsumption. As clothing is readily available and increasingly inexpensive, it’s easy to buy without thinking and get much more than you need, even while shopping ethically. The best way to avoid buying more than necessary is to simply think before you buy. Ask yourself questions like: “Will I still like this a year from now?” “Is this actually fashionable or just trendy?” “What is the quality of what I’m buying?” and the most important question, “Do I really need this?”

Whether you prefer to shop locally, online, thrift or even buy from bigger retailers, there are lots of great brands out there selling cute clothing while also being sustainable. Some of the best repurposed clothing stores in Ottawa include Value Village, The Clothes Secret, Plato’s Closet, The Salvation Army, Saint Vincent de Paul and many more. Simons, Levi’s, People Tree and Banana Republic are all bigger brands where you can avoid fast fashion.

Anneka Dallin O’Grady is a Grade 11 student at Glebe Collegiate Institute. This is her first year on the school newspaper, the Glebe Gazette.


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