For some, shopping for new clothing has only been considered an occasional activity — an errand that needs to be done only a couple times a year when we outgrow the clothes we have or when the seasons change. However, dozens of fashion brands allow consumers to shop from thousands of styles and the latest fashion trends at unbelievably low prices, barely making a dent in their bank account and turning shopping into a hobby for countless people.
Fast fashion refers to the specific subgroup of clothing brands and products that replicate high-end designs, frequently cycling through the most popular trends at a given time, and mass-producing them at extremely low costs. Brands like Zara, H&M, Forever 21, Urban Outfitters, Shein and Fashion Nova are some of the leading fast fashion companies in the market today.
“I think the main appeal to fast fashion is convenience and affordability,” Anne Marie Armstrong, UO sophomore and journalism major, said. “It offers a really cheap alternative to stay with the fashion trends, which I can see mainly appeals to students who are on tight budgets.”
Fast fashion seems like a consumer’s pipe dream, but these companies’ products create horrible impacts on the environment and are subject to questionable worker ethics at the manufacturing level. Typically these products are made with cheap, low-quality materials such as polyester, nylon and other synthetic fibers that are not built to last, and as a result lead to consumers throwing away or donating these products quickly once they have inevitably fallen apart. Fast fashion products are likely to degrade in a very short amount of time and therefore produce an incredible amount of waste. This highly unsustainable pattern of waste has contributed to harmful effects on the environment, such as high carbon emissions, landfill waste and water pollution.
Aside from the environmental dangers that fast fashion is responsible for, this industry is also notorious for its exploitative treatment of workers — known for the inhumane conditions that factory workers have to endure. Companies have consistently set up production sites in developing countries, such as Bangladesh and China, knowing the people will have no other choice but to work for any salary under any conditions.
Workers are stripped of their fundamental human rights, working in dangerous environments and unsafe buildings with toxic chemicals that can severely impact their physical and mental health. They are also known to have extremely low wages, making hardly enough to survive and provide for their families, and are forced to work up to 14-16 hours per day, seven days a week, exposed in the 2015 documentary “The True Cost.”
Despite the negative effects that the fast fashion industry has on the environment and exploited workers, many college students rely on these products for an affordable way to keep up on their wardrobe.
While some students agree that fast fashion is a beneficial way to shop, many are also hesitant to support it knowing the consequences.
“My personal opinion is to abstain from participating or supporting fast fashion as it’s easier for me to shop sustainably at thrift stores and cheaper as well,” Armstrong said. “I have upcycled old clothes as well which is a fun hobby and also guarantees I will be the only one with that specific item.”
Students also agree it can be hard to avoid these fast fashion options, despite the harmful effects.
“I think the fast fashion industry is terrible, yet I still buy from these brands anyway,” UO freshman and advertising major Bobby Helgager said. “The convenience and cheap cost as well as the amount of options they have make it very appealing. I try to thrift, but I can almost never find clothes that I like in my size.”
The debate on the subject is further complicated when considering people who rely on these products for their cheapness.
“I generally agree with those who are against the fast fashion industry, but like many others, I find it hard to make a sweeping statement against it,” UO sophomore Tricia Young said. “It offers a serious, viable option for people with lower income or accessibility issues to purchase clothing. So while it’s generally unsustainable and detrimental to our environment, it cannot be taken away without some sort of replacement for those who rely on it.”
We refer to this debatable industry as “fast” fashion for a reason — fast production, fast cycle of trends, fast decisions to purchase, fast delivery, fast wearing and fast decision to discard them. There is no question these products provide a good option for college students looking for affordable clothing on a low budget, but purchasing these products comes with knowing the downsides and the impact.