Fast fashion threatens human rights and environment

Madison Diemert
Editor in Chief

With the environment becoming an increasingly worrying issue, there has been a huge change in the way people consume products and deal with their waste. 

Whether it be with metal straws (save the turtles!), reusable Starbucks cups or just recycling more often, people are becoming more conscientious. But there seems to be one thing many people don’t think about. 

Fast fashion is destroying our planet just as much as plastic straws are. That’s right— brands like Forever 21 and American Eagle are actively contributing to the huge amounts of waste that accumulate in our landfills daily. These brands are considered “fast fashion” because of the way their products are created, marketed and then ultimately phased out in favor for the next trend. 

Vox describes fast fashion as “cheap, disposable clothing, made indiscriminately, imprudently, and often without consideration for environmental and labor conditions”. The aforementioned brands and others similar to them do not make their clothing to last. Their products are incredibly thin and cheaply made, and as someone who has been caught in the trap of constantly buying from fast fashion brands to replace their own garments, I can attest to this. 

Brands choose to mass produce inexpensive clothing because it is cheap and easy for them, and their profit margin is still exceedingly high even when they sell t-shirts for $8. And once they pump out the “Show Me the Tacos” tees, they’re ready to thrust more cheap, trendy crap in our faces so we buy it, throw it away and buy more. The cycle never ends. 

You might still think tossing away your old clothes isn’t as bad as overusing plastic bags, but you’d be surprised to find that 60% of fabric fibers are now made of synthetic materials. These synthetic materials are derived from fossil fuels and when they end up in a landfill or the ocean, they’ll never break down or decay— just like your plastic bags. 

The New York Times’ article “How Fast Fashion Is Destroying the Planet” cites that 85% (about 11 million tons) of textile waste in the United States will end up in a landfill. Think about that for a second— just like all the plastic we are trying to rid ourselves of, the clothes sitting in our closets may also contribute to global emissions of methane. 

Not only do fast fashion brands harm the environment, they are also violating human rights. All those tops you bought from H&M had to be made by someone, and that someone is most likely an underpaid worker in an entirely different country. Many of these brands use large amounts of lead in their accessories and clothes, (which is dangerous for both the worker and the consumer) and other harmful chemicals or dyes. 

Just this alone jeopardizes their health, along with the long hours they must endure, the abuse they suffer by the hands of their employers and their lack of resources, such as food or access to bathrooms. They are expected to push their physical limits for these fashion brands, and oftentimes there are few other options for them to turn to in terms of employment. 

But, there is a way around this. Recognizing fast fashion brands and choosing to spend your money on more sustainable, environmentally (and human) friendly companies can cut down on the waste we amass (again, just like plastic!). But first, how do you recognize a fast fashion brand? 

First, if the company you’re thinking of buying from a multi-million dollar corporation that has stores all across the globe, it is most likely a fast fashion brand. Especially if their prices are incredibly low and the clothes look to be cheaply made. But, if you still can’t tell, check the materials and where the garment was made. 

Brands you’re buying from should be made from renewable materials, like linen, hemp, and silk, says Eluxe Magazine. They also cite that if a clothing brand says their products are made 

from recycled plastic bottles, stay away. The microparticles from these materials are not only harmful to yourself, but also the environment. These brands are not sustainable and are only adding to the problem. 

You should also be wary of anything that is made in another country. As stated before, many of these workers (who are located in places like China, Bangladesh, Taiwan, etc.) are underpaid, underfed and overworked. 

But if you are still not sure, Google can be your best friend. There are many sites, like Rank A Brand, that can aid you in your search for slow fashion. But it is understandable if these more sustainable brands are too expensive for you—especially those of us who are college students at MNSU. 

I personally choose to shop locally in Mankato, while also still checking the materials from which the garment is made. That can still be a little pricey, though, so I often thrift shop. There can still be harmful materials and dyes though, so watch out! 

By thrifting for your clothes, you are not giving your money to the corporations that made them, but the small business that resells them for over less than half the original price. Mankato is home to some of my favorite shops, such as Vagabond Village and AGAIN Thrift. 

There is also a huge community online through apps like Poshmark, Instagram and Depop where people sell their lightly used clothes that you can buy for a reduced price. This is handy when you don’t want to leave the house (especially with winter looming upon us). The only downside to this is the heavy shipping price that comes along with sending out packages through the U.S. Postal Service. 

Whatever you do, hopefully this article can inspire you to think critically about the fashion you consume and the companies you choose to support. Because although that top at Urban Outfitters might have only cost you $15, it only paid someone 15 cents and will ultimately end up sitting in a landfill for much longer than any of us are alive.

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