The underlying cost of keeping up with fashion trends

Mia Lubrani | Staff Writer

Feb. 16, 2023

Shockingly, the average U.S. consumer throws away about 80 pounds of clothing every year.

That’s right, Americans toss the equivalent of a baby rhino away every year in clothing.

On the heels of the glamorous New York Fashion Week, there is a dark industry hidden in the underbelly of exploitation fueled by this attempt to mimic the trends we see on the runways.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), 85% of United States’ textile waste is either taken to the landfill or burned.

Shopping to follow the latest fashion or buy as many cheap options as possible often leads to excess clothing that goes to waste rather than Goodwill. The EPA also estimates that nearly 5% of U.S. landfill space is taken up by textile waste while the World Wildlife Fund estimates that 20% of global waste water is created through fast fashion.

It is important to keep in mind that waste is occurring when following the newest trends.

Everyone has a choice to either shop responsibly or fuel the darker method of clothes making.

When we open up our phones and begin searching for the cheapest option of the sparkly purse that one of the models is using, we often choose fast fashion brands without even knowing it.

So what is fast fashion?

Fast fashion is a non-sustainable and immoral labor practice to make trendy clothing at the lowest possible price.

Most brands that emit large volumes of clothes throughout the year cheaply are participating in the fast fashion method.

Constantly updating clothes to reflect the most recent fast fashion trends offers consumers the opportunity to constantly revamp their wardrobe for a fraction of a sustainable cost.

The low price tag sounds like a positive, but it leads to huge environmental waste. Numerous updates to trendy clothing means a huge amount of textiles are wasted and natural resources are depleted in this process of clothes making.

These clothes are often made poorly and only last about six months.

The way companies turn a profit and still offer low prices is by using immoral means of creating clothing. There is an ethical dilemma with buying clothes made through fast fashion because someone is being exploited. Often underpaying, using child labor and keeping employees in dangerous sweatshop environments, fast fashion brands import their clothing from locations with less regulations.

Many concrete examples of unethical practices stem from some of the top brands.

The Independent reported in 2018 that H&M failed to pay 850,000 garment workers a living wage in 2018. Also, many of the female workers in these garment factories are physically and sexually abused.

According to the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre, Zara, another worldwide clothes retailer, sources its clothing from sweatshops in Turkey, Bangladesh and Brazil where women and children are often underpaid and sexually abused. Zara customers have also found alarming messages in clothing that indicate forced labor.

A Bloomberg report verified Victoria’s Secret uses sweatshops in Bangladesh, Jordan and Sri Lanka.
In the majority these inhumane garment factories, women and children experience physical and sexual assault while receiving far below the minimum wage as set by labor laws.

There are endless examples of horrible fast fashion experiences that often confirm the exploitation and abuse of underpaid workers.

Buyers disregard the exploitation when they buy from these companies.

The more profit fast fashion brands make, the longer this problem will continue to increase.

As companies continue to turn a profit through the use of unethical garment creation methods, they will be more reluctant to ever change their ways.

In the face of the horrible impact fast fashion has on the Earth, consumers can and should do something about it.

When shopping online, do research about which brands use immoral methods of clothes creation. Oftentimes, the expensive places we want to shop, like Urban Outfitters, are just as expensive as ordering off a small business or website that ensures no fast fashion affiliation.

It is a lot more intriguing to wear a vintage piece of clothing from Esty or a rare sweatshirt you found from a small business in your town.

I often go to thrift shops, Esty, or depop before doing an internet search that often leads to a fast fashion company. Be sure to check out Southside’s Salvation Army, Da Hotbox, Highway Robbery Vintage, or Buffalo Exchange for local sustainable options.

Also, when traveling or in tourist areas there are usually small local shops that offer cute styles and ethical creation.

Some of the most well-known sustainable brands are Tentree, Organic Basics, Pact, Toad & Co, Reformation, Boody, Everlane and Thought.

Environmentally friendly clothing that also does not use sweatshops is much cooler than the oversized puffer coat everyone will have from Zara.