If you live in the 21st century, you have experienced firsthand the exponential growth of "fast fashion": new, affordable clothing trends that debut every week. Sound familiar?
Fast fashion giants Fashion Nova, Charlotte Russe, and Forever 21 are few of the many familiar corporations focused on pumping out as many products as possible on a large volume, low quality, low price business model. To us consumers, the temptation to dress well for cheap is much too strong to deny. With cheaply made clothing that doesn't last after a few washes, we are enticed go back for more — it's not a major strain on our wallets and new fashion trends are always on the rise anyway. The long-term issue is that the only party that benefits from fast fashion is the industry itself.
Our money is what fuels the industry that allows the majority of its products to be made by women, most of whom begin working long hours in textile factories by the age of 14 and earn "less than $3 a day" according to Forbes. There are 75 million young women and children who are trapped in a life of poverty in making our clothing. Because fast fashion industries want to keep product prices as low as possible, they avoid expenses by compromising on employee safety and human rights.
Fast fashion is especially taxing on our environment and health. With clothing being mass produced as cheaply as possible, there are chances your clothing contains toxins such as harmful chemicals, dyes, and even heavy metals including lead, cadmium, and mercury — all of which have been connected with damage to the nervous system among other effects. The Center for Environmental Health provides evidence of brands such as Charlotte Russe, Forever 21, and Wet Seal producing items contaminated with lead despite agreeing to regulate the use of toxins in their products. There is no safe amount of exposure to toxins such as lead; it can cause an array of health issues including infertility, risks of heart attack or stroke, and birth defects.
These same toxins that are manufactured into your clothes also end up polluting the environment. Once a t-shirt or dress falls apart after a few washes, we find that we are not able to donate them because they are not in good condition, so we throw them away. Now imagine the vast following fast fashion brands have cultivated — millions of people regularly purchase this clothing and then find themselves throwing it away when it is unwearable. Every year, the average person discards almost 70 pounds of clothing, which ends up in landfills. The synthetic materials this clothing is made up of isn't biodegradable, hence any chemicals, dyes, and toxins present seep into the environment and cause irreversible damage.
There are various alternatives to shopping that are more environmentally healthy and don't encourage the disregard for human and employee rights in the workforce, such as thrifting and buying from local businesses. We must be conscious consumers to diminish the strain that fast fashion puts on women, our health, and the environment.