For the last six months or so, I haven't stepped foot into a Forever 21, which has definitely not been easy. Their store has so many choices at really low prices, but I found myself opting to go to different stores instead. This was the result of learning of the ethics of their brand, what kinds of production exactly allows them to make their clothes so quickly and sell them at such low prices.
Not only this, but when considering the recent Kim Kardashian Missguided scandal, and the original designers that may not be getting credited or just ripped off by these brands, I found it difficult to want to put my money towards brands that capitalize on purely current trends and not original ideas or trying something different. As a college student, fast fashion is so tempting and seems like the best option out there. However, I want to go through my own ways of avoiding these brands as best as I can, and maybe try and convince you to do the same.
So what exactly is some of the background behind fast fashion brands? At the forefront of my own personal issues are labor practices, which are far from ethical in order to create products that are extremely cheap and can be made quickly in order to fit current trends. This article posted by Green America outlines the kinds of exploitation and abuse workers at the outsourced factories for these stores' producers face, particularly women workers.
There is also the sustainable aspect of the clothes these fast fashion brands sell, that is how environmentally unfriendly many of the clothes from these brands can be. According to this post by the UAB Human Rights Institute, 15.1 million tons of textile were created in a single year. This is due to the cheap materials of the clothing making them more likely to be ripped or damaged, which makes it unlikely a person will donate them to a second hand store.
There is also the copyright aspect of fast fashion, which is often overlooked. This Vox article on Kim Kardashian's lawsuit against Miss Guided goes into much better detail than I can. But, the main gist is that copyright laws within the United States do not protect fashion designs, which make designs of all kind fair game. The goal of most of these fast fashion brands is to make available the styles celebrities like Kim Kardashian wear to average consumers at a reasonable price. The dress that set off the Kardashian lawsuit was a vintage designer dress probably worth thousands, while the fast fashion version could go for as low as twenty dollars. While I don't want to knock brands trying to make fashion more affordable for people, I do have an issue with the whole concept of just straight up ripping off designs instead of maybe adding to them or building up on them. There is a desire for almost exact replicas, but I feel like artistic integrity needs to start to be considered as well.
I don't want to just flat out attack brands like Forever 21 or Missguided, because I think some of them make an effort to create original designs and overall be more sustainable. I know that Boohoo.com and Fashion Nova have both worked on capsule collections with different celebrities and for different causes with what I would say are genuinely original and different ideas, and H&M is the store I've seen most visibly working towards being more sustainable with a clothes recycling incentive and a whole line of sustainable clothing. These brands have definitely felt the backlash that comes with less than ethical means of production, and they're making genuine efforts to overcome them while still being affordable.
I think the best effort that anyone can make when it comes to being more sustainable with clothes is taking the best care of them you can. If we reduce rebuying clothes it puts less money into pockets of brands that don't funnel it towards better working conditions for their producers or towards worthy causes like our environment or other forms of activism or charity. Buying a T-shirt isn't something you should feel bad about, but when buying from these brands, make sure it's something you're actually going to get regular use out of and that you can make last.
A similar step to take is to just stop buying too many clothes in general. As someone who also loves shopping, I know this isn't easy, but when your closet is already packed to the brim, and you're still browsing, it's time to take a breath and walk out the store. Finding new ways to style your old clothes is actually super fun, and if you have the crafting prowess, altering or reworking your clothes is definitely a must try.
When it comes to shopping options, I don't want to entirely discourage shopping at these stores, but there are other options. I have to admit I still go into H&M frequently, though I try to stick to their sustainable line to the best of my ability. The best alternative is definitely thrift stores or vintage shops. I love vintage clothing, and it's definitely become a huge trend these last few years, so these are great options with similar price tags. If you don't love used clothing, however, there are plenty of small businesses online and within your area who are generally more visible with their production practices and where they source labor and material from, who may fit your style perfectly.
As a college student, it's definitely not easy to not want to buy from these kinds of brands because their clothes are genuinely trendy and within our budget, but trying to cut back on how much money we give to them is a really solid effort I think we can all take. While not buying from these stores is near impossible for pretty much all of us, I think it's always important to remember the stories behind the clothes we're looking at.
There is no one brand that is entirely ethical or sustainable yet, and that's just a fact of production and industry. However, in putting our money towards those that are at least making an effort, or who have created styles or fashion ideas we love, we can definitely help contribute to making the whole industry more positive for those who work in it and the environment in general. There are a lot of brands out there who are trying to make a positive difference and so many alternatives to those who are not, so let's throw our hard earned money towards their clothes and also their cause.