Fast-fashion is extremely cheap clothes from mass retailers, also produced cheaply, and often in sweatshops. It’s an easy way to have trendy new outfits at lower prices, but can have devastating environmental repercussions and labor problems.
Problems with fast fashion
Fast fashion can be made so cheaply and quickly because of the unsafe, careless conditions in which it is made. In the early 2010's for example, there were several factory fires in Bangladesh that led to the deaths of over a thousand workers.
"Though an increasing proportion of factories in Bangladesh are purpose-built, hundreds of older units are found in converted residential buildings. Often these lack adequate fire escapes, alarms, first aid or fire-fighting equipment. Many produce clothes for sale in the west."
Environmental consequences of fast fashion
Another problem with fast fashion is the pressure to quickly put out trendy new designs. Fast fashion designers seemingly have no time for originality, and often steal their work from other designers. Diet Prada, an instagram account that tracks design ripoffs,
offers plenty of examples of designers ripping off other designers.
When huge retailers like Zara and Urban Outfitters steal designs from independent designers, the imbalance of power makes plagiarism far more egregious. Urban Outfitters is notorious for taking designs from independent artists.
The time pressure of releasing the latest fashions at a breakneck pace not only limits originality, but doesn't seem to allow for cultural sensitivity. Urban Outfitters was also sued by the Navajo nation for using their tribe's name to sell underwear and flasks with quasi-"tribal" patterns, profiting in an unlicensed and disrespectful way.
There are many instances of fast fashion retailers selling clothes in a way that is racist, sexist, or culturally insensitive. For instance, H&M's advertisement of a black child model wearing a sweater that said, "Coolest Monkey in the Jungle", invoked (deliberately or not) racist epithets frequently directed at black people. When Urban Outfitters sold red-stained Kent State University sweatshirts, it seemed like a clear and tasteless reference to the Ohio university where students were killed for protesting the Vietnam War. Even if these choices aren't
intentionally offensive, they are hurtful and reflect carelessness and a lack of sensitivity.
Alternatives to fast fashion
One great way to mitigate the environmental impacts of fast fashion is by buying secondhand clothes. Find a great thrift shop in your neighborhood. That way, you're saving money, buying clothes that are being reused
rather than sent to a landfill. It's also a good way to add some uniqueness to your style.
Thrifting isn't as convenient as buying clothes online, but with a little practice and strategy, it's highly worthwhile.
- Patience is key, since you often need to browse through racks of clothing to find something suitable.
- Stay away from Salvation Army if possible, since it donates its proceeds to homophobic hate groups.
- Make thrifting a social activity - bring a friend to make the browsing more fun, and so if you can confirm if an article of clothing is fun and unique, or just ugly.
- Check out more tips on this Reddit thread.
Secondhand clothing is great, but fortunately there are many sustainable brands that you can purchase new clothing from with a clearer conscience.
Stardust-Startups & Sustainable Fashion
In Fall 2016, Stardust awarded a micro-grant to Unfold, a wallet company based in Mbale, Uganda. Produced in Uganda with local fabrics by Ugandan tailors, the wallets are intended to benefit the craftspeople who make them and the surrounding community.
In Spring 2016, we accepted a proposal from The All Watch, an initiative created by Joslyn Richardson where she interviews people about their perceptions of time, collect the interviews and make them available within a searchable database, and to make individual perceptions of time physically tangible by handcrafting beautiful wearable 'watches'. Stardust gave her a micro-grant to help develop sustainable leather
Other brands include Everlane, Brixtol Textiles, Paloma Wool, Christy Dawn, Patagonia, Altar PDX, and Eileen Fisher, as well as some others that you can check out here.
Good On You is also a great resource for evaluating the ethical and environmental impacts of brands, so that you can decide if an article of clothing is a good investment.
Asking more from retailers
Sustainable clothing lines and thrift shopping are good ways to avoid the epidemic of fast fashion, but they aren't a perfect solution. Some of these brands are very expensive, and need to be more size
inclusive. Thrift shopping is a great way to be environmental, but requires time that not everyone has, and also only offers a limited selection of items.
Don't feel bad if you can't immediately become a thrift shopper, or switch to only buying sustainable fashion. What we can all do, is call major retailers out for labor violations, stolen/offensive designs, or outrageous waste. We can also take inspiration from Marie Kondo's new Netflix show, and try to accumulate only things we need, that "spark joy".
Thank you for reading!