Artwork by Charlie LaMountain
A St. Mary’s girl is scrolling through a website on her computer when a pop-up ad to one of her favorite fast fashion stores, Forever 21, makes its way unto her screen. Instead of continuing to read the assigned article, she decides to click on the ad because she sees a shirt she could wear to this Friday’s football game. She immediately buys the flower-covered Hawaiian shirt because it matches with the game’s theme. That Hawaiian shirt may only be five dollars and serve its purpose for the night, but she never realizes the harsh realities behind the making of that shirt as it inevitably gets buried in the back of her closet after that one night.
Fast fashion stores like Forever 21 keep up to date with trends by manufacturing inexpensive clothing through rapid production. Of course consumers are not to be blamed completely for the negative effects of fast fashion — marketing entices customers with the low prices and trendy styles. Many of these clothing stores that we purchase new clothes from are involved in fast fashion whether we are aware or not.
Many of fast fashion workers include children that are forced to work and leave behind attending school to gain a proper education. In addition, formal reports have indicated that workers, particularly females, have been exploited and mistreated in ways such as forced overtime, poor work conditions, physical abuse and sexual harassment. Lunch or bathroom breaks are a rare sight because they are not legally mandated in some factories, and supervisors force the workers to continue focusing on their job. Numerous workers are afraid of disclosing these abuses in fear of getting “blacklisted”, losing their jobs and other factories’ being unwilling to hire them.
Fast fashion produces negative consequences not only for its workers but also for the environment. Certain fabric fibers that form the clothes — about 60 percent are synthetics derived from fossil fuels — lead to greater waste because they are unable to decay over time. In fact a garbage truck of clothes — 2,625 kilograms — is burned or taken to a landfill every second.
Fierce competition among major clothing brands and clever marketing tactics have led to the overproduction of clothes which produces all of this waste. Over time, the development of technology has allowed for advertisements to be seen more frequently. Now clothing ads are displayed on computer and phone screens instead of solely existing on billboards. More ads mean more customers spending more money on more environmentally harmful and unethically produced clothes.
However, recent events have shown that fast fashion may not be sustainable for companies either. Forever 21 announced on Aug. 28 that it will file for bankruptcy, despite having generated 4.4 billion dollars in revenue.
Lily Van Brocklin (12) explained her dislike for fast fashion and the alternatives she’s found.
“I believe fast fashion is very bad because there is so much waste that goes into that industry, so I try to not shop at those places,” she said. “Instead, I shop at thrift stores, depop, and even Etsy, which has great vintage things that not too many people are aware of. I found my prom dress when I walked into City Thrift one day and started looking through the dresses. One of those dresses was love at first sight, and it only cost about 20 dollars.”
Bennett Vaughan (12) claims, “I have never been to Forever21 before, and I am very bad at shopping because I am a picky shopper. I was talking to my pal Lily Beasley, and she offered to take me shopping to go to the big sale.”
Despite deciding to try out the store, Vaughan was conflicted. She said, “I watched a documentary on Netflix and Forever21 was highlighted but I did not know the specifics.The documentary also mentioned H&M and Zara which made me begin to think about other fast fashion brands that I am unaware of. I felt bad checking out, I don’t think I will be going back.”
Fast fashion brands’ amazing affordability comes at a great price: the rise of landfills filled with clothes only used a couple of times. While buying cute and cheap clothing can seem fulfilling, in the grand scheme of the world it has been proven otherwise. Behind the St. Mary’s girl’s stylish Hawaiian shirt is an exhausted worker that barely gets any pay or breaks in a sweatshop and a load of clothing being thrown in a landfill.
Next time a football game or similar event arises, we can do as Van Brocklin suggests and buy a piece of clothing from a thrift store or from the brands that follow ethical work practices to produce their clothing. As consumers, we can choose what kinds of practices we support by shifting our purchasing to these ethical stores to stop the devastating practices of fast fashion.
For & By Students
Our website videos were made in partnership with St. Mary's video-making publication, Bella Vista.
Click on the author or artist's name to view more of her work!
HAVE AN ARTICLE IN MIND?