The truth about fast fashion—and what to do about it

Think about your closet—or about that last trendy piece you added to your shopping cart.

Chances are a good chunk of what you wear is fast fashion. And tbh, we don't blame you: Maybe watching your fave influencer do Shein hauls is giving you major FOMO. Maybe you want to keep up with all your IRL friends who somehow never repeat a look. Or maybe you just heart how you can buy a whole outfit from a fast-fashion store for the same price as one item at a more sustainable biz.

But here's the thing: Fast fashion has a whole lot of downsides...and you're probably not hearing the full story.

What the heck is fast fashion?

Fast fashion is a business model that many famous clothing retailers (like Shein, Zara and H&M, just to name a few) use to make as much money as possible.

Brands are "fast" when they're constantly putting out new clothes to stay on trend—instead of dropping a few collections a year the way a "slow" fashion brand would.

How can fast fashion brands afford to produce new clothes constantly? That's where things get pretty shady.

Instead of making clothes from high-quality materials and paying their employees fairly, fast fashion companies use cheap, synthetic fabrics like polyester (aka plastic) and exploit the labor of their factory workers. This keeps production costs low (translation: they can make their clothes wayyyy cheaper). 

But remember: Fast fashion isn't really as "affordable" as you think it is. Whether it's the sea animals being suffocated by fast-fashion waste that pollutes the ocean or the factory workers being paid below a living wage, fast fashion isn't an industry with zero victims.


The myth of "cheap" clothes

As a shopper, you're a victim too. If you buy a lot of fast fashion, think about your clothes. How long do they usually last? How often do you have to re-buy a skirt that lost its shape in the wash, or a tee that got holes in it after a few wears?

Even though fast fashion clothes might be cheaper per individual item, the cost adds up when you have to keep re-purchasing low-quality clothes that always fall apart.

But if you invest in more sustainable pieces over time, you'll be spending less $$$ in the long run. (When your wardrobe is better quality, it lasts way longer!) As the saying goes, buy nice or buy twice.

Be a part of the solution

When it comes to fast fashion's environmental waste and labor abuse, the companies making the clothes are 100% at fault. But if we want to be part of the solution instead of the problem, we need to take our personal shopping habits into our own hands, no matter what our friends or famous influencers are doing.

"We all have that ingrained need and desire to belong," says Shakaila Forbes-Bell, fashion psychologist and bestselling author of Big Dress Energy, but you should still "think about what your beliefs are" when you shop.

Gen Z is the generation of climate concern and standing up for the marginalized—we shouldn't forget those values over trendy clothes.


Want to start discovering your personal style? Shakaila advises using apps like Pinterest to create a moodboard for your taste, then downloading resale apps like Vinted or Depop. "You don't have to buy much," she says. "Understand what you like." Secondhand clothes are the most ethical and environmentally form of slow fashion, because they prevent older clothes from becoming waste in landfills. (Also, vintage clothes are super cute!)

There are also some fashion brands out there that keep their impact in mind from the get-go:
👗 AYM is a UK-based brand with the cutest basics made from breathable bamboo fabric.
👗 Quince is all about making high-quality fashion super affordable.
👗 The Standard Sitch is an L.A.-based brand that prioritizes organic and recycled materials.
👗 Reformation rules the summer sundress game.

Whether you choose to shop secondhand or want to start checking out sustainable brands (and if all you can do rn is hold on longer to the fast fashion you already own, that's OK too), you're making a difference. The entire fashion industry won't stop its shady practices overnight, but you always have the ability to stop participating. Change starts with one person!

For more style inspo, follow us on Instagram @girlslifemag!

Top image: @ourplanet_eu
Slider image: @sheinofficial


by Hana Tilksew | 6/16/2024