Let me be blunt. If you still happily support a fast fashion retailer while being aware of the destruction these companies have on our planet, as well as the human rights violations that occur to the industry’s workforce, I—for lack of a better word — can’t.
It was refreshing to see my Twitter feed filled with users denouncing the fast fashion store, H&M, after their racist sweatshirt was brought to the attention of Twitter. The Weeknd and G-Eazy separately announced they would discontinue working with the clothing retailer, but my question is: Did we all believe fast fashion companies like H&M were okay to support before this?
If you’re unfamiliar with this issue of fast fashion, allow me to briefly break down the monstrosity of these retailers, such as H&M, Forever 21, Zara, and Topshop. Consumerism increases when trends are consistently changing a few times per season, causing a decline in the quality of clothing. According to this Changing Markets report, H&M releases up to 16 trends per year compared to traditional fashion brands releasing only two new collections per year. Unfortunately, pairing dated trends with low quality means consumers are discarding more frequently, causing clothing to end up in landfills that are harmful to the planet while also making these retailers outsource production where workers are not protected and are pressured to produce at inhumanely demanding rates.
This past July, Buzzfeed News reported a spokesperson for H&M discussing the company’s effort to make their clothes more sustainable by setting a goal to, “achieve zero discharge of hazardous chemicals by 2020.” The pollution from these clothes is due to viscose, which is a manmade fabric with a similar appearance to silk, but it is cheaper and requires a process where pollutants enter both the water and the air. According to Newsweek, the Environmental Protection Agency reported that in 2012, 84% of unwanted clothes went into either a landfill or an incinerator. While this goal, as well as H&M setting up recycling centers, may have enacted hopeful conversation about the future of environmentalism and the fashion industry, this fails to address many other concerns regarding fast fashion.
I understand not everyone has the means to purchase wherever and whatever they please, but by giving these brands your dollar, you’re supporting the oppression of workers who are mostly young females who are 18-35 years old. I see this as an issue of intersectional feminism if our money is aiding in the exploitation of these mostly young female workers. We do not think of the faces who made the clothes we are purchasing from these retailers. We fail to recognize the dehumanization we contribute to with these workers as they are forced to work in hazardous conditions, receive an average of 1-3% of the retail cost, and be subjected to abuse. But we must start thinking this way.
Fashion Revolution is a movement that was formed due to the devastating industrial disaster at the Rana Plaza building in Bangladesh where 1,138 people died and another 2,500 were injured. The victims were mostly young women. The organization created the hashtag, #imadeyourclothes, enacting conversation around this issue and the lack of transparency that exists with our clothes. Start with typing this hashtag in your search bar, as I know you’re seconds away from going on social media anyway, and discover how flawed our fashion industry is and what we can do to change it.
I grew up in the town where Jenna, the popular girl from Greta Gerwig’s “Lady Bird” lives: Granite Bay. I acknowledge that I come from a privileged life, and for me, that privilege better be used to help our world. While I was against sweatshops after educating myself on the issue in high school, it took until my senior year at Chapman University when one of my professors led me to think about who makes my clothes for me to make a drastic change. I shamefully slid open my mirrored closet and assessed how I could do better. My best effort to not support Forever 21, H&M, Urban Outfitters, and a few other companies I ethically disagreed with, was well intact but two years ago, veganism catapulted my passion. I made the lifestyle change to go vegan for my health and it rapidly advanced into a conscious effort of minimizing the money I was giving to industries I do not support. This included the fashion industry. So, what did I change?
I have an incredible amount of gratitude for my mother and her impeccable style in the ‘80s and early ‘90s as many of her clothing items can now be found in my wardrobe. I wear her Superga shoes (a little too often) along with her red Ralph Lauren polo jacket. What I love about both items is that they have been in her wardrobe since before I was born, and they remain in great condition even after I’ve trekked all over California and New York. So, raiding the closets of your parents, grandparents, siblings, or anyone who will give you permission to, is a fun way to start incorporating new items that you don’t have to dish out any money on.
My fave – Flea markets! My apartment has slowly evolved into looking as if I am hosting my own ongoing trading post, but I wouldn’t change a damn thing about my spunky little home. I’m privileged to now reside in Los Angeles where the choice to buy local items or purchase secondhand clothing could not be easier as there are plenty of markets and thrift stores to adventure in. Buying local supports small businesses in your area as well as gives you a chance to learn where your items are coming from and who made them.
Support companies who make eco-friendly clothing. This is absolute fun to research and I’m damn fascinated and inspired by any company that exists for this purpose! Just this morning I discovered a small business through Instagram, Leze the Label, and I was overjoyed to see that their clothing was created from recycled bottles and coffee. Yes, these eco-friendly companies’ prices will be higher than fast fashion, but you’re helping the preservation of our environment, receiving higher quality items that have a much longer lifespan, and your purchases are not aiding in the exploitation of workers. A few other brands I’ve become a fan of through their websites are Alternative Apparel, Siizu, and of course, Reformation. (Tbh, Reformation is mostly out of my price range, but for when you want to splurge on an item to have for decades, I see it as an acceptable investment.)
It can be tough and time-consuming to abruptly adapt to these changes. What’s most important is to make small changes with the goal of becoming more of a conscious consumer over time. A few steps I recommend to start this week are:
1) Wash less often. It takes 2,700 liters of water to produce just one cotton t-shirt! Water usage in the fashion industry is only increasing, and the ability to recycle water is difficult due to the chemical pollution. Hand washing, machine wash with cold water, air drying, and wearing your items more than once are all ways to help.
2) Don’t purge your closets of fast fashion clothing only to have it end up in a landfill, aiding in the harm of our planet. The key here is to find recycling centers in your area or donate items to organizations that are transparent about where the clothing will end up. Fun tip: I recently started using old t-shirts as cleaning rags around my apartment.
3) It’s no secret eco-friendly brands are pricier, so, I recommend going to stores like Nordstrom Rack, Marshall’s, TJ Maxx to buy affordable, high-quality items that have a much longer lifespan than fast-fashion clothing. I always feel like I’m on a treasure hunt in these stores, so when I find a good deal it’s what I imagine finding a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow feels like!
I recognize this is overwhelming, but the time for change is now. Our dollar decides what direction the fashion industry can go for the good of humanity and Earth. Small alterations in your daily life can and will make a positive impact!