Balenciaga’s Fall/Winter 2022 fashion show briefly sparked controversy when a model appeared on the catwalk donning a $1,790 trash bag. But while the wastefulness of this stunt was unusually egregious, it’s nothing new to the luxury fashion world. Luxury fashion brands are known for their garish and mercurial trends. Additionally, fast fashion conglomerates such as Zara, Fashion Nova and Shein have started to cheaply emulate these trends to a wasteful new level.
Luxury and fast fashion brands are guilty of fueling trend cycles that prioritize profit margins at high human and environmental cost. The emissions emitted during production and the fuel needed to transport the products result in an exorbitant environmental cost for garments that we often use once or twice, or not at all. A University of Arizona study reveals that fast fashion is the second most environmentally damaging industry, contributing 10% of total carbon emissions and 20% of global wastewater. In addition to pollution, the United States also dumps 11.3 million tons of clothing waste annually, much of which was fast fashion purchased in line with trends set by luxury fashion.
Clothing collections are traditionally released at the start of each season, but this trend has drastically diminished with the introduction of e-commerce stores like PrettyLittleThing and H&M. It has been reported that Zara releases 24 collections a year, and H&M follows closely behind with 16. Internet fads desperate to sport the new look. . The surge in microtrends on the internet is driving users to browse aesthetics as quickly as possible, leading to the creation of “Tik Tok Trend Trackers” that track the latest trending cycle. Countless trends have run wild on TikTok, starting with the year 2000, the flirtatious aesthetic, the dark university, the cottage-core and, more recently, the “clean-girl” aesthetic. All of these trends have piled up in landfills almost as quickly as the aesthetic has appeared online.
The human cost of the fast fashion companies’ continued takeover of the fashion industry is high, including labor rights violations and exploitative labor practices. Shein workers are forced to work 18 hours a day, 7 days a week, with only one day off per month. A single mistake at these Chinese factories can result in a fine of up to two-thirds of a worker’s daily wage, which Shein says violated their company’s code of conduct. In a factory, workers are only paid four cents for each item they produce. This operation allows Shein to produce huge volumes of garments; a survey by The Public Eye found that Shein lists nearly 10,000 articles on its website daily. Instead of valuing human lives, fast fashion companies continue their downright abusive practices – doing everything to buck trends and entice customers to buy.
Sooner or later, every piece of clothing ends up either in a thrift store or in a landfill. The speed at which mainstream clothing is overtaken by the trend cycle and then phased out almost as quickly as it is purchased is appalling. Companies like H&M, American Eagle and Shein have tried to address climate concerns. In particular, Shein recently launched its reselling platform, Shein Exchange. However, the speed of microtrends can render the exchange platform useless if Shein does not reduce the amount of inventory they produce, which can be as much as 100 items for each of their 600,000 products on their storefront.
While Shein’s negative impact is undeniable, it’s also important to hold other companies accountable. The fast fashion range includes Wish, Fashion Nova, H&M, Zara, Forever 21 and Boohoo, among others. While sources like news articles, environmental organizations, and even TikTok can expose fast fashion brands undercover, customers shouldn’t rely on these sources to tell them when a brand is unethical. fashion. Incredibly low prices, a large number of offers, a rapid rotation of product availability, a lack of commercial transparency and cheap fabrics should all tell consumers that the company is probably an exploitative fast fashion machine.
Fast fashion is littered with unethical practices, but the luxury brands that inspire their products are no less guilty of fostering overconsumption and harming the environment. For example, between 2013 and 2018, Burberry burned $28.6 million worth of unwanted products to avoid underselling them, force scarcity, and maintain a veneer of prestige. After public backlash, Burberry ceased this practice. Unfortunately, this is also common with brands such as Chanel and Louis Vuitton. High-end brands should be held accountable, as Burberry was, for their unethical practices and alternatives to their business models should be explored.
Companies deserve criticism, both through social media advocacy and through legislative initiatives. Many countries deal with fashion ethics through their own legislation, such as France, where companies will be required to include the specific climate impact of each garment on its label, the details of which are to be determined by the French government.
However, solutions to these problems must also involve individual consumers. Companies provide products, but consumers provide and maintain demand for the business model to succeed. While examples like French legislation provide hope for the future, we as fashion-conscious students should be responsible for engaging in the many concrete opportunities that exist to fight back. For example, students can buy second-hand clothes from the Thrifthouse online marketplace. It’s a great way to refresh a wardrobe without becoming complicit in fast fashion. At Emory University, the Clairmont Thrift Shop is a place for students to donate and trade in used clothing. For the more creative, Crochet Emory also organizes workshops to learn how to make your own clothes.
Resisting the exploitation of the fast fashion industry doesn’t have to mean constant thrift shopping and tailoring. Rather than reinventing our wardrobes every month, it’s time to destigmatize re-wearing clothes. It doesn’t have to be boring – the pieces can be styled in countless ways and as part of different outfits. Plus, instead of trying to follow trends, we can develop our own individual, signature styles. Turn this vicious cycle into a virtuous one – reuse, reuse or buy sustainably, and the fast fashion industry will have one less person to fuel its abuse.
Sustainable consumption pathways leave room for maneuver – although it is not the responsibility of individuals to stop climate change or human rights abuses, it is advisable not to ignore what we are on we have control. Hold legislators accountable by supporting causes like the Center for Sustainable Fashion and focus on your individual impact. Whether it’s avoiding unethical brands like Shein, learning to sew, exploring new thrift stores in Atlanta, or simply choosing to buy less, we can resist the exploitation of the fast fashion market and reclaim the freedom of intentional consumption that so many brands have denied us.
The editorial above represents the majority opinion of Wheel’s editorial board. The editorial board is made up of Isabelle Bellott-McGrath, Rachel Broun, Evelyn Cho, Ellie Fivas, Marc Goedemans, Aayam Kc, Elyn Lee, Saanvi Nayar, Shruti Nemala, Nushrat Nur, Sara Perez, Ben Thomas and Kayla Robinson.