With rapidly changing styles and constant new trends, fast fashion has allowed consumers to constantly receive the instant gratification of a variety of styles for low prices. When new trends go as quickly as they came, fast fashion provides the convenience of being in style as soon as the next trend comes along, with no worries about the money spent on the last trendy piece in the closet. But when diving deeper into the “how” and “why” of fast fashion, consumers may see that it isn’t as glamorous as a first look may make it seem.

Through years of changing style, everyone wants to be keeping up with the latest trends. Fast fashion has allowed consumers to do so at a low cost. Or what seems to be a low cost. Behind closed doors, fast fashion has contributed to multiple controversies and economic issues. Within recent years, social media has sped up fast fashion and has led to consumers constantly buying the new and throwing out the month-old items. It is important for consumers to know what they’re buying and the impact they are making with these purchases.

Although social media and technology has increased the speed of trends, a version of fast fashion dates all the way back to the 1960s. Young consumers became more focused on trends rather than more traditional clothing older generations were concerned with. Designer Mary Quant also began designing clothes that could literally be thrown away after one wear because they were made of paper. The purpose for this was for young consumers in the 1960s to become more rebellious. The cheap clothing they were able to buy became a way for young people to show the older generation they were developing their own ways of doing things and expressing themselves. Younger people in the 1960s really began focusing on showing who they were through their clothing choices rather than following what was traditional. With the focus being on trends and self-expression, fashion companies had to figure out a way to keep up with these new demands. This led to the development of textile mills, which allowed companies to save millions of dollars. With countries like the U.S. using these textile mills, clothes became much cheaper and the tags that read “Made in the U.S.A.” became more and more rare to see.

Fast fashion did not really pick up speed, though, until the 1990s. During this time, it became more and more important for everyone to be following the weekly trends. It was in the 1990s that the term “fast fashion” was actually coined. The New York Times developed this term when describing the store Zara. Their goal was to get designs and pieces from the drawing table to instore merchandise in just 15 days. Once technology was introduced, fast fashion really took off.

Online shopping in the 1990s sped up fast fashion to crazy speeds. Consumers were able to use technology and online sites to peruse through new trends and clothing items being introduced by the latest celebrities. When someone laid eyes on something they wanted, they could easily look up the item online, and have it shipped to them within days. Technology, online sites, and celebrity magazines allowed consumers to see what was popular and what was not. What trend was out and what newest trend was in. Every consumer wanted the newest and best item. With the popularity of technology came the popularity of fast fashion.

When social media was introduced to the online world, fast fashion proved that it wasn’t slowing down anytime soon. In 1997, “SixDegrees.com”, a social media platform, was introduced to the online world. Now consumers weren’t just being influenced by well-known figures and comparing themselves to celebrities, but were now constantly faced with what the people around them were wearing and buying. The introduction of social media created a new reason for fast fashion. Consumers needed the same items trending that their peers had. No one wanted to be the odd one out. Kate Miller, a university student who claims to always want the latest fashion, stated, “On social media, I always saw the next best thing. After I had become up to date on the latest trend, I would go back to Tik Tok and see the next new trend that I needed to have. It was like a never-ending cycle, always wanting to have what was new.”

Kate mentioned how with a particular social media platform, Tik Tok, there seems to be a constant stream of new trends. Being able to see videos from all over the world, viewers are constantly seeing new trends and new fashion styles that are “in”. It allows people to connect with each other over shared styles and taste. Viewers are able to interact with one another over where they purchased an item. A newer aspect of the platform has been “dupes”, or duplicates, of products. Rachel Basinksi, an avid fashion enthusiast and Tik Tok user, says, “Dupes are the cheaper versions of expensive things. They’re more attainable. I always get dupes because I can save my money and they’re usually delivered faster than the expensive brands or small owned businesses. Tik Tok lets me see what the newest dupes are and how to buy them. It’s cheap and it’s easy.”

Tik Tok trends and dupes are contributors to fast fashion. Tik Tok trends circulate at extreme rates, with viewers continuously wanting the new things they are seeing on Tik Tok. Once an item or category of fashion becomes popular on Tik Tok, everyone wants it, and it tends to spread to other social media platforms. Fast fashion has allowed consumers to keep up with these fast-paced trends without people having to worry about how much they are spending. There have been many cycles of trends that have come and gone because of Tik Tok. These include “VSCO girl”, a summery type of fashion, “coastal granddaughter”, which consists of blue and white flowy clothing pieces, “Y2K style”, which is just the resurfacing of trends from the 2000s, and “ballet core”, where people dress how they would imagine ballerinas to dress. Many of these trends last, at most, a few months, before the next one is introduced and catches on. When one trend is over, many people find items relating to it at Goodwill bins or tossed in the trash. Mallory Russell, a university student who has been trying to contribute less to fast fashion, stated, “Many times when I am at thrift stores, like Goodwill, I find pieces from Shein that were tossed to the side after a certain fashion trend. Consumers are buying trendy pieces just to throw them in the trash after a couple wears. It’s a horrible habit.”

These fast-paced trends influence viewers to always be buying what they see online. When they see something new, the old gets thrown out. Mallory Russell has been a part of this cycle in the past. However, she has recently become more educated on the impact fast fashion really has on the earth. Although she knows she is not an expert by any means, she has slowly begun trying to start doing her part to make a difference and educate those around her. Russell says, “More and more within the past year I have been doing my best to encourage not only myself, but those around me to stay clear of stores and brands that contribute to fast fashion. I have really been trying to buy from small-owned businesses and thrift stores. Although small-owned businesses can be pricier, I try to buy pieces that I know are my personal style that I will wear for years to come. I know I can trust that they are good quality, well-made pieces. I am a college student, so obviously I do have a budget. When I am trying to be smart with my money, I often turn to resale shops and thrift stores. I often bring my friends along with me so I can influence them to turn away from stores that contribute to fast fashion. I just really want to do my part to help.”

Fashion trends through social media have become so attainable because of sites and stores like Shein. Other fast fashion contributors include Zara, Forever 21, and H&M. These stores allow consumers to quickly obtain the styles they want for extremely low prices. Many consumers don’t see the point in buying the expensive items from the original designers when they are able to have almost the same item for almost a quarter of the cost. However, continuously buying from these stores has extremely damaging effects. Some young consumers have become more and more aware of these effects and are trying to educate themselves further. Olivia Wilson, aspiring influencer, says, “Lately, I have been trying to learn more about the reasons why fast fashion brands are so cheap. The more I learn the less I want to buy from these places. As I learn the truth behind these fast fashion brands, it upsets me that I have purchased from them so many times.”

When looking deeper into fast fashion, many find that it isn’t as appealing as the instant gratification makes it out to be on the surface. In today’s world, consumers are typically buying over half more percent of clothes, but are wearing them for a fraction of the time. Over the past 20 years, fashion consumption has increased to over 80 billion new items of clothing each year. This is 400% more than what was bought 20 years ago. More consumption means more waste. With fast fashion, 85% of clothing ends up in landfills each year. Just the production of these trendy items has a lasting negative impact. One cotton shirt alone uses around 700 gallons of water. The leftover water from clothing production is usually dumped back into near bodies of water. This results in any dye from clothing being dumped into these bodies, polluting the water. The dyeing of textiles is the second largest cause of water pollution in the world. Not only is water being polluted by the dyes of these textiles, but the microplastics used to make the items of clothing are extremely harmful. Microplastics are tiny pieces of plastic that are nonbiodegradable, meaning they are unable to break down and largely contribute to pollution. Around 35% of microplastic pollution found in the ocean is due to textile production. The energy alone for turning plastic fibers into textiles is a harmful amount. It requires large amounts of petroleum and releases harmful acids. Kate Tsironis, a student at the University of Evansville, was shocked after hearing these numbers. “I just can’t believe so much harm can be done just because of a shirt I buy. I often buy things for a specific event, not knowing how much was done to the earth for that shirt or outfit. It makes me want to make smarter choices when I’m out at the mall now.”

The harmful impact of pollution is not the only downside of fast fashion. Oftentimes the work conditions of the people making these garments are worse than poor. 80% of clothing is made by young women aging from 18 to 24. These workers are also typically working extreme hours every day. The average is 14 to 16 hours a day, every day of the week. Their wages are also usually so low that they cannot afford to work anything less than these hours. Not only are they working inhumane hours for such little pay, but the conditions they work in are typically very unsafe. In 2013, an eight-story manufacturing building in Bangladesh collapsed. This resulted in 1,134 lives being lost, and almost 2,500 injured. These unsafe buildings usually have no ventilation, causing workers to breathe in the harmful microplastics every day. In countries with child labor laws not being reinforced, millions of children are also forced to work for the production of fast fashion. Many may wonder why this is being allowed when consumers are aware of these situations. Sadly, many companies and brands will do whatever it takes to keep costs low. Again, Kate Tsironis said, “Learning more about this is heartbreaking, but that’s what leads to change. Although it may be uncomfortable to hear because so many have contributed to fast fashion, it’s what leads to change. Hearing this information is inspiring me to tell others about it, and change my own shopping habits.”

After talking with Kate, she was very adamant to know what she can do to do her part to stop contributing to fast fashion. However, she brought up a fair point that many others like her share. “Most of the times I have bought from stores that contribute to fashion, it has been because I need to save money and not spend so much on one article of clothing.”

Because of constantly changing trends, the appeal of fast fashion comes from wanting to always be able to afford the next new thing. One of the easiest ways to help fight fast fashion is to be smart about what you buy and where you spend your money. Buying pieces that are true to your own style rather than fast paced trends allows pieces to be in your closet for a much longer amount of time. Try and buy pieces that you would get multiple uses out of. Avoid the items that would be worn once and then end up contributing to microplastics in the landfill. Try and be intentional with the items that will end up in your closet. Another easy way to combat fast fashion is by buying second hand. Resale shops and thrift shops are a great place to turn to for low prices. Mallory Russell, who has become more into thrifting recently, states, “It can honestly be so much fun thrifting. It allows me to be creative and style pieces in new and different ways. It gives me a sense of self.”

Buying from local stores is another beneficial way to avoid fast fashion. Shopping locally helps lower carbon emissions from shipping all over the world. It also helps support local businesses, which may be run by familiar faces. Natural and organic fibers in clothes are a great way to avoid microplastics. Sustainable brands also help care for the environment. Buying from these brands helps support the people that work to protect the environment. Olivia Wilson stated, “Really, I notice a difference in how I feel after making a more sustainable choice. When I used to order from Shein, I would feel almost guilty buying clothes. I had heard stories of controversy with sites such as Shein, but it wasn’t until I wanted to educate myself more that I felt better wearing the clothes I would buy from local and sustainable brands.”

Fast fashion has been around for years, but it’s time consumers start doing their part in putting a stop to it. It’s important that everyone does their part to start looking out for the earth and for other people. Mallory Russell says, “It started with me educating myself. It has turned into something I am proud of and look forward to practice. Fast fashion isn’t the only option to feel good about what I wear. Knowing I’m making smart decisions about what I wear makes me feel trendy all on its own.”

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