Ethical Fashion

“Fast fashion is like fast food. After the sugar rush, it just leaves a bad taste in your mouth” (“Nini”). This phrase was preached by Livia Firth, who is the founder of one of the most renowned sustainable fashion brands, Eco-Age.

Reflecting on this quotation, one must think of the multiple options consumers have on the fashion industry as a whole. Fashion is a 2.5 trillion global industry and is one of the fastest growing industries in the world (“United States”). An extremely high percentages of the global population contributes to this industry, and all of these people are considered a fashion consumer. In the fashion market, there are two types of companies—fast fashion and sustainable fashion. In fast fashion, clothing items are made in an assembly-line manner, and companies are not hesitant to use toxic fabrics. On the other hand, sustainable fashion is almost always handmade, and designers use eco-friendly materials. Every time someone buys an article of clothing, they are contributing to one of these companies. The problem is that most consumers do not know what the main differences between the two industries are or what they are contributing to when they make their purchases. When making the decision to either buy from a fast fashion company or a sustainable one, there are many elements one must consider, being aware of the benefits not only for themselves, but the effects their decision will have on the world around them. Once that has been done, you, the consumer, should choose the only sensible choice, supporting and buying from a sustainable fashion company.

When choosing between sustainable fashion and fast fashion, individuals must consider their moral standpoint on this transaction. When buying from fast fashion companies, the consumer not only is uninformed about what to expect with their purchase, but also has no idea where this product comes from. These garments are made with cheap materials that will only last one, maybe three wears. Typically, after one too many washes, this item will rip or tear, making it practically unwearable. The material cannot stay in good condition, and the seams are sewn so poorly that, even at purchase, they are often falling apart.

These materials are made in large bulk quantities and are rarely crafted by artists. Instead, they are machine-made by highly underpaid workers. The materials used consist of non-renewable petrochemical textiles (Monroe). Fast fashion has increased the demand for these harmful textiles by 30 percent in the last ten years (“Fast Fashion”). Some of these materials include polyester, nylon, acrylic, and spandex which take up to eighty years to decompose in their inevitable location of a landfill.

These garments will be cheaply produced by exploited factory workers. Those who obtain these jobs will be exposed to unspeakable working conditions where workers’ rights are nonexistent. These conditions include the practice of administering severely low wages, outrageous working hours, child labor, no health and safety precautions, and extreme restrictions of freedom of association (Jahed, et al.).

On the opposite side of the spectrum, you have the production of sustainable fashion. When you buy from a sustainable fashion company, especially online, you can rest assured that the appearance and quality will almost always match your expectations. This item of clothing will be carefully handmade as well as be made of a much higher-quality material. This purchase item will last many wears and create a true staple piece in your wardrobe. Every single one of these garments will have a touch of the artist’s talents and assure consumer satisfaction. Additionally, the consumer knows exactly where the product and materials are coming from. These fabrics are hand-picked by the artist to ensure they are fibers from organic, recycled, repurposed, and upcycled materials. This careful decision is made by selecting materials with fewer chemicals, dyes, energy use, and waste. These items are also not created in bulk, but instead, crafted individually. As a consumer, when one looks at the moral standpoint, it is clear that buying from a sustainable source is the better option for oneself and the workers who produce them.

Another important factor to contemplate when choosing to buy will be the financial aspect of the purchase. Although the cost doesn’t typically reflect the quality of the product, you must think of how much you are willing to spend on their clothing items. There is going to be a seemingly much more affordable option when shopping and that option is to buy from a fast fashion company. These garments are going to be marked at insanely low prices that are targeted to impressionable buyers. Seeing these huge sales and prices that are almost too good to be true can be hard to say no to, considering that many buyers want the most out of their money and have a pretty low budget for their closet. Although purchasing from a sustainable source can be expected to be quite expensive due to the initial price-tag it can actually be cheaper than buying from a fast fashion company. There are two types of cost perspectives when purchasing a clothing item. One is cost upon purchase and another is cost per wear. Choosing to purchase sustainable fashion is going to give the consumer a long-lasting garment. This makes the overall cost of the product much lower. Now, when thinking of the fast fashion pieces, paying for a piece that will only last a couple of wears at a low price will only cause you to keep repurchasing similar items. These constant repurchases actually tend to add up to an initial cost that typically surpasses the initial cost of the sustainable fashion piece. This ethical purchase will also help the consumer save money in the long run.

The last component someone must consider when making this decision will be the effect it will have on the environment. Right now, the average consumer throws away about 70 pounds of clothing per year, and 13 million tons of textiles are discarded globally every year (“How Much Waste”). This landfill contribution causes objectionable odors and landfill gas that moves through soil and collects in nearby buildings (United States).

The production of these cheap clothes requires a low budget for fabrics. In order to get these materials as low priced as these companies buy fabric containing extremely toxic chemicals and dyes. These dyes are one of the biggest contributors to water pollution. Fast fashion factories such as denim factories are known for coloring the nearby rivers blue, and unable to sustain these harsh chemicals, the plants and animals alongside the river are killed off. Now not only are these companies polluting the waterways with harsh chemicals, but they are also responsible for 20 percent of the world’s water waste. Throughout the production of these garments the harsh toxins need to be washed excessively in order to get it shipping ready. Another negative is the factories’ contribution to greenhouse gas emissions. Researchers say that the fast fashion industry has a major part to play in contributing to climate change, making up over 10 percent of the world emissions of carbon dioxide and methane (“How Much Waste”).

The final major effect these fast fashion factories have on the environment is going to be the amount of plastic use. This is a harsh nonbiodegradable material that is commonly used for packaging. These companies also use plastic as thread to sew into their clothing.

Contrastingly, when buying from a sustainable fashion company the buyer can counteract these negative effects. Due to these clothing pieces being made of compostable materials they will naturally biodegrade into the soil without harming the environment. Another aspect will be the companies producing minimal carbon dioxide emissions. Because many of these items are made primarily by hand with minimal machinery, they are able to significantly reduce the amount of toxic emission into the atmosphere. Another positive would be the minimal amount of plastic, if any, used for packaging these sustainable garments. This means less water pollution and less damage to our environment.

When making a purchase, you should think about not just your fashion needs, but the needs of those this purchase will affect and how it contributes to the environment. You must consider where your moral standpoint is and whether or not you are ok with give their money to companies who practice poor working conditions and product production. When putting all of these aspects together you should choose to purchase from a sustainable fashion company because of its minimal effect on the environment, long lasting wear, and the morality one can internalize when making this decision. We need to come together and express human kindness, not just to our selfish decisions but to the world around them, because if they don’t, then there might not be a planet left to do so.

Abigail Hatfield

I am a first year Integrative Human Biology major at Stephens College. I am currently trying to build my confidence in my writing, and I hope publishing these essays will do just that.

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