By Bridie Strowe-Bolger ’24
Remember when Lady Gaga wore her meat dress to the VMAs? We all know that what you wear makes a statement, whether it’s politically motivated, or just self-expressive. The clothes we wear also have a major effect on how we view ourselves, they make us feel things! Like when we find the perfect prom outfit, or when we try on clothes for summer break. But like most industries, the fashion industry seems to have warped into something no one can fully understand, but we know enough about its effects on the world to ask, is this worth it?
Fashion falls under such intense scrutiny these days. With the new availability of the Hunger Games franchise on Netflix, the creepy similarities between Panem and America are starting to go viral. The avant garde styles we see worn by those high society members at televised events are of a genre called ‘high fashion’. The existence of ‘high fashion’ indicates another end of that spectrum, ‘low fashion’. But what is ‘low fashion’? It’s not really a term, and for a good reason, given the social classes it generally caters to. but it goes by another name: Fast Fashion.
It’s essential that we acknowledge the correlation between fashion and social class. If wealthy people dress in high fashion, then it’s logical and realistic that people with less money would dress in fast fashion because of the way that section of the industry works.
The standard fast fashion company outsources labor, using crowded buildings in countries like India, Cambodia, Vietnam, China, etc. While this isn’t technically illegal, it contributes to human rights issues in foreign countries, and ignores the job shortage the US is already experiencing. And although not all fast fashion companies are US-based, their home countries are also most likely still experiencing some level of job shortage. But anyway, why do fast fashion brands feel the need to go outside their home countries? Because it’s cheaper.
Another damaging effect of fast fashion is actually seen in our oceans, but to understand why, we need to take a look at what fast fashion clothes are made out of. When you read this, take a look at your clothes, socks included. If you’re not wearing any form of plastic, come find me and I’ll give you $5, maybe that’ll be enough for an iced water at the Po. Plastic clothing comes mainly in the forms of polyester and nylon, and the way you can tell what you’re wearing without looking at the back label is to see if your clothes stretch. If they do, there’s plastic in the material. Now, the issue with plastic being in clothing is that we inevitably need to wash our clothes, and when we do, a bunch of those tiny plastic fibers will get mixed in with the water. And that water eventually gets drained back into our natural sources of water.
But fast fashion is so nice! We get new styles every month, and it’s cheap. The biggest customers of brands like Forever 21 and Urban Outfitters are in their twenties and lower, and while the clothing is designed to have a younger look and feel, the lower prices in fast fashion are mainly to blame. So when you sit in Tisch Auditorium, take a look at the students and faculty and see what they’re wearing and see if you’re surprised.
Fast fashion is arguably the most wasteful industry on this planet. Since its very purpose is being up to date with the latest trends, the leftover clothes from last month need to be moved to make room for the new items the companies feel they can sell faster, where do you think those leftovers go? Not to shelters or resale shops, but to landfills, over 60% of which are in the US. Next time you go shopping, try thinking about the process behind those clothes you’re about to buy. Where were they made? By who?
We can’t escape fast fashion immediately, but being aware about how your spending influences the world is a great way to start changing it!