Pop culture since the early ’90s has always told me that in order to look and feel fashionable, I need three important ingredients: a huge wardrobe with every item of clothing imaginable, to leave the mall after buying multiple outfits with 10 shopping bags in each hand, and to spend an obscene amount of money just to buy that one perfect thing to “tie my outfit together”(even if it’s just a scarf or the last pair of boots in a sale). We all know just how damaging this practice can be to the environment now, with clothes in the landfill, in the ocean, fabric left unused in giant warehouses, the leather horrors, and animal cruelty that we can’t begin to unpack.
A little history of fast fashion, like all things in the world today, the industrial revolution led to its birth. Better technology led to mass production and cheaper resources eventually led to low prices of clothing. People are buying more clothes than ever in the course of recorded history, and there’s no means to recycle or dispose of the waste. We have been trying to make better choices when it comes to fashion and ethical purchasing. However, here are the reasons why fast fashion is so addictive, and why it is so hard to quit.
Cheap and convenient: Simply put, fast fashion is cheap, of average quality and quickly disposable. Its short lifespan makes it convenient to discard when to fashion trends disappear and it seems a good steal to the buyer. For example, spending 300 on a basic t-shirt at a fast-fashion retailer is much more reasonable than 900 rupees at an ethical store for an average consumer.
Fashion and class identity: The company “Not Just a Label”, published a 3-part series on how fashion is highly determined by social norms and should not be considered a trivial aspect of any culture. Fast fashion taps into this and brings high-end couture to the masses by mimicking and replicating fashion from major design houses. For a fraction of the price, most people would rather buy the fast-fashion version and rock couture on a budget.
Disposable income: Now that more people are working, there is more money to spend. However, people are also choosing to spend a greater portion of their disposable income on clothing and other fashion items, which is an incentive for the industry to grow bigger and expand itself. The consumers are buying more clothes in terms of quantity; however, the quality remains subpar. Shoes that were once considered a yearly investment can now be bought as often at the buyer’s discretion and the credit system helps takes spending on “luxury” items one step further.
Too much responsibility, not enough choice: the main issue a lot of consumers face is that it occupies the majority of the market in affordability and in quantity. A lot of us find it hard to locate ethical and affordable shops for clothing shoes and they are few and far in between. It’s simply easier for the consumer to buy a plain t-shirt from the first store they see, and the ethical store might charge them higher for a piece that serves the buyer with the same purpose.
Instant gratification: There’s an instant rush that hits you when it comes to buying a wide variety of things. The swipe of a card can bring a smile to your face or just the sheer amount of stuff you’ve bought. The popularity of haul videos and their long-lasting presence proves the psychology behind our binge purchasing habits. While fast fashion makes it seem like we get more bang for our buck, the sheer quantity we buy ends up turning a profit for the company and hurts us in the long run. The rush only turns into guilt sooner or later.
Trends and “Keeping up with the Influencers”: Fast fashion grew exponentially in the ’90s and brands soon started selling clothes that were trending for just a season. This quickly pushed clothes out of circulation and created more waste in the fashion industry. Another factor that created waste was the growing popularity of influencers and ambassadors, who endorsed products or inadvertently influenced the popularity of it. Influencers very easily sway the loyalty of their fan base to the companies and brands that they support or portray. Trends and influencers going hand in hand help fast fashion companies churn out pieces that they know the customer would love and buy without a second thought. False information is muddled into good packaging and fed to an unassuming audience, who is now a growing younger demographic, as young as pre-pubescent children.
Puberty, peer pressure, and teen movies tried to convince us we were all meant to be fickle buyers and now, pop culture that once drove us headfirst into fast fashion is trying to finally try to bring sustainability to the forefront. Fast fashion is highly unethical and exploitative of the environment, of its employees and deceives its consumers. There are more workers in the fashion industry since WWII, with a rise in female workers in “third world countries”. However, they do not have proper working conditions, nor are they paid enough for the work they do.
A social and systemic shift from a linear to a circular economy would bring a great change in the fashion industry and maybe remove fast fashion from the equation very easily. However, quitting Fast Fashion starts with the individual, and sustainability can be practiced within fast fashion as well from using items to its fullest extent and buying alternative items that do not feed into fast fashion.