Ethical Implications of Fast Fashion

By Alex Furmansky

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Today, we live in an enormously consumerist, materialistic, and capitalistic society where the buyer is extremely distanced from the manufacturing process of the goods that they buy. According to Audrey Stanton’s article in “The Good Trade,” “Fast fashion uses trend replication, rapid production, and low quality materials in order to bring inexpensive styles to the public. Unfortunately, this results in harmful impacts to the environment, human well-being, and ultimately our wallets.” One prominent example of the ethical implications that contribute to fast fashion and mindless spending is the countless companies that still incorporate animal testing into their business. Several makeup companies are, unfortunately, not cruelty-free, and neither are most retailers. 

While shopping at secondhand shops has gained popularity, many people still contribute to extremely unethical businesses unintentionally. When I think of fast fashion, the first stores that come to mind are Forever 21, H&M, and Urban Outfitters. Many stores found at a large commercial shopping center are more than likely wildly unethical.

Simply educating yourself on which brands are actually ethical is an easy trick for making sure you are not contributing to rampant unethical practices in the fast fashion world. Sometimes, you can clearly find this information on a brand’s website. However, when the information is a bit more hidden, there are apps, like Good On You, that exist to provide quick and easy access to information regarding the ethical practices of virtually any brand. The big name brands will 100 percent be available on the app. I have, however, input brands that are smaller and not as well-known that did not show up; that is when the consumer has to take it upon themselves to ensure their money is going somewhere ethical.

Another extremely relevant example of unethical purchasing is the Coachella Valley Music Festival. Coachella itself is not necessarily “fast fashion,” but it is guaranteed that many of the festival-goers sport looks entirely selected from fast fashion retailers. It is a significant representation of mindless spending; many people buy tickets to this festival not even considering what, or more specifically who, their money is going to. It is now a well-known fact that the right-wing co-founder of Coachella donates millions of dollars to anti-LGBTQ+ programs, as well as pro-life and pro-gun causes. That seems to rarely—if at all—crosses anyone’s mind. I personally can’t imagine someone having that thought process and still conceding to purchase a ticket. 

Fast fashion affects so many people, but since consumers, especially in America, are incredibly distanced from the people manufacturing their clothes, they cannot see the direct impact their careless spending has on other cultures and lives. When you look at your clothing tags and they read, “MADE IN INDONESIA,” “MADE IN CHINA,” or “MADE IN VIETNAM,” just to name a few, you can be sure that there is a child who is essentially a sweatshop slave creating this cheap garment. People will continue to buy these garments because they are so cheap and accessible, and this further guarantees that the child is doomed to this lifestyle.

Shannon Whitehead Lohr stresses the fact that beads and sequins are especially indicative of child labor.  Lohr is just one example of someone offering companies the ability to be sustainable and successful. Her company, Factory45, is “an online accelerator program that takes sustainable fashion companies from idea to launch.” This concept, similar to Good On You, is just one of the few opportunities working to encourage people to pursue a sustainable company. Fast fashion companies do not have to be fast fashion; they choose to make their products through these channels. 

There are alternative solutions to help companies become more sustainable. The more people who realize what kind of condition the world is in and how much we all need to work towards change, the closer we will be to taking part in a more sustainable lifestyle. The fashion industry should not be an exception. It is possible to incorporate ethical practices and cater to a large audience simultaneously. It is not easy, but it is possible. The change starts with you.