A/N: I wrote this for our school's newspaper. I am in the midst of reevaluating my shopping decisions, and am attempting to find stores that endorse social and environmental conscientiousness. While I don't personally shop at Forever 21 or H&M, there are still stores I do shop at--such as J.Crew, Gap, and Madewell--that outsource their labor. :( --Sarah
While stores like Forever 21 are popular for their cheap prices and on-trend styles, you should certainly reconsider shopping there. Stores like Forever 21, H&M, and, to a lesser extent, Zara—called venues of “fast fashion” due to their clothing’s throwaway quality—are harmful to human rights, the environment, and the economy.
In many cases, imported clothing is made in China or third world countries where labor laws are nonexistent. Workers toil away for long hours in poor conditions, and are denied a living wage. By purchasing products made in these conditions, you are merely aiding in these people’s further enslavement to factories.
Fast fashion corporations are also detrimental to the environment. An article published last year in China Daily spoke of the immense water pollution due to textile manufacturers. Garment production is now the third-largest water polluter in China, producing 2.5 billion metric tons of sewage in 2010. Sadly, China’s fines for abusing the environment are lower than the cost of creating more responsible methods of production. This is a huge deal, considering fifty percent of all textile production currently has its roots in—you guessed it—China.
Since fast fashion—as well as many other products these days—are mostly produced overseas, our nation’s economy is greatly suffering. In this day and age, jobs are simply in much lower abundance here in the US. After all, why would companies pay more to employ their own country’s citizens when it is so much cheaper to employ someone else’s? With jobs in high demand and a low supply of available positions, many workers in the US are struggling to make ends meet.
So what can you do? Instead of buying cheap, trendy thrills, you should consider buying vintage, secondhand, or previously worn clothing. By doing so, you extend the clothing’s lifespan and prevent it from going to landfills. Added bonus: you’ll also have unique pieces that aren’t currently clothing the backs of the teenage hordes. You should also save up your money and buy more sustainable clothing: it may seem more expensive at first, but many designer brands such as J. Brand, James Perse, and AG Jeans are manufactured in the United States, and supposedly last longer. In my experience, buying from each of these brands has proved to be a prudent investment; their timeless craftsmanship lasts much longer than fast fashion’s cheap trendiness. At the very least, you’ll be supporting your own nation’s economy and providing jobs for other American citizens.
There are multiple sites and brands like Roozt, prAna, and shopwithmeaning.org that promote awareness and support social/environmental responsibility. You can also petition your favorite brands to sustainably produce their garments. Lastly, you can spread the word. If enough of us become aware of the social and environmental repercussions of fast fashion, perhaps we can change how our garments are produced in the near future.