Fast fashion: a high cost for low prices

All it took was one TikTok video about fast fashion, which is the rapid and exploitative mass production of garments sold at a low cost, to convince senior Mackenzie Paich to stop shopping from unsustainable fashion brands and begin advocating for alternatives to fast fashion.

“Being aware and being conscious of the clothes that you are buying, I think that that is the first step [to shopping sustainably],” Paich said. 

John Pichtel, professor of environmental science at Ball State University, said in a phone interview that people in the United States consume more clothing and textiles than any other nation in the world, and the majority of these items are produced in developing countries. 

“Many consumers will just rush to pull something off the rack that they find is attractive and not really think about the long-term impacts,” Pichtel said. 

Nicole Haddad is the creative director, designer and owner of Lobo Mau, a sustainable clothing line. 

She said in a phone interview that the fast fashion industry produces billions of products a year that are made using inexpensive fabrics and sold at low prices. These materials have either polyester or microplastics in them, which leach into the water when they are washed. 

“When we buy [fast fashion] products, we are contributing to the pollution,” Haddad said. 

According to Pichtel, the fashion industry is responsible for about 20 percent of industrial water pollution.  

“Many of these companies use a lot of toxic chemicals to prepare their clothing,” said Pichtel. “So sustainability in that context means recycling that water, cleaning out the contaminants and using it again, instead of just dumping.” 

Another component of pollution from the fast fashion industry is the release of carbon dioxide during multiple stages of textile production.

“The fashion industry produces about eight to 10 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions from operating factories,” Pichtel said. 

According to Haddad, she has found innovative ways to minimize her clothing line’s carbon footprint. She incorporates recycled materials like airbags from cars, mesh from the beer industry and old banners into the clothes. Haddad’s brand eliminates pollution caused by transportation by sourcing her materials from inside the United States and limiting overproduction by manufacturing most of the clothes after they have been ordered. 

A lot of clothing items produced by fast fashion companies will never be bought, so they end up getting incinerated or end up in landfills, Haddad said. 

According to Paich, she shops sustainably while maintaining fashionable style by thrifting and buying secondhand items which would have otherwise become waste. 

“At Goodwill last summer, I found a $300 BCBG Max Azria dress that was literally six bucks, and I cried in the Goodwill,” Paich said. 

The fast fashion industry also raises humanitarian concerns for those employed in sweatshops, where workers often produce garments in poor working conditions.

“Workers’ rights violations are commonplace for fast fashion garment workers,” Pichtel said. 

Many of the garment workers employed by the fast fashion industry live in extreme poverty in developing countries. Women, who make up the majority of these workers, have few rights in the workplace and are often subject to sexual harassment and health violations, Pichtel said.  

“In some cases, managers have forced women to take contraceptive pills so they can’t get pregnant and be out of work for a while,” said Pichtel. “There are problems with denial of maternity leave, [and] there’s inadequate sanitation in many of these places. 

“The list is long, there are just so many slavery-like practices,” Pichtel said. 

According to Paich, after learning about the harms of fast fashion, she stopped supporting fast fashion companies and encourages others to do the same. 

“There are so many alternatives,” Paich said.