Fast Fashion Frenzy


Mary O'Connell, Journalist

If you walk into any shopping mall today, you are likely to be greeted with neon signs, claims of clearance sales and clothing made using child labor and other unethical practices. In the past decade, fast fashion has become an epidemic within the United States. With the increased use of social media for advertising, now more than ever we are seeing trends of overconsumption of fast fashion and microtrends. Although owning lots of clothes is not an issue in and of itself, the use of unethical practices to produce such clothing is an issue. Fast fashion and exploitative business practices go hand in hand; the overconsumption of fast fashion clothing by people in the United States is a major issue we face today because it is not sustainable or ethical. 


After conducting a survey of 25 teens at Wheaton Warrenville South High School, I found that  67.6 percent of students surveyed answered that they did not know what fast fashion was. Not being aware of issues can lead to more problems in the future. Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines fast fashion as, “An approach to the design, creation, and marketing of clothing fashions that emphasizes making fashion trends quickly and cheaply available to the consumer”. The entire point is that the cycle is quick, and there is no way to produce fashion quickly, cheaply, and ethically so the latter tends to be dumped off. Many businesses use third-world countries for labor and often exploit their workers by refusing to pay a living wage, requiring long hours without breaks, and even using child labor, all just to create an item and get it to the consumer quickly. 


Although appealing to consumers is a necessary facet of any successful business, the fashion industry has created trends that both spread and die out quickly. These microtrends leave consumers with wardrobes full of cheaply made clothing that they will probably never wear again once the trend is over, and it will end up in a landfill in a few years. Consumers are aware that trends die out quickly, which is why many of them turn to fast fashion for their clothing. High schooler Sara Agin said, “I have ordered fast fashion in the past because of low prices and on-trend clothes.” 


The rise of social media has encouraged the rise of fast fashion. It is nearly impossible to scroll through a site such as Instagram without seeing a sponsored post from an influencer or an advertisement promoting a brand like Shein, Forever 21, or Urban Outfitters. Ethical Consumer states that “Fast fashion brands often target young people… who have been brought up amongst social media and influencer culture. In fact, a recent survey found that almost 75% of 18-24-year-olds believe influencers can be held somewhat accountable for the rise in disposable fashion.” It is not hard to understand why they feel this way. Watching videos of try-on hauls and seeing outfit inspiration on virtually every social media platform encourages the user to buy new clothes for a specific outfit, or even just for fun. Another issue with fast fashion is that oftentimes it is more expensive to return an item than to just keep it, so overbuying just to try on clothes for a video is incredibly wasteful.


Although social media is influencing young generations to buy fast fashion items, many teenagers are aware of the negative effects of fast fashion and are working to avoid it. It can be difficult for teenagers to slow downtrends in the highly connected world we live in, but working to slow fashion and avoid mass-produced cheap items can help. The first step to fixing the issue of fast fashion is to be aware of the issue in the first place. Senior Brianna Edenburn said, “Social media cycles through fashion trends faster than ever, and certain items of clothing are deemed out of style really fast. social media also perpetuates the idea that you can’t wear items more than once if it’s posted online”. Although social media trends are a contributing factor to fast fashion, some survey respondents noted that social media has helped them combat fast fashion. 

How can consumers combat the influence of fast fashion? We must start by recognizing that fast fashion and unethical labor practices are everywhere. Demonizing someone for owning a few Forever 21 t-shirts is not going to help the cause and instead just makes people want to throw out what they have. The most sustainable fashion is what is already in your closet. Using items you currently own in creative ways is going to be better for the environment than buying the same thing from a small, ethically run business. Looking for some staple items and some statement pieces that can be mixed and matched from small businesses is the best way to ensure you are supporting fast fashion as little as possible while still looking unique.