It’s “pretty”. It’s “cheap”. It’s fast fashion.

With the rise of social media, fashion trends have started changing so rapidly that people can’t keep up anymore. So, for most shoppers, fast fashion seemed like the perfect solution to stay trendy; it’s cheap, accessible, and has loads of variety.

Fast fashion is the mass production of affordable, low-quality clothing that is based on growing trends on social media, high-end brands, or small businesses. These clothes are often manufactured in unsafe conditions which violate basic human rights while working for long hours and low salaries.

Thus, I wish to advocate for students at AISB to start buying ethically made clothing, cut down on wasteful consumer habits, and to inspire others with a new slow fashion trend featuring outfits made by AISB students.

Environmental Implications

Large mountain of clothing waste (CC BY-SA 3.0 DEED, kiwa dokokano via Wikimedia Commons)

There are many environmental implications in the fast fashion industry, like burning fossil fuels for synthetic fabrics, farming mono-crops of cotton, or the large CO2 emissions. But let’s just focus on textile waste.

Due to the lack of money, care, and time put into fast fashion, garments are disposed of quicker and improperly which creates millions of tonnes of textile waste per year. 

According to Business Waste, “Every year across the world we produce 92 million tonnes of textile waste.” If we do not change our consumption habits, “it’s estimated that by 2030 we’ll create 134 million tonnes of textile waste globally.”

Social Implications

Typical working conditions of a garment factory in Bangladesh (Image by Solidarity Center, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

The fashion industry aims to mass-produce cheap and trendy clothes for as little money as possible, which is why factory workers are exploited. Many fast fashion companies locate their factories in developing countries like China or Bangladesh where labor costs a lot less than in Western countries. 

An example of the unsafe conditions garment workers have to work in would be the Rana Plaza garment factory incident in Bangladesh, in 2013.

The Rana Plaza garment factory, a fast fashion factory that manufactured clothing for mainly American and European consumers, collapsed, killing over 1000 people and injuring 2500 people.

Rescue at Rana Plaza. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

The day before the incident, an inspection revealed a crack in the factory building which deemed that it was unsafe to work in. Because of this severe safety hazard, the other shops in the building closed down. Nonetheless, the factory workers were still forced to work the next day, when the building collapsed. 

This happens because of the poor safety measures and conditions workers have to work in fast fashion factories. Even though the owners knew the risk, they decided to take it because they wanted to keep producing clothes for money, even if it cost the lives of more than a thousand innocent factory workers.

AISB Community on Fast Fashion

AISB Teachers

MYP and DP art teacher, Rocio Toral, shared her thoughts on fast fashion. “We know it’s a problem,” Toral says. “So, why do we keep on buying?

I think maybe the younger consumers need to be educated to really understand that it’s a problem…that to get those cheap shoes or that t-shirt which is… 30 lei, 15 lei… somebody was not paid on the other side of the globe.

MYP/DP Art Teacher Rocio Toral

Toral suggests that we ask ourselves: “Do I really want it?” and “Do I really need it?”

Student Survey Results

In early April, I surveyed 35 secondary students, asking them about their personal opinions on fast fashion. 

Based on the survey results, an overwhelming majority of students purchase fast fashion. When students were asked where they purchase most of their clothing from, nearly all respondents picked fast fashion brands. The most common responses included popular brands like Zara, Bershka, and specifically H&M, with around 73% of the respondents admitting to supporting the brand.

H&M, one of the leading fast fashion brands, manufactured 3 billion garments of clothes in 2019, and only 888 million of those were sold, making it among the top polluters in the industry. 

Taking this information into account, we should be more mindful of the actions of those we are shopping from to assist the transition into a more just and sustainable society.

When AISB students were asked about the reason why they supported fast fashion brands, the general consensus was for the cheap and convenient price.

“I don’t support their unethical practices and work conditions,” says grade 10 student Selin O., “but I buy from them because they provide clothing that is both affordable and trendy.”

“I just can’t find second-hand clothing stores here in Bucharest that have clothes that are my style,” says grade 9 student Costi S. “That’s why I shop for fast fashion. They can be found anywhere.”

Other students also said that they buy from fast fashion companies because of not have enough sustainable options with reasonable pricing. 

Environmentally-Friendly Fast Fashion Company Initiatives

Despite fast fashion companies generally damaging the environment, many have started coming up with sustainable lines or collections to appeal to the younger generation. 

For instance, one of the major fast fashion polluters, H&M, has come up with a new initiative. 

Even though experts say that no solutions will have an impact if the H&M group continues to produce billions of garments every year, the H&M group recently funded $100 million to promise a new type of recycling technology called the Green Machine that would allow them to recycle textiles. 

The H&M Foundation decided to use the machine to break up blended fabrics back into fibers, like a cotton-polyester mixture, as it makes up 90% of garments.

  The Green Machine breaking up garment fibers. (Photo by H&M Foundation)

They think that it will be inexpensive, making the recycled polyester fabric cost only 2 cents more per T-shirt than using new polyester. This matters because in an industry designed to make as much profit as possible, for an initiative to be widely implemented, it has to be cheap and competitive with the original materials.

Although this could be a step for the fast fashion industry to become greener, there is no way to know if it will have any impact. It will take years to collect such large amounts of clothes and it’s unclear if consumers will even take the time to recycle.

It can be argued that these initiatives are made to greenwash consumers so that they can be seen as a sustainable clothing option during an uprise and interest in sustainability.

Staying Stylish with Slow Fashion

The logic behind using fast fashion for cheaper prices is to allow us to purchase a larger quantity for a cheaper price, so it leads us to less financial guilt when throwing them out since we spent less money on them. When the trend ends, we feel inclined to purchase new clothes, and the cycle repeats.

Therefore, slow fashion is the thing we should all be working towards!

Slow fashion, the opposite of fast fashion, is having a more sustainable mindset towards fashion. It encourages shoppers to consider their consumption and the impact they have on society.

Slow fashion can also include clothes that have been recycled, thrifted, or bought second-hand because the consumer is not producing additional waste.

While you may believe that you can only achieve a stylish or trendy outfit with fast fashion clothing, three 9th and 10th students recently modeled four different outfits that they have put together with sustainable clothes.

Matei R.

Grade 10 student Matei R. wearing a vintage slow-fashion outfit

This outfit is a great example of how basics can be turned into unique outfits that fit your style.

It starts with a simple white shirt and is layered with a medium-wash denim jacket, which is a common layering pattern. However, Matei makes this outfit authentic by finalizing the outfit with dark brown pants and black, glossy boots, shifting the outfit to a darker color palette and vintage style. 

Charlotte J.

Grade 9 student Charlotte J. wearing a blue monochromatic slow fashion outfit

Charlotte J. starts off her outfit by wearing a white tank top layered with a dark blue cardigan and light-wash jeans She completes it by adding a khaki belt to contrast with the rest of her outfit and a blue bag. By using mainly a blue monochromatic color palette, this look is perfect for both spring and fall.

Defne A.

     The author, wearing a 2000s slow fashion outfit

With early 2000s trends making a comeback in current fashion trends, I have come up an outfit that stays on trend while completely using second-hand clothing. This outfit begins with the signature low-waisted blue jeans and a top with rhinestone lettering. The outfit is accessorized with a colorful, bright red bag with buckles and a thin belt with circular metal detailing, both a staple of the time period.

So What?

While fast fashion will always offer affordable and trendy options, it will at the price of ruining our environment and exploiting garment workers. Therefore, I urge you to look into slow fashion to create a more sustainable closet.

By choosing quality over quantity and putting value into well-made timeless pieces, we can collectively create a more sustainable future for the fashion industry.