It's the last Friday of the month, and you're eager to treat yourself to something cute. At the mall, big red cardboard posters are strung up in almost every store: The payday sale is afoot, and it's time to go hunting. You pick up an embroidered silk caftan at 50% off, some bargain jeans, and a buy-one-take-one deal on sports bras. You walk away from the store, triumphant, happy to have saved yourself a pretty penny. But on the distant outskirts of the world, the factories that piece and sew together these items of clothing tell a much grimmer tale.
Fast fashion—you know, those go-to stores where you can usually get a trendy top for 300 bucks—has been on the receiving end of global backlash since its advent five or 10 years ago, thereabouts. The Guardian is detailed about the horrific conditions laborers, many of them children, have to endure to create merchandise for big brands to sell. From Bangladesh to India to Cambodia and beyond, human rights organizations have uncovered that workers are often overworked and underpaid. Worst of all, the brands themselves are often unaware of these happenings: UNICEF explains that because the supply chain for big fashion brands is so long, some work is secretly subcontracted to illegal factories.
Our environment has also taken a hit—and before you tilt your head and wonder how odd that sounds, Greenpeace urges you to think about how many chemicals, toxins, fuels, and waste must be involved in creating thousands of pieces of clothing a day. Add to that the fact that cheap clothing means a likely decline in quality, which means that our clothes' lifespan from wardrobe to donation box isn't as long as it used to be.
Fast fashion means cheap clothes, which means consumers can afford to buy more of them. This means that the trickle-down effect from runway to retail rack is much speedier—trends come and go quickly. Yes, many of us give clothes to the less fortunate, but clothes don't decay like food does. When a piece of clothing reaches the end of the chain, where and how does it decompose?
This isn't a militant plea to boycott certain brands or to never buy clothes again. Instead, it's a gentle reminder that we, as consumers of fashion, ought to be aware of these realities, and resolve to make wiser purchases because of that. Let's choose quality over quantity, and lasting power over trendiness.