Fast fashion will only slow down if consumers shop consciously |

Take a step into a closet and reach for a random clothing item. Chances are the garment was produced in a foreign country — China, India, Vietnam as it may be. Globalization has plagued the fashion industry and with it the new concept of fast fashion has become mainstream.

However, the environmental dangers and social crises created by this change in the fashion industry have not been very visible in the eyes of consumers. Fast fashion has led to the consumption of clothes in larger numbers, negatively changing the way it is being produced worldwide.

Consumers need to be more conscious about the way their shopping habits affecting both communities and the environment. Conscious shopping can show companies sustainable and eco-friendly clothing is what shoppers and the world really want and need.

The appeal of trendy, cheap clothing is everywhere and the accessibility and affordability is undeniable. Fast fashion’s success in this country is substantiated by the $250 billion spent on the clothing industry in the U.S. annually.

Clothing stores like Forever 21, H&M, Topshop and Zara have gained success through globalization, allowing them to produce inexpensive clothing at a low cost, but all this is done through hazardous practices.

The emphasis on speed and quantity rather than quality has exported the demand for garment workers from the U.S. to developing countries where there are fewer regulations on working conditions are enforced.

Highlighted in the documentary “The True Cost,” the demand and competition between industries force factories to cut deals with companies as factories fight to offer the cheapest labor for the greatest production.

In these factories men, women and children work long hours with minimal payoff. Many times, the bosses are abusive and force their employees into dangerous and potentially fatal working conditions, according to Human Rights Watch, a nonprofit, nongovernmental human rights organization.

This is exemplified by the 2013 collapse of the Rana Plaza, an eight-story building in Bangladesh containing five garment factories for well-known brands around the world. More than 1,100 people were killed and over 2,000 were injured in destruction, and the event has been considered the biggest disaster to hit the Bangladesh garment export industry.

In order to remain affordable, corners are cut by companies in all areas; the use of toxic chemicals to manufacture products has increased overseas, and produces a large amount of textile pollution.

The Environmental Protection Agency considers many textile manufacturing facilities to be hazardous waste producers, according to a report made by the Environmental Health Prospect.

Garments produced for fast fashion stores leave a pollution footprint as materials like polyester generate environmental hazards. When polyester is put in washing machines microfibers are shed and add to the plastic levels in the ocean.

While small and seemingly insignificant, these microfibers are eaten by plankton, which in turn, are eaten by shellfish and continue up the food chain, often landing in the stomachs of humans.

Toxic chemicals are also used to produce vivid colors and prints seen on clothing. The pros that come from these fabrics is outweighed by the cons as textile dyeing is the second largest polluter of clean water globally.

The pollution created by dyeing vibrant fabrics makes rivers toxic for people in countries like Bangladesh, where 18 million residents are being threatened by the high levels of pollution in their water, according to the World Bank.

Textile waste continues with the consumer, as clothes are bought as fast as they are thrown out. Most people won’t bother to have a garment fixed because it’s so cheap to replace it.

Being a conscious shopper means putting the lives of workers and the environment ahead of desire and appeal. The idea that people constantly need to consume — whether it’s shoes, jewelry or shirts — can no longer be justified.

The clothes being produced should not be disposable, but instead sustainable and eco-friendly.

Purchasing from secondhand stores like thrift, vintage or trade shops is a way to reverse the success fast fashion has seen in this country. Clothing donations are made at large rates but only around 10 percent of donations are resold in stores. The clothes are there, but it’s up to the shoppers to step in and reuse the once-admired garments.

The clothes available at these stores are not only cheaper, but they are also refreshingly different from the mass-produced items seen in many stores at the mall.

Clothing from past decades are better quality because fast fashion was not leading the clothing industry. The clothes produced were made with durable fabrics meant to last longer.

Waste management can also be achieved by buying clothing made from recycled fabrics. Although these garments may not be as accessible to college students due to their price tags, they can be seen as investment pieces.

One of the most eco-friendly things a smart shopper can do to aid in the social ills manifested from fast fashion is to shop less. Not everything needs to be purchased just because of the cheap price attached to it.

Having a large closet full of clothes and shoes is tempting, but the social and environmental ramifications make it significantly less appealing. It’s best to go against the trend and buy less.

Source: Fast fashion will only slow down if consumers shop consciously | Opinion |