By: Kayla ’22
IB English A Language & Literature
Seriously, how many cheap clothes can we even wear in our lifetime?
My friend recently asked me what I think about this fancy dress she saw at the mall for Homecoming. She wandered across the room and blurted out: “I can’t decide which color to get. Since it’s 3 for 50% off, should I just buy all of them and see which one I like most?”
My friend is an avid consumer of good bargains and cheap clothes. And like most people, she doesn’t understand the true costs of engaging in fast fashion – overwhelming piles of clothing in landfills, irreversible environmental impacts, and the violation of human rights. As I thought about the dresses, I knew immediately that she would only wear them once in her lifetime. After all, where else is she going to wear a glitter ball gown?
I took a deep breath. I immediately thought about the eye-opening documentary “The True Cost” I watched a year ago out of curiosity that ended with tears rolling down my face of guilt and terror. That documentary truly changed the trajectory of my life, and ever since, I have not looked at clothing the same way. My constant urge for wanting new clothing completely vanished. I found myself shopping for second-hand clothing on the floor in flea markets for a fraction of the price, smiling with joy as I scoured through piles of clothing on the floor and eventually finding a purple checkered cardigan from a grandma she wore in her young flourishing years. Every piece of clothing had a story, a complete contrast from fast fashion.
Why is fast fashion and overconsumption that detrimental? Well, it’s kind of a long story. The turnover rate for fast fashion leads to overconsumption, and overconsumption leads to a negative environmental impact. To put it into perspective, the average American throws away 81 pounds of clothing every year and the majority of fast fashion garments are not made to last. They’re usually made of cheap synthetic fibers like polyester, which is essentially plastic. Polyester can take up to 200 years to decompose, which is especially bad because the industry produces over 100 billion new garments every year. Essentially, we are living on one big pile of plastic.
As I finally built up the courage to break it to her, I blurted out everything bad about fast fashion I knew to my friend. I couldn’t bear watching her carelessly buy 3 garments that she will probably only wear once in her lifetime. This is exactly why fast fashion stores are always having huge sales – to drive impulse purchases since they’re so cheap! More impulse purchases inherently mean more revenue, the ultimate goal of any business.
A few minutes later, I watched as my friend stood in complete silence, in awe of everything fast fashion has hidden from her. She slowly put all three dresses back to their hangers and uttered, “If fast fashion is that harmful, then what do I do about my homecoming dress?”
The transition from fast fashion is never easy. But there are always solutions to a problem. First of all, does my friend even need a new dress? She already has dresses from previous years and I bet they aren’t too shabby. There is absolutely nothing wrong with repeating outfits, clothes are meant to be worn until they fall apart, so why bother what people may think? Secondly, she can always repurpose clothing by styling them differently and swap clothes with friends like me! In a way, it’s like having a brand new wardrobe since the clothing belongs to another person. Homecoming is just one day after all and it’s more about having fun than the outfit. Don’t get me wrong, skipping fast fashion does not mean that style goes out the window, some of the most unique pieces are actually found when thrifting and continuing another person’s story!
While it’s impossible to completely avoid problems caused by fast fashion, we can always make a difference by doing our part in making conscious decisions. If we want to restore our landfill-free Earth, and if we want a clean, safe, fair, transparent, and accountable fashion industry, we are going to have to take matters into our own hands, and “reduce, reuse, and repurpose”.
“Textile & Fashion Waste Statistics: Facts About Clothing In Landfills”. Eco Friendly Habits, 2021, https://www.ecofriendlyhabits.com/textile-and-fashion-waste-statistics/.
“Thinking About Waste – Clothing And Landfill – Time To Sew”. Time To Sew, 2018, https://timetosew.uk/waste-clothing-landfill/.
“20 Hard Facts And Statistics About Fast Fashion”. Good On You, May 2020, https://goodonyou.eco/fast-fashion-facts/.