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Fast fashion isn’t your fault, but you can slow down

This article has a companion piece which can be read here.

As a society, we drown our minds and hurl our money into new cars, unlimited food, shoddy furniture and cheap clothes. We have been convinced that we live in a consumer society, and we do. We have been convinced that we are consumers, and we are. 

We have been ruining the planet with our purchases and buying from the companies that push unrelenting narratives of trend across media to fulfill our desires for goods, all while exploiting the earth and its people, but it’s not our fault. 

Fast fashion exists by fast strategy. The marketing departments of large brands such as Zara, Forever 21, SHEIN and H&M depend and prey on consumers like us to fall into their trap. 

The marketing campaigns of retailers are constantly on the radio, on our “For You Pages,” in our texts and flooding our emails. Brands come up in conversations and ‘haul try-on’ videos, trending styles are gawked at in the bathrooms of bars and TikTok shopping guides. 

Whether we realize it or not, big brands have infiltrated our lives. Both SHEIN and H&M  were the top two spenders in digital fashion advertising for the first half of 2021. We are victims that fall into their traps of relentless consumption.

This summer, Amazon ran an ad campaign that truly disgusted me. As kids were preparing to head back to school, Amazon began mass-driving the slogan “spend less on your kids.” Their goal was to convince parents to spend less on their kids, because their school supplies won’t last, they’ll outgrow their clothes in a month and everything will be out of style next year anyways. 

Face of the campaign, American actress Kathryn Hahn, shook her head in a video commercial ad and degradingly said, “Kids… one year they want all dinosaur stuff, the next camels.” 

Spend less on low-quality goods, because you’ll just need to buy your kid a new trashy backpack next year! 

When I was in elementary school I used the same pink, floral Lands End backpack every day until the fifth grade (I was the new girl in fifth grade and wanted to be different so I got a Vera Bradley crossbody briefcase, because it was chic). I took that backpack with me to sleepaway camp, family trips and piano practice, and to this day it’s sitting in the back of my closet — a bit stained and frayed, but perfectly usable. 

Back in my day, kids weren’t getting a new backpack every year just because they suddenly had an affinity for camels. 

Behind the immoral ad campaigns and the pressure of constant trendiness is the industry's “race to the bottom,” which is the persistent demand for cheap goods, often accomplished by taking production overseas where factories are filled with cheap labor. 

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The workers of sweatshops, mostly children and women, are paid outrageously low wages in dangerous conditions. This then raises the question: If we completely stop purchasing from SHEIN, then how will the woman in the factory in India stitching your top feed her children? 

The dimensions of guilt associated with fast fashion are deep and multifaceted, and it should not all be placed on the consumer, but we can still work on changing our mindsets.

As a victim of fast fashion, you can fight it by slowing down. 

Take the courage to not immediately purchase the new top that everyone is ordering. Wear clothes that make you feel like yourself, that are worn with love, and hopefully made with love too. Although it might seem more expensive at first, buying sustainably can be cheaper in the long term. 

Use your purchasing power to support brands that have missions to act ethically and follow through. The website Good On You investigated and rated 4,000 brands on their environmental track records. 

We were born into consumer lifestyles, we ingest the advertising everyday in our media and we face the struggle of feeling the need to be ‘in style’ all the time. 

Don’t blame yourself, but don’t fall into the trap. Fight fast fashion by slowing down.