Fast fashion companies are on the rise among students for their inexpensive and easily accessible products. However, the unethical practices of these companies raise questions about whether there is a better way to shop.
Perhaps the best-known fast fashion retailer, Shein, an online clothing store that offers fashionable pieces at incredibly low prices, has seen a surge in popularity recently. According to The business of fashion, spending at Shein skyrocketed 477% during the 2021 holiday season compared to the previous two years.
An article from BBC revealed that, in order to maintain Shein’s rapid inventory turnover, employees in Guangzhou, a city in China’s Guangdong province, worked 75 hours a week. This is a violation of local labor laws in China, which require a maximum of 40 hours of work per week.
Beyond that, with the low prices of Shein clothing and other fast fashion brands comes a sacrifice in quality. This means these clothes are frequently thrown away, either in landfills or, as any Tuscaloosa shopper will attest, in thrift stores.
Rebecca Burney, an adjunct professor in UA’s department of textiles and design, said the desire for fast, cheap clothes is uniquely American, while European markets are geared more towards higher-quality luxury tailoring.
“We want it fast. We want it on sale. We want it at a lower cost. It’s not really a European mentality, so I think it’s really just America that’s kind of hardwired to be in that mindset,” Burney said.
Prior to her transition to teaching at the University this semester, Burney worked in the fashion industry in New York City as a pattern maker. There, she discovered that even people well versed in the fashion industry engage in fast fashion.
“I know a lot of people who worked with me in the fashion industry who would walk down the street to Zara and buy things,” she said. “I did that too. It was available, it was right there.
A trip to Plato’s Closet or Goodwill in Tuscaloosa will confirm that these fashion professionals share their affinity for inexpensive clothing with local college students. However, fashion students at the University of Alabama attest that shopping sustainably isn’t as hard as it sounds, and phasing out fast fashion altogether might be an unrealistic goal.
Anaya McCullum, a graduate in clothing design and president of the Student Fashion Association, said buying excessive clothes was the number one problem to overcome.
“I feel like it’s less about fast fashion itself and more about its overconsumption. You’ve got the YouTubers running these Fashion Nova $1,000 clothing errands to wear only once. We shouldn’t buy too much of these clothes which are clearly not good for the environment,” McCullum said.
From the sorority culture of buying a new outfit for every event, to the rapidly changing definition of what’s “trendy” in fashion, just take a quick look at any fashion store. bargains to confirm that these sartorial binges aren’t necessary or satisfying in the long run. .
“We just don’t need as much as we think. There are seven days in a week. How many things do you need,” Burney said.
Burney also advised not to overlook the power of accessories to fit into a more limited wardrobe.
“You can really change the look of something just by adding a scarf, jewelry, or a hat,” she said.
Morgan Igou is a fashion merchandising junior and the founder and president of the National Retail Federation Student Association at the University of Alabama, which supports students in their search for careers in the retail industry at the University of Alabama. fashion detail.
Igou said his career goal is not to pursue a perfectly sustainable company, but to encourage change in a workplace that can be improved.
“The first step is just acknowledging that they have a problem and they’re ready to fix it, and they’re going to do whatever it takes to fix it,” she said. “So that’s kind of #1, stepping in and figuring out if they really care.”
The three women offered tips on how to dress more sustainably on a budget.
McCullum said YouTube tutorials on upcycling helped her get the most out of her wardrobe.
“They teach you how to turn a button into a corset or something,” McCullum said. “But it doesn’t need to be so elaborate. Honestly, upcycling is as easy as turning an oversized t-shirt into a crop top by taking a pair of scissors and cutting a line.
Burney also cited savings as an important step towards sustainability.
“There is huge interest in the occasion. I think it’s great that clothes can have a new life and that young people discover the value of this life and bring it back to life,” she said.
However, not everyone sees the Tuscaloosa thrift scene in such a positive light.
“People are giving away their old Shein stuff and things that have holes in them,” Igou said. “Nowadays, young people just donate because they think they’re doing something good for the community if they donate. People see it as an act of service even when they are not serving anyone.
Instead, Igou suggested donating old clothes to businesses that will turn them into something new.
“A company can transform old socks into wool. I know a lot of similar places, where you can donate clothes and they will turn them into patches, and that way you can use them on your jeans or you can put them on a jacket or a blanket,” she said. declared.
H&M also claims that it will collect unwanted clothing and reuse it, either by reselling it directly or by transforming it into another material or garment.
One concept all three women agreed on was that doing research is crucial.
McCullum said while many companies aren’t perfect, some are making a definite effort to move toward a more environmentally friendly business model and that this information is readily available on their websites.
“There are companies that are turning to sustainable fashion, like Levi’s. We need to be more mindful of how we consume,” McCullum said.
For Igou, doing research can be as easy as scrolling through social media feeds.
“By using Instagram and especially TikTok right now, people can easily be exposed if they want to,” Igou said. “If they don’t, they never will, but if they’re interested, doing that little research right before bed will be the most helpful.”
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