Who Made Your Clothes?

As I look back on my life up until recent years, I realize how much fast fashion has taken a toll on me, as well as our planet.

As much as I love fashion, I find myself getting caught up in trends and what other people are wearing and posting on social media. Day by day, my Instagram feed continues to be saturated with outfit photos of friends, peers, fashion icons, and influencers rocking the next hottest trend, whether it be a pair of platform sneakers, an oversized coat, or a voluminous dress that makes a bold fashion statement, literally.

Paris Fashion Week 2019: Viktor & Rolf

And this is where fast fashion comes into play, as global fast fashion giants like Forever21, H&M, and Zara sell mountains of trendy clothes that seemingly come straight off the runway at an extremely affordable price point. These brands are highly cognizant of the extent to which we’re influenced by our friends’ posts and by celebrity endorsements, and they capitalize off of it. But do consumers understand the extensive price of their hasty shopping habits? And are they aware that Instagram serves as the enabler of these destructive habits?

Over the years, Instagram has started to become the one-stop shop for all my fashion needs and inspirations. The more fashion icons I followed, the easier it was for me to keep up and keep tabs on which clothing item I needed to ditch, and which clothing item I needed to add to my wardrobe. However, as I took a few steps back, I began to realize how deceiving Instagram can be. As the fashion icons I admire and look up to wear and post outfits that cost thousands of dollars, I’ve realized that the only way I can realistically afford to keep up, especially as a full-time college student, is if I give in to this toxic cycle of fast fashion.

In order to stay in the game, we oftentimes forget or even overlook the harsh realities of fast fashion. Fast fashion is dependent on the outsourcing of labor in developing countries. Buying cheap comes at a high cost. Who made your clothes? It’s highly probable that the people who made your clothes are not only working in unsafe conditions, but are also being grossly underpaid for long hours without any breaks. According to UNICEF and the International Labor Organization, an estimated 170 million children are working in the clothing industry all over the world today. We’ve become so willing to compromise the integrity of fashion by exploiting workers and children, just so we could buy trendy clothes at a low cost and post about it on social media.

Fast fashion is also one the fastest growing categories of waste in the world. Shopping has never been so easy with its accessibility, swift inventory turnovers, and affordability. We purchase an obscene amount of clothes and throw away our old clothes, that were perhaps never even worn, at a quicker rate than ever before. According to a New York Post article, people dispose of their clothes after having worn them three times at most on their Instagram pages. Before social media, nobody really saw what you wore. Now, your closet is exposed to the public through a screen, and people are becoming increasingly self-conscious of wearing the same thing too often that they feel the need to explain themselves.

As clothing becomes more disposable and less meaningful with fast fashion, we begin to overload our landfills with billions of pounds of fabric waste. The global carbon footprint in the fashion industry, as well as water pollution caused by toxic chemicals used in the manufacturing of our clothes, are rapidly evolving at an alarming rate. We’re consuming faster than our planet can handle, and we need to do something about it before it’s too late.

Slowing Down…

With the help of the Internet and even Instagram, I was able to make myself more aware, informed, and educated on sustainable fashion. By following public icons who also believe in the importance of sustainable fashion, I was able to discover companies like Reformation, Everlane, and Proof Collective. I’ve grown a lot more accustomed to ethical companies and small businesses. I love the fact that as a consumer, I have the power and freedom to support individuals who really seek to do things the right way by slowing down. Sure, ethical fashion is a lot more expensive since things are made locally and created in smaller batches, but I’ve learned not to buy as much and to instead invest in quality pieces that I find meaningful and worthwhile. It’s important to always keep yourself in check, and to catch yourself when scrolling through your Instagram feed, tempted to make impulse purchases to satisfy your fleeting moment of inspiration. Don’t allow social media to have that control over you.

When you start to truly care about the environmental impact your purchases have, and the power you have as a consumer, you learn to appreciate simplicity. Strive to be more mindful with your purchasing decisions… the world will thank you for it.

11 comments

  1. I love fashion. Your post demonstrated your passion and guilt for buying into the “Fast Fashion” category of designers. We all naturally buy into what we see because it is easy and right at our fingertips – no need to feel guilty. Because social media apps such as Instagram support this “Fast Fashion” trend, people are more likely to buy into it psychologically and then take the action to click purchase online without thinking of the repercussions and the operations behind it. I think you made an excellent point in that there are designers coming out with sustainable fashion to combat this “Fast” category. I am more mindful of this as well and hope that fashion continues to inspire us to stay true to who we are and not get lost in what society deems as popular or socially acceptable.

  2. I have also grappled with the problematic nature of being “trendy.” My friends often make fun of me for my absurd amount of clothes. It’s always been how I chose to spend my money. I love wearing new trends or matching similar outfits I’ve seen online. But I watched one too many youtube videos about the dangers of fast fashion. So I’m trying to make changes. I recently started buying mostly second hand clothing. Living in Boston is great because city Goodwills usually have much trendier clothes, plus there are so many thrift shops. The best part about fashion is that it comes in cycles, even trends. 90’s fashion is huge right now, the perfect trend to buy second hand! I’m trying to be more conscious about what I’m buying and from where. I also make sure before getting rid of clothes, to ask friends if they would want them, if not I donate in an attempt to keep it out of landfills. At the end of the day, if the shirt is already made, hopefully someone can wear it!

  3. I’m slightly embarrassed to say this, but one of the first things that this post made me think of was a scene from The Lizzie McGuire Movie. In this particular scene, mean girl Kate Sanders calls Lizzie an “outfit repeater” for wearing the same dress to their junior high graduation that she wore to their spring dance and I think this might just be the sole reason for the creation of fast fashion in the first place (but not actually). I’m not sure why this quote has stuck with me for this long, but it has and I know that I’ve thought about it before when getting dressed to go somewhere and wondering if someone there has already seen me in that specific outfit or if I’ve posted an image of myself somewhere on social media wearing it. Hence why there was a period of time where I had more clothes than I possibly knew what to do with. Although I fell victim to the world of fast fashion, I now know that nobody else cares or even notices if I’ve worn that black turtleneck sweater with the gray flecks in it more than once in their presence or on social media. The concept of fast fashion makes sense, but the means of making it a possibility do not, which is why I’ve found myself becoming a much more conscious shopper in recent years.

  4. I think you brought attention to a serious problem that is often eclipsed by our budgets, desire for new clothes, and the need for a “social media moment.” Fast fashion relies on speed, agility, and mass production, regardless of the collateral damage. Many of these companies also use behavioral economics to create mobile apps that cater to consumer behaviors. You also highlighted a great point, the “out of sight out of mind” perspective, which is a persistent issue. Rather than the sweatshops and child workers, most people see perfectly posed social media endorsements. As you mentioned, I think this would be a great way to start bringing attention to this issue and to convince consumers to be more mindful on their next shopping trip.

  5. Fast fashion is definitely problematic, but unfortunately I think it will take a lot more than customer awareness to make a significant change in the fashion industry. A lot of customers know that fast fashion relies on dangerous and unsustainable labor practices…but it’s cheap! As great as Reformation and Everlane are, they are significantly more expensive than Zara. The effect of this is that even if you’re looking for basics rather than trendy items, it can be hard to bring yourself to buy something more than double the price of another option, since the dangers of fast fashion often seem abstract and removed. I think it will take a combination of advocacy, leadership from major fashion industry players, and innovation to make sustainable options more affordable in order to start to make a change.

  6. As a broke college student, I definitely loved the idea of fast fashion, especially from H&M. I remember back in undergrad, the amount of stories that were coming out of customers buying clothing that had tags with secret messages in different languages from the people who helped put the clothes together. Reading and learning more about the harsh conditions that people are put through in unethical practices by these larger companies has definitely helped put into perspective what is more important to me when it comes to clothing, quality or price? I would like to think these companies are more responsible now and are treating their employees worldwide fairly and ethically given how there has been a lot of public scrutiny already in the past. Moving forward, I’ve definitely tried to buy more high quality clothing items and not be ashamed to wear them multiple times as long as it feels great and I think I look good in it. The stat you mentioned, “people dispose of their clothes after having worn them three times at most on their Instagram pages” is alarming and definitely sends the wrong message to those looking up to IG influencers that are able to afford and dispose clothing without any financial worry.

  7. I was watching The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel on Amazon Prime recently (highly recommend checking it out if you haven’t seen it yet) and there’s a moment where the main character is invited to visit the home of someone incredibly wealthy. When the resident sees the coat of the main character, she gifts her a fur coat to wear home. The protagonist, clearly surprised by the gesture, asks how she should return the fur to which the butler replies “She has worn it twice, it’s yours now”. This was a hilarious moment in the show but was also incredibly representative of the point you make: wearing an item multiple times is looked down upon. I’m really impressed with companies like Patagonia that not only encourage people to wear their clothes again and again (and design them to be resilient to wear and tear) but even go so far as to create a resale marketplace for used Patagonia items. They even encourage people to send broked/distressed clothing items to them for repair. I think this is a model we’ll see a lot of companies beginning to emulate in the future (although I don’t think a lost of fast-fashion retailers like H&M or Zara will jump on board as this is drastically different from their business models).

  8. This is an issue that has definitely been overlooked in the past and I’m happy to see that it’s finally getting some attention. I never really thought about the waste and the unsustainability of fasst fashion until late in high school. I had a uniform in high school, so fashion wasn’t exactly at the forefront of my mind. During my senior year of high school, I went to an event at CU Boulder called “Ignite”, which focused on innovative ideas in social entrepreneurship. Think of it as TED Talks for socially-innovative startups. One of the speakers was the founder of a clothing manufacturer called Tonlé (https://tonle.com/pages/about-us), who talked about the waste created by the fashion industry and how her company aims for a zero-waste goal. This was, quite frankly, the first time I thought about the environmental impacts of fashion.

    When I went off to college a few months later, one of the first companies we learned about in Professor Wyner’s Computers in Management class was Zara. They use tech to determine how to alter current designs, keep track of inventory, and move clothing off the shelf at the speed of light. While the tech behind it is cool, I couldn’t help but cringe at how wasteful this seemed. In my opinion, we’re buying too much clothing and paying too little for it. I wish it wasn’t seen as such a faux pas to wear the same thing multiple times. Every time I wear the same article of clothing twice in one week I think back to that scene from the Lizzie McGuire Movie in which her high school bully unzips Lizzie’s graduation gown and shouts “Lizzie McGuire, you are an OUTFIT REPEATER!”

    Hopefully, with increasing awareness, it’ll become less of a faux pas to be an “outfit repeater”. Our current rates of consumption are nowhere near sustainable, and there’s really no way to make it sustainable unless we drastically change our purchasing habits.

  9. This was an interesting read as I am definitely aware of the influences social media has on my consumer behaviors. For one, the slow depletion of my wallet is compounded when social media constantly is proposing trends and movements for me to burn my money on. A side I did not think about was the ethical dilemma of fast fashion. It seems that social media has reinforced this idea of a throwaway culture. As fashion becomes fast, disposable, and cheap, social media seems to be the perfect place for these issues to run wild.

  10. I think that your post hits both the intrigue and dangers of fast fashion right on the head. Since I recently started following travel bloggers and nat geo on instagram, my feed has become increasing more “woke” of the destruction that we are causing out planet. Fast fashion is certainly a culprit in the seemingly unfathomable amount of manufactured things that end up in our oceans and on our beaches. Then, to think about the pure amount of material; thread, rubber, aluminum, plastic, that is hanging on the racks of the H&M’s, Zara’s, and Primark’s of the world. Mind boggling. Further, I think about the cumulative amount of time society has wasted scrolling through Instagram and Pinterest in order to figure out what’s trendy today (that wasn’t trendy yesterday and won’t be trendy tomorrow). And yet, I still succumb to comparing my outfit to @highfashionmen before I step out to the office or an evening event. I guess I, too, and part of the problem. I still wonder if baggy clothes are coming back in style given Virgil Abloh’s ascent to the top spot at LV…

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