Re-Evaluating the Fast Fashion Industry

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The average college student budget is tight and narrow, leaving little expendable income for things other than food. Clothing, perhaps, takes the hardest toll. This is why stores like Forever 21 are a great place to turn, or so people thought. The recent backlash on the "fast fashion" industry has caused loyal followers to turn away from mass retailers and turn to more ethical clothing companies.

As a reflection of consumerism, fast fashion is a term used by retailers to describe inexpensive designs that move rapidly from the catwalk into consumer hands. It takes high fashion and makes it available to the average consumer. It is cost efficient and responds quickly to consumer demand.

Fast fashion has made it easy for people on the way home from work to quickly grab a new shirt that is trending that week, and then quickly dispose of it when the trend dies. This industry includes brands like like H&M, Forever 21 and Zara. These fast fashion retailers have created 50 microseasons out of the four regular seasons.

“I think fast fashion is helpful to keep track of the trends and get them for cheaper, but it is very wasteful and you can wear it a few times and then you throw it away,” said Nicole Halada, a senior at The King’s College, previous intern at Phillip Lim, and former employee at Zadig & Voltaire.

The worries around clothing waste, sweatshops and low quality are due to the lack of knowledge in understanding the consumerism industry and the market.

However, as college students, there is not always money in the bank to drop on designer business casual clothing brands.

“Over the past year I have been shopping at H&M and doing some window shopping at Zara,” said Elle Rogers, a senior at King’s. “Those clothes are not going to last forever, but they are designed to be affordable for college students.”

Besides quality issues, there is also increasing awareness of the waste problems that result from fast fashion and the rising concern for immorality in sweatshops.

“I think fast fashion is a complicated issue,” said Catie Shoemaker, a sophomore at King’s. “Buying clothes, especially in the view of using it to express your personality, is really important. But, we need to be aware as consumers of the effects on the environment and on those people in third world nations.”

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One of the leading fast fashion stores, H&M, has had a rough year. Their gross margin declined to 49.9 percent in March of 2018 and the overall inventories have inclined seven percent to value around $4 billion, according to an article by Elizabeth Paton for the New York Times. It is evident a primary reason less people are shopping at fast fashion retailers is due to environmental and ethical concerns.

However, many argue these concerns are invalid. The worries around clothing waste, sweatshops and low quality are due to the lack of knowledge in understanding the consumerism industry and the market.

“We want a variety of quality with clothing because what matters at the end of the day, is what choices are available to the consumer to fit all their many plans,” said Dr. Paul Mueller, an economics professor at King’s. “Higher standards are being pushed onto people.”

Is it reasonable to be shopping every week for new clothes? It is probably not good for one’s soul. -Paul Mueller

Concerning working conditions in the sweatshops that produce clothing for fast fashion retailers, Mueller argues multiple sweatshops would create competition and force them to better working conditions for employees.

“From my perspective, it is less of a problem concerning the fast fashion industry and more of a problem around the consumer,” Mueller said. “Is it reasonable to be shopping every week for new clothes? It is probably not good for one’s soul.”

Rachel Zoe, celebrity stylist-turned designer, has a famous saying, “Style is a way to say who you are without having to speak.” Zoe is not the only one who believes this. It has been a mantra in the fashion world since the ‘70s--the beginning of fast fashion retailing. 

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“When you buy something, you are putting your voice behind that,” Shoemaker said. Many believe fashion is a personal subconscious reflection.

But if everyone is buying the same clothing from the same fast fashion retailers, some worry about the loss of individuality.

The verified twitter account, The Fashion Law, tweeted on Aug. 23, 2018, “Fast fashion is making everyone dress the same,” which was later quote tweeted by a user under the handle of @photoxjones, “Lack of style and individuality is making everybody dress the same.”

But individuality does not have to die at the hands of fast fashion.

“You can be more of an individual when you stop shopping at fast fashion stores,” Halada said.  “Everyone has that H&M jacket but no one has the 1990’s jacket that someone just gave away. Go vintage shopping. You can find fast fashion pieces or designer pieces for a discounted price.”

Individuality does not have to die at the hands of fast fashion.

Avoiding all fast fashion retailers may not be feasible for a college student on a budget. However, considering your motives for purchasing certain trending items in the first place may not only save money and help the environment, but assist you discovering new ways of self-expression.