The war on fast fashion vs. sustainable fashion

Addressing the truths and calling out the true enemy, capitalism.

Photo by Alexa Christie

The last ten years have been marked by rapid changes in the world economy and the ease of buying both necessities and leisure products. These have paved the way for US consumerism. Companies like Shein have become increasingly popular, supplying customers with everything they need for relatively cheap prices. Yet there has been much debate about how they handle their production. Despite their founding having taken place in 2008, they have long been labeled as a fast fashion business. Since their name change in 2015, it has become the world’s leading fashion retailer. 

Fast fashion has continued to grow in production. Clothing companies in the US have searched for cheaper production methods and found a way to take advantage of other countries to pocket more money, making offshoring an extremely common practice. These companies created what are now known to be “sweatshops,” or factories with inhumane working conditions that have been known to cause their workers long-term illnesses for only a fraction of the pay compensated to minimum wage workers in the US. Not only that, but production equipment is so unregulated and unsafe that dangerous fumes, chemicals and machinery are the norm. Factories are placed in lower-class neighborhoods, taking advantage of financially struggling families. 

This is all premeditative – of course. All in the name of making the most profit while attempting to invest the least possible amount of money in production and retail. Lastly, one of the most notorious effects of sweatshops and factories alike are the chemical dumps, or harmful sediments expelled illegally. Soil, local ecosystems, and bodies of water nearby will often become polluted, seeping into the water supply and damaging crops and local fauna.  

We’ve gone through the negatives of fast fashion, and it’s important to be conscious of these before jumping to my next point. There are hundreds, if not thousands of businesses that advertise themselves to be against fast fashion. These are the ones that label themselves as green, cruelty-free, sustainable and upcycled fashion companies; sometimes referred to as slow fashion, or eco-friendly brands. Though that is a much-needed practice throughout commercial businesses, the reality is that the majority of people who care about this are not able to afford these products.

 Inflated price tags are common as the products are advertised to be of higher quality with higher production value. Sometimes being as much as double or triple what you’d normally pay for the particular piece. As much as many of us would like to be able to buy from slow fashion brands, it’s simply not realistic when you’re living off minimum-wage jobs, paying monthly rent and accumulating student loan debts. 

It’s also worth mentioning the lack of size inclusivity in so many of these eco-friendly brands, making it so difficult for plus-sized folks to find properly fitting sustainable apparel. I’d also like to make a special emphasis on how near impossible it is to find clothes that aren’t just absolutely basic. No hate towards those who enjoy basic fashion, but it’s taken hold of too much of the sustainable fashion market. Goth, punk and other members of the alternative subcultures don’t have a place in this market. This is a shame because most of us genuinely care about the environment and actively try our best to not contribute to damaging consumerist practices. 

But as of late, prices get higher and a size XL continues to be the largest size inside the typical mall store. Most of the time, it’s not even a true size XL; fitting more like a large. It’s upsetting. Even though I’m not plus-sized, my body is built so that I sometimes need larger clothing, but I’ve found it to be the most challenging to shop for clothes in malls these past few years. So, I’ve done what most of my friends and family have begun doing, only buying clothes from thrift shops and Shein, the infamous fast fashion online store.

People still get heat whenever they admit to buying from Shein, for it’s no secret that they haven’t had the best production practices. But the truth is that Shein has continued to expand their product line, now ranging from room décor to sex toys (no joke, but it is pretty funny). Whereas before, reviews were often mixed on the quality of products, now customer reviews are overwhelmingly positive, especially now compared to other fast fashion businesses. Shein supplies up to a size 5X and has nearly every kind of style you can think of. Their sister brand, ROMWE, was exclusively made to cater to alternative fashion and keeps up to date with the latest trends. 

So, here’s some food for thought: everyone needs clothes, and if there is a way to get decent quality ones for cheap, then it should be allowed. A relevant phrase that applies to this anti-fast fashion debate is this: “There is no ethical consumption under Capitalism.” Truth is, unless there is some in-depth digging and someone exposes the internal working practices of a company, we can’t be sure that what they claim is true. I believe that if I can find the same piece I want for a lot cheaper, I won’t hesitate to buy it. We spend so much of our lives working, studying and saving up for the bare necessities. No one should be shamed for buying clothes from a brand that supplies them with everything they need. No one should be shamed, period. 

Just an additional tip: If you would like to know an additional cost-effective way to find cute clothes, I highly recommend thrifting. Though it is harder to find exactly what you’re looking for, you can still find many hidden gems. My goth and alternative baddies all swear by this method, and I agree. But just know that if you ever find yourself buying fast fashion because you’re on a budget, need a bigger size or simply because you want to, don’t feel bad. Capitalism is the enemy here.