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Not so fast

February 16, 2024 at 5:00:00 PM

Amanda Xi '25

Recently, I read A Tale of Two Planets for my English class, and it contained a story about a girl who shopped so much that she threw away boxes and boxes without even opening them. Sounds familiar? Yes, I admit I still have piles of fast fashion left over from middle school, but here is the lesson I learned.

Fast fashion, or "inexpensive, poorly made clothing that mass-market retailers quickly produce in response to current trends," has not always been around despite its pervading presence in malls today. Retailers introduced this model in the 1990s, but in as fast as thirty years, malls have filled up with fast fashion and so have our landfills - where 85% of all textiles end up. 

I was on a streak of buying secondhand until last month when I went to a mall with my friends and immediately bought a Free People sweater. I caved in, surrounded by glorious holographic fabrics, vibrant colors, and a disappointing lack of choice for consumers in American malls. Urban Outfitters, H&M, Zara, UNIQLO, it seems as if every store features a different version of fast fashion. Even I, an avid thrifter, can’t stay away from malls forever. Expecting the average American to always buy sustainably is not sustainable itself in a world of mass production. 

So, how do I shop without contributing to natural disasters and human exploitation? The answer is to shop responsibly rather than sustainably. Shopping responsibly means making educated purchases and avoiding overconsumption. Shopping responsibly doesn't mean rushing to replace your fast fashion shirt with a sustainable swap to be more "eco-friendly." The trashed shirt still ends up in landfills, causing equal damage. The most sustainable choice is always buying less and keeping what you have- even if it is fast fashion.

Contrary to some, I believe there is nothing inherently wrong with a shirt from Forever 21. Rather, it is the belief that fashion is disposable because it is cheap that is doing the damage. Fast fashion is a blessing for many: its low price point and convenience make it the only option for millions of families and teens. However, it is the people who take advantage of low prices and buy too much for too little - like the girl in the book - who contribute to the problem. I buy less by asking myself if buying into the trend for two weeks is worth the deeper satisfaction of saving up for something I will genuinely love for years. It's hard, but it’s rewarding. 

I care about fashion because it touches every human on Earth, and it continues beyond me. If I were to dismiss fast fashion as "out of sight, out of mind," I would be ignoring the environmental and humanitarian issues at what cost? A shirt should not be five dollars due to the exploitation of an underpaid worker. 

So, care for your fast fashion like it's worth every dollar. Since my middle school Urban Outfitters obsession, I have been working on reducing the piles in my closet by reselling and donating. Feel free to do the same.

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