The dangers of fast fashion, consumer culture and microtrends

Consumer culture, sustainable fashion
Photo courtesy of Cottonbro Photography

Fast fashion is an industry that is benefiting from the high levels of consumerism that have been normalized in our culture.

The term “fast fashion” refers to clothing brands that have high production rates for products that are mass-produced at a rapid pace and sold to customers at a low price.

The industry trends are constantly changing to keep up with consumer demands.

This clothing — mass-produced at a low cost —  does give consumers access to the latest fashion trends on a budget. But it’s questionable if it is worth the damage this has on the lives of  labor workers and the negative impacts it has on our environment.

Fast fashion brands often manufacture their brands in countries where labor workers are exploited and clothing can be made cheaply.

“A lot of us don’t think about what it takes to have the clothes we are wearing, and even if we do know what it takes is that enough? The idea that we are causing unintentional harm to someone else?” said environmental studies professor Dr. Chris Torres.

The fashion industry employs 75 million factory globally. Of these workers, wages to factory workers on average are 2-5 times less than what is considered to be a livable wage.

Following the oil industry, the fashion industry is the second largest polluting industry, accounting for 10% of global carbon emissions.The world consumes approximately 80 billion pieces of clothing every year, a 400% increase within the past two decades.

Consumer culture, sustainable fashion
[Online shopping has made it easier for retailers to push fast fashion and microtrends on consumers.]
Photo courtesy of Cottonbro Photography

“If we consumed less, it would change the system that it takes to produce those things,” Torres said. “Changing that takes cultural change.”

Consuming less by purchasing clothing from second-hand stores, like thrift stores, or buying from sustainable fashion brands is something we can try to do individually to limit the current consistent increase of the fast fashion industry and its negative effects.

The Albertsons Library MakerLab is attempting to make sustainable fashion accessible to students by providing tools and assistance for mending and making clothes, as well as holding renewable fashion events.

In contrast to fast fashion, renewable fashion is “how you make things that are gonna last and have meaning and value,” said Amanda Baschnagel, the current manager of the Albertsons MakerLab.

With cheap clothing becoming more accessible and our culture normalizing the disposability of these items, the average American now produces about 82 pounds of textile waste each year . Clothing that is made or renewed often has more value to a person, and therefore its shelf life is longer.

In reference to fast fashion, Baschnagel shared that she thinks it is a huge problem that has a lot of negative effects in many ways, from an environmental and humanitarian perspective.

“What you can do is change the way you buy clothes and change the way you think about your clothes,” Baschnagel said.

The Albertsons MakerLab has many tools, including sewing machines, printers and embroidery materials, that are available to all students.

Students are also encouraged to come in and ask for assistance in using these tools, and seek guidance for any projects they need help with. 

Decreasing our first-hand textile consumption and getting creative with renewable fashion are steps in the right direction to change our consumer culture into a sustainable culture.

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