Cheap clothing brands hurt environment, unethically exploit poorly paid laborers

College students often turn toward fast fashion brands like Forever 21 and H&M due to their affordable price tags. Unfortunately, these prices come at a cost.

Most fast fashion brands sacrifice proper environmental practices and labor wages in order to achieve such low prices. It is essential that students start avoiding brands that provide inexpensive clothing and invest in better quality pieces. Doing so will help protect the environment and deter illegal labor practices.

Fast fashion conceptually refers to brands that sell cheap, mass-produced pieces of clothing. These retailers sell for the lowest prices, but they also have the lowest quality. 

Fashion seasons have increased in the last decade, according to an article from NPR. Now, there are upwards of 11 seasons in a year for the fast fashion industry, which means more styles to buy, NPR said. Fashion is a lucrative business, so the more styles that can be mass-produced, the more money consumers spend on apparel. Americans alone spend $250 billion in the fashion industry, according to NPR.

Not only are brands like Forever 21 fast, but they are also disposable. On average, a woman will wear an article of clothing seven times before it is discarded, as reported by an article from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. 

In addition, Americans throw away 13 million tons of clothing, according to PBS. Clothing made from polyester takes 200 years to decompose in a landfill, according to the ABC. Instead of contributing to the large amount of textile waste, consumers should consider donating their clothes to thrift stores or developing countries. 

Additionally, these companies are not concerned for the environment. Farmers in some countries can guess the colors of the next fashion season depending on what color their rivers turn, reports the ABC, alluding to the fact that factories leak chemicals into local rivers. 

The fact that these factories have little care for the environment is atrocious. The local farmers not only lack potable water, but they also cannot farm with such toxic water, evidently affecting their livelihood.

Unfortunately, the consequences of fast fashion go beyond the environment, often exacerbating the exploitation of workers. 

At an outsourced factory in Istanbul in 2017, Zara laborers attached notes to clothes, suggesting that they were not paid for their labor, according to the Associated Press. Zara earned $11.3 billion in revenue in 2017 more than Forever 21 that made $4 billion, Forbes magazine reports, so one would think that they would be able to afford paying their laborers a livable wage. ¬

The exploitation of workers happens in the United States as well as in outsourced factories. Pedro Montiel, a worker in a Los Angeles factory that sells to Forever 21, reports that he was paid significantly below the minimum wage at $4.50 an hour, according to the Los Angeles Times.

There are, however, more than just financial issues for laborers. The demand for mass-produced items leads to overcrowding and dangerous working conditions. In underdeveloped countries, child labor is not unheard of. 

For those who can afford it, shopping for local, handmade articles of clothing can ensure that workers are properly compensated for their work. These locally sold items, as one might expect, would cost more than similar items at Forever 21. Nevertheless, if you purchase these items, you would be supporting local businesses and know that the clothing was produced ethically. 

Another alternative to shopping at fast fashion stores would be going to thrift stores or shopping second-hand stores. With clothes going in and out of season so quickly, one could find like-new clothes for a lower price while simultaneously supporting the environment. 

The allure of fast fashion retailers is understandable. Buying a shirt for $10 versus $100 makes more financial sense, but the cons of fast fashion far out-weigh its pros.