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Analyzing the complexities of fast fashion

| Monday, February 4, 2019

Last year I wrote an Inside Column regarding the human rights violations and environmental issues associated with the garment industry. I’d like to revisit that topic to offer a few new thoughts that have been bouncing around in my brain.

The problems associated with fast fashion — the inexpensive, mass-production of clothing to compete with the latest trends — are complex and varied, so it follows that possible solutions to this issue are equally complex. I want to take a look at one of the most common solutions people turn to in order to combat against the fast fashion industry: thrifting.

Choosing to thrift and shop for clothes secondhand offers a number of benefits for the consumer, the environment and communities. Recycling clothes reduces waste and ultimately decreases pollution. If wearing used clothes became more widespread and the demand for new clothes decreased the environmental costs of producing cheap clothes in massive quantities would also decrease. Many thrift stores like Goodwill and Salvation Army operate as a charity, where the revenue generated by selling used clothing is used to fund a number of human services. For Goodwill, these services include employment training and job placement services for people in the community of the Goodwill. For the Salvation Army, this includes emergency shelters, disaster survivor relief, food pantries, programs to combat addiction, veteran rehabilitation and many other services that operate worldwide. Along with positive social and environmental impacts, thrifting provides a positive impact for the individual consumer as well. Thrifting will cost less than buying new clothes the majority of the time, and buying secondhand translates to a more unique wardrobe.

With all these benefits, thrifting seems like an unparalleled solution in combating against the fast fashion industry and the slew of issues it generates, but unfortunately, it doesn’t solve everything. In shopping secondhand, I don’t support corporations that exploit garment workers in developing nations. However, if everyone stopped buying from these companies their garment workers would be out of work. The low wages and poor working conditions many workers are forced to endure are immoral and inhumane, but, for a large percentage, garment labor is the best job they can get. In addition, while thrift stores have become more popular in recent years, prices have increased. While wealthier environmental and ethically conscious consumers may still be able to match the increased prices, poorer people who rely on thrift stores to afford clothes are shorted.

I don’t bring up these issues to insult people who swear by secondhand shopping or to belittle the good that comes out of their decision. On the other hand, I don’t point out the issues with the fast fashion industry to hurt those who simply enjoy shopping and fast fashion retailers. I bring up these issues because I am simply saddened by the vicious cycle this movement has produced. I bring up these issues because I think it’s baffling that we took one of the most basic human needs — clothing — and managed to create an extraordinarily complex, seemingly unsolvable problem.

I still believe the first step in reconciling the plague fast fashion has created is appreciating the effort put into producing the clothing and products we buy — but honestly, I’m not sure what comes after that.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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About Serena Zacharias

Serena is a senior majoring in Neuroscience and Behavior and minoring in Journalism, Ethics and Democracy. She hails from the great cheese state of Wisconsin and currently serves as the ND News Editor for The Observer.

Contact Serena