A Guide to Living a More Ethical Fashionable Life

This piece dives into the fast fashion industry that is killing our planet, fueling economic disparity, and pushing children and women into unsafe work environments.

A Guide to Living a More Ethical Fashionable Life

In recent months, the controversy revolving around fast fashion stores--think Forever 21, Romwe, and Top Shop--has escalated from the occasional article to near-constant coverage. With such matters dominating your news and social media feeds, it’s time to unpack what fast fashion truly is, why it is so harmful, and how to combat it.

By Merriam-Webster’s definition, fast fashion is “inexpensive clothing produced rapidly by mass-market retailers in response to the latest trends.”

The side effects of such a process are sickening.

It is estimated that internationally, approximately 80 billion garments are bought new, each and every year. Yet of this mass gluttony, the typical shopper will only use 70% of their wardrobe and will end up tossing up to 60 pounds of barely worn and/or used textiles annually. In a world where things go in and out of style in the blink of an eye, not only are humans struggling to catch up, but so are companies.

To make sure people keep buying clothes , factories use the cheapest materials that are inadvertently harmful for the environment. Polyester and other synthetics can take up to two thousand years to biodegrade, and that’s not to mention the harmful microplastics and dangerous fuels released in the biodegrading process. The factories in which such clothes are made are often based in countries with little to no environmental regulations, such as China, so fuel types and amounts don’t have to be regulated. As of 2014, the fashion industry is one of the most heinous pollutants, second only to oil.

Fast fashion also hosts a humanitarian crisis. To stock these factories with an abundance of workers without having to pay the price of such a large quantity of workers, fast fashion companies take advantage of young and poor workers.

As of 2016, more than 60 million individuals work in fast fashion factories, and more than 81% of those people are women, more times than not young, poor, and without other options.

Working in these factories can be incredibly risky, as cheap labor means cheap machines, and when mixed with young children can lead to serious injuries with no health insurance.

If this wasn’t bad enough, fast fashion businesses have a notorious history of creating dozens of offensive and inexcusable policies and products. While these offenses are not directly correlated to their fast fashion practices, the popularity these brands have gained because of fast fashion has given immunity to such stores. This means that even after horrible practices of the stores are made public knowledge, the general public still supports them, and is willing to sweep scandal after scandal under the rug, which smaller brands with a weaker fanbase cannot afford.

Examples include Brandy Mellville’s size exclusivity and complete lack of racial, size, and sexuality diversity; Pretty Little Thing’s blackfishing models and culturally appropriating kimonos; Urban Outfitters marketing a tapestry nearly identical to the uniforms LGBTQ+ Jews were forced to wear during the Holocaust, selling a shirt that read “Eat Less” during Eating Disorder Awareness Month, and creating a highly racist Monopoly knockoff named “Ghettopoly”; the list, unfortunately, goes on and on.

Yes, fast fashion pushes capitalism. But it also pushes climate change, child labor, harassment, racism, so on and so forth. If the top ten worst practices were to be compiled in a list, fast fashion would indubitably be one of them.

Luckily, there are better options and alternatives out there, more than ever before. More and more sustainable and ethical clothing stores have been popping up in recent years, including Alternative Apparel, Aube, and Made With Respect, to name a few. However, when looking into such stores, it’s important to note that because these stores source resources ethically and responsibly and pay their workers higher wages, prices tend to be much higher than fast fashion alternatives. If your economic situation allows you to support these stores, now is the perfect time to start the transition to these stores.

However, for many, such stores are simply not accessible nor sustainable due to the steep price tags. If this is the case, buying second hand is a revolutionary option. Buying clothes from Depop (an online site where independent sellers can list their clothes, handmade or store-bought, ranging in all conditions. Because prices are determined by the seller, price also ranges), ordering clothes from ThreadUp (an online catalog of mint to new condition clothes often discounted at up to 99% the original price), and through thrifting (if any thrift stores are accessible) are all excellent options.

If you are buying second hand, note that thrifting online or in-person once was a way for low-income families and individuals exclusively to purchase items. Thus, when buying, be conscious of the fact that you do have other options. This consciousness includes not buying clothing larger or smaller than your size. XXS, XL, Maternity, and other non-standard size clothing is extremely hard to find, in both fast fashion and thrift stores. Make sure that people who need those sizes can get them. The same applies to buying petite clothing, cropped or tighter wear, as Petites tend to have a harder time shopping. Avoid buying formal business wear unless you need it as well, as not having professional clothes is what holds many back from going to job interviews or booking a job. Finally, when you are going through your closet, consider donating clothes to thrift stores or ThreadUp. This not only cuts down on your carbon footprint and how many new clothes are produced and bought, but also ensures there is a steady supply of clothes for future thrifting.

Nobody is perfect, and we are all bound to mess up at some time or another. However, whenever possible, it is our responsibility to use the economic privilege we hold to assist those who don’t have a choice to be more ethical.


1. https://sustainability.uq.edu.au/projects/recycling-and-waste-minimisation/fast-fashion-quick-cause-environmental-havoc

2. https://theweek.com/articles/480961/15-urban-outfitters-controversies

This article was originally published on Detester Magazine

Detester Magazine, founded in 2019, is a youth-led platform dedicated to amplifying BIPOC youth activism and socio-political issues. We truly believe that art and writing are powerful mediums for change. We want to advocate issues that affect BIPOC communities, whether it concerns politics, society, culture, mental health, environment, and etc. We aim to push past the endless single stories to deliver a picture that expresses distilled human emotions and diverse perspectives. *The name Detester Magazine reflects our goal to combat the hate and bigotry that stem from ignorance.




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