An illustration of the environmental impacts that Fast Fashion brands like Zara have on the earth. Illustration by Natalie Tasha-Thompson.

Colorful and bright body-con dresses, tanks, and bathing suits hang on store walls with yellow tags that read 50% off while shoppers are in a frenzy to get in line for the newest deals. Plastic bags are brought home, receipts are on the floor and the anticipation for a cute Instagram photo is in mind. 

 It’s called Fast Fashion.

All the while, countries and states are burning, the oceans fill with plastic at an alarming rate and animals are dying from pollution in our water and air.

That’s Fast Fashion too.

Fast Fashion is an omnipresent issue that the entirety of the population has fallen privy to because of the discounted prices and the easy to purchase pieces. But at the end of the day, buying cheap comes at a high price

As last season’s cheap clothes get tossed to the curb each season, environmentalists call for an end to the growing waste. 

Fast Fashion has quickly become one of the fastest growing environmental impacts in the last decade. With more than  10% of total carbon emissions coming from the fast-fasion industry, and the ever growing state of small businesses and boutiques, the earth will greatly be impacted by the market even more.

“Fast Fashion brands are affordable, but they change their products regularly so you’ll never see the same thing again,” said Linda Coskun, textile buying agent.

With Princess Polly, Shein, and Reformation becoming some of the most recent emerging companies to join Zara in the fast fashion game, falling into the cycle of purchasing disposable clothing has become easier than ever.

In a Vogue article from 2019, Zara Executive Marta Ortega responded to the environmental impact of fast fashion. 

“[We] are highly focused on making clothes in a responsible, sustainable way, that limits the impact on the environment and [which] challenges ourselves to continually work as hard as we can to improve how we manufacture,” said Ortega.

These companies and many alike have become popular because they are highly inexpensive.

“The fashion industry has been the bane of my existence since I learned how all of the big-name brands make and distribute their clothes,” said eco-friendly brand owner Tatiana Ringsby.

Tatianna Ringsby’s brand, Pronounced [tatchi].
For Ringsby and many other environmentally conscious small business owners, Fast Fashion has created a disdain in the fashion industry that has become the pinnacle of their boutiques’ brand development.

 “It is up to the companies themselves to decide if they want to have an impact on the environment and if they want to become more sustainable. We as the manufacturer would love to bring on more environmentally conscious clients but it can be the difference of millions of dollars for the businesses and as much as they want the purchases we want the clients,” said Coskun.

“Since 2000, consumerism on clothes alone has increased by 60%,” according to Greenpeace.

Some speculate the rise in purchasing is attributed to the presence of social media and fashion bloggers constantly pushing new outfits and unique boutiques on their platforms.

With high demand and the ease of creating new textiles out of plastic ladened polyester – which can’t be recycled and takes 200 years to biodegrade – brands can now pump out new pieces of clothing every two to three weeks.

With new clothing items finding a home in your closest weekly, old pieces of your wardrobe have to end up somewhere. More than likely, these t-shirts, dresses, and bathing suits contribute to the 21 billion pounds of textile waste in United States landfills.

The average American purchases 67 new items every year which calculates out to a new piece of clothing every four to five days, according to Greenpeace. 

 “It takes nearly a quarter of the time to create pieces that are going to end up in landfills anyway,” said Coskun.

It would seem to be an easy solution to just DONATE your clothes, but sadly, we as human beings are careless to our environment since only “10-15% of donated clothing actually ends up in the secondhand market,” according to Remake. 

“If I am going to find a new outfit I am going to go thrifting because at this time in my life I don’t need NEW stuff and I don’t want to contribute to hurting the environment for a new shirt,” said Journalism major and Chapman University senior, Jillie Herrold.

Chapman University seniors, Emma Kiefer and Jillie Herrold, sporting thrifted clothing.

The best way to help eliminate or at least lessen the production of clothing and the harmful system we as a society have become accustomed to is to buy second-hand.

Do you know what the best part about that is? That second hand is ACTUALLY trendy now, so you get to look cute and help the environment at the same time!

“I have the ability to curate unique pieces when I thrift and tend to get way more compliments on my looks that are second-hand instead of the Fast Fashion pieces that I have bought,” said Political Science major and Chapman University senior Jenna Perry.

Some great places to get you started on your new eco-friendly, second-hand buying habits are starting local, go check out the nearest thrift store, Goodwill, or Salvation Army or check out apps like Poshmark and Depop to find name-brand clothing.

“With these new second-hand apps I don’t have to give up the brands that I love,” said Sociology major and Chapman University senior, Emma Kiefer.

Finding your unique style while saving the environment is easier than ever and chances are you are not only going to feel better about your choices but you are going to be turning-heads with some of the outfits that you put together.

You might not be able to change the world with one shirt or one dress or even one bathing suit, but making that conscious decision to buy second-hand even 50% of the time, environmentalists say, could save the planet for future generations to come. 

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