Chapman University students stroll through Attallah Piazza wearing the latest trends, while 12-year-olds in Southeast Asian factories inhale toxic materials, are sexually harassed and get paid 50 cents per day.
Many workers in the fashion industry undergo extremely oppressive working conditions according to a report by Citi I/O. From violating child labor laws to underpaying workers, these methods contribute to the multi-billion dollar industry known as fast fashion.
Fast fashion is the inexpensive and rapid mass-market production of clothing by cheap labor in developing countries.
Some clothing brands – such as H&M, Forever21, and Zara – manufacture their products this way to keep up with the demand of fashion trends at a low cost, but usually at the expense of the worker according to ArcGIS, a mapping and analytics website.
Forever21 did not respond to requests for comment. An H&M customer service employee confirmed the company’s business practices. Zara avoided the inquiry and instead brought up its sustainable “Join Life” collection.
“I think most people know about fast fashion, including myself, and it sucks but I feel like I don’t have much power in changing it,” said junior Harrison Lam, a public relations and advertising and strategic and corporate communications double major.
Millennials are willing to spend more money on a product if it came from a socially and environmentally conscious brand that aligns with their personal values, states a report by Nielsen, a data analytics company. Yet at Chapman, many students buy their clothes from brands that are considered fast fashion.
Jacy Sera, a senior environmental science and policy major, understands the costs of fast fashion, but values the importance of fashion statements and expressing her style through what she wears.
“I do want to stay with the trends and a lot of those companies provide those trends at an affordable price, so that pushes me towards shopping at these stores,” Sera said.
The fashion industry also has a negative impact on the environment; the polyester and synthetic microfibers from clothing end up in the sea. More than 60% of fabric fibers are now synthetics, derived from fossil fuels, meaning that the clothing tossed to landfills will not decay according to the New York Times.
Like Sera, Nathan Adorney, a sophomore psychology major, values his appearance while weighing the price and quality of his clothing. Adorney explained that he wants a clothing item that will not damage after three wears, but also will not damage his wallet.
“The idea of fast fashion is really shitty, but when you’re on a budget you kind of have to do what you got to do. I try to thrift shop when I can though,” Adorney said.
Sera and Adorney shop at stores like Forever 21 and H&M. Senior health science major Tim Le not only shops at those stores, but also Facebook Marketplace and secondhand stores, which are known for selling used or recycled clothing.
“I don’t care about name brands, just if it’s good quality. I just weigh cost and quality and go for the ones that have a nice balance… which saves my spending quite a bit,” Le said.
Some students try to avoid fast fashion and break the cycle by thrift shopping.
Danica Tamura, a senior strategic and corporate communications and creative cultural industries major, thrift shops in-person and at online stores such as DePop to help the environment. Junior business administrations and public relations major Emily Felix also sells her clothes to these stores.
Rachel Kinnard, a lecturer at Chapman who teaches Fashion Culture and Industry, knows the ins and outs of the fashion industry. Although some may scold those that contribute to the vicious fast fashion cycle, the pressure to change the cycle should not be on students to change the system, Kinnard said.
Since capitalism has spread and globalization has occurred, clothing manufacturing has become a huge industry across the world.
“We live in a culture where appearance is so important. Any solution for ethical fast fashion will have to come from the higher up positions in the government or the store policies themselves,” said Kinnard.