Attempting to buy ethically in a fast fashion world

Attempting to buy ethically in a fast fashion world

Attempting to buy ethically in a fast fashion world
September 13
08:00 2018

Like typical teens, my friends and I could be spotted at popular mall retailers on the weekends. The stores were a haven for young consumers and budget-conscious shoppers looking for trendy and highly affordable clothing. But with a cheap price tag came cheap material prone to ripping, unraveling and fading. It would be years before I learned just how harmful fast fashion is to society and the environment. Distraught, I took to the internet to figure out which stores were safe to shop at, but there were not a lot of options.

Most retailers in the U.S. that sell cheap clothing and promote daily deals work in conjunction with sweatshops. Sweatshop workers in Bangladesh and China are some of the world’s lowest paid and typically work in unsafe environments. Not only are the workers exploited, but clothing waste also contributes to climate change due to toxic fabric dyes and short material lifespan. Some industries sell their out-of-trend clothes to wholesalers and the clothes end up littering the lands of other countries, like Africa and Haiti, where most of the clothing ends up in landfills.

As a budding adult who has become more health- and environmentally-conscious, I had a desire to make a change in my lifestyle. However, my wallet could only afford a certain price range fit for a broke college student. It was difficult finding retailers that operated ethically, and online stores were more expensive and less size-inclusive than I anticipated.

Determined not to give up, I sought other options. Resale stores offered cheap clothes and were great for finding basic shirts, sweaters and jackets. But when it came to my need for durable plus-size jeans, undergarments, or a specific style of shoe like rain boots, the local thrift stores couldn’t fulfill my needs. I envied my friends who bought cute, perfectly-fitting thrifted jeans and shorts, and my desire to dress in a particular style limited my thrifting finds.

I had been backed into a corner by the fast fashion industry that surrounded me, and with a weight of guilt on my shoulders, I made a trip to the mall.

Many online sources suggest the same solutions — shop thrift and vintage, shop online ethical retailers, or simply shop less. These options seem easy enough to implement, but ignore the issue of body type and lack of convenience for specific garments.

What makes fast fashion nearly inescapable is that it literally surrounds us. The desire to shop ethically eliminates almost all retailer options in the surrounding area, including the mall in its entirety. Ethical retailers are drowned out by the sheer volume of competitive businesses who offer clothes at a cheaper price. Though American Apparel was controversial in its advertising, at least it operated ethically and responsibly and supported immigration reform and LGBTQ rights. However, my teenage self couldn’t fit into or afford their clothing, and apparently neither could the rest of their customers because the company filed for bankruptcy in November of 2016.

It is important to stay informed about our purchases and hold ourselves accountable for ethical and environmental problems in the world. However, it is also important to recognize we can’t all be saints and afford the highest quality of goods. In our capitalist society, it is crucial for consumers to hold companies accountable for exploitation and failure to act responsibly. If you’re able to, I suggest you look into ethical and sustainable retailers when considering your next purchase.

Featured Illustration: Austin Banzon

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Christina Palomo

Christina Palomo

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