Sustainable fashion is out

Photo by Nithya Jameshenry Student Publications

Clothing has a short life span. This doesn’t necessarily refer to how long a piece lasts before ripping or how long until your mother secretly throws your favorite t-shirt away while you’re home for winter break. This is the time period for which a piece of clothing is deemed fashionable or trendy. 

According to reports by McKinsey in 2016, companies have been shortening their production cycles and turning out new designs quickly to keep up with fashion trends, allowing individuals to revise and refresh their closets consistently. 

They further state that the cheapest of these garments are often treated as nearly disposable, with consumers only wearing these pieces around seven or eight times before casting them in the bin. 

This phenomenon is widely referred to as fast fashion. At this point, we’ve all heard of it. The rapidly growing SHEIN and ROMWE tout highly discounted prices; with $7 dresses and $10 jeans, SHEIN makes H&M and Forever 21 seem expensive. 

This comparison is not invalid either. Mid-level priced companies are getting more and more expensive comparatively, pushing consumers towards fast fashion. The outsourcing and low pay, unethical working conditions where the articles are manufactured and excess stockpiling are only a few of the issues
with fast fashion.

The environmental impact of the fashion industry is not negligible either. The UN estimates that the industry contributes to approximately 10% of all carbon emissions. The focus on “faster” and “more” clothing rather than sustainable methods and materials contribute to this metric. 

With many bigger companies refusing to focus on conservation and sustainability initiatives, consumers (such as college students like ourselves) looking for affordable options find themselves stuck between feeding into the fast fashion monster or breaking the bank for sustainable alternatives.

Many of the environmentally-conscious items present on the market are at high price points, especially because they are often handmade or made with ethically sourced components that are difficult to mark down. 

For numerous demographics, this is simply not a feasible option. And with the perception of what is considered fashionable constantly adjusting, it is getting difficult to keep up with the current trends.

Social media, like TikTok and Instagram, has only furthered the spread of quickly-spawning and quickly-dying fashion fads. Fashion accounts vilify certain articles of clothing and glorify others.

A few months later, these preferences change and companies change with them.

One month it’s the Stüssy 8 Ball Sherpa Jacket and the next month everyone finds it overrated. Another month it’s the Nike Panda Dunk SB sneakers, and the next it’s considered basic.

One alternative and affordable option is thrifting. While it does circulate existing clothing around the closets of consumers, casual and consistent usage of these stores can also drive up their prices, making it harder to afford for those who legitimately need to purchase clothing secondhand. 

Another option is researching companies who, while not perfect, are better and more ethical than companies who focus completely on quantity over quality and do not take care of their employees. 

An example of this is ZARA, which has clothing lines looking to lessen its environmental impact but still cannot be categorized as affordable.

Regardless of which way you look at it, the fashion industry is in a tough spot in terms of sustainability, affordability and environmental consciousness when it comes to clothing garment manufacturing. It is extremely difficult to keep up with ever-changing trends while also sourcing and producing pieces ethically. 

However, the next time you are checking out of a $200 SHEIN haul, ask yourself whether that money couldn’t go to a company that is even slightly
kinder to our earth.