The world of fast fashion is slowing its growth. More consumers are aware of the poor workers’ conditions and harsh environmental impact that comes with a new, cheap t-shirt. Looking for ways to be a more conscious shopper? This is your guide to slow fashion shopping.

Breaking down fast fashion

When most people hear the term ‘fast fashion’, they think of dominant brands like Forever 21, Zara, and the like. These brands are notorious for their ‘fast’ business models. The strategy focuses on mass production. The goal is to stay up-to-date with short-lived trends. As consumers are starting to realize, new, trendy clothing lines come at the expense of a healthy environment.

The intentionally short lifespans of the clothing they sell, along with lower costs, promote over-consumption. ‘Old’ pieces must be replaced as soon as the newest trends come rolling around.

By appealing to the pockets of young shoppers, brands stimulate budget-friendly closet updates. The dollar savers come at the expense of clothing quality. But the extra cents here end up exploiting natural resources and perpetuate the mistreatment of low-wage workers.

Shopping has become more convenient as e-commerce continues to boom. The ease and simplicity of online ordering continues to replace the traditional brick-and-mortar approach

Global e-commerce sales may reach $4 trillion by the end of 2020. Online shopping contributes to 14% of the total global retail market. Clothes, shoes, and accessories are readily available to consumers with the click of a button. This leaves shoppers with the ethical dilemma of whether to buy into fast fashion fads.

New culprits enter the market

As we enter a time dominated by the convenience of e-commerce, new stores like Zaful, Shein, and Romwe continue to gain traction in the market of online shopping.

These China-based stores take advantage of low-wage labor through sweatshop manufacturing, allowing them to produce clothes in mass quantities and competitively slash prices. 

Zaful, Shein, and RomWe gained popularity on Instagram by targeting promotions for “affordable” swimwear for young women. With the average swimsuit costing under $20 on these sites, young women could buy multiple swimwear styles in bulk. This eventually led consumers to buy other products like clothing, sleepwear, accessories, etc. Due to the extremely low prices, consumers place orders by the dozens, taking a “haul” approach in order to optimize their shipping costs.  

Through aggressive marketing strategies, these stores became well known on every social media platform, using stolen images to advertise products that were “too good to be true.” 

Oftentimes, items received were drastically different from those pictured. Customers complained about strange sizing and poor fabric quality. As wary reviews arose on these questionable garments, customers are increasingly faced with a cost-benefit analysis to determine whether bargain prices justify the shoddy integrity of the products. 

The invisible price tag

As shoppers raved about the budget-friendly alternatives to some of their favorite brands, others questioned the ethics behind these stores. Unfortunately, these drastically low prices have both moral and environmental costs. It is difficult to reconcile with the child labor, poor working conditions, massive amounts of waste, and environmental impacts associated with the production of “fast fashion” garments. 

Low cost clothing, high cost to society

According to the World Report on Child Labour 2015, approximately 265 million children globally are enslaved by illegal labor practices, mostly within the fashion industry. In the absence of strong labor regulations, many of these children work in unsafe and unhealthy conditions with unreasonable hours. The long hours and low wages facilitate fast, cheap production, flooding the market with cheap, low quality products, and fueling overconsumption. 

Poorly made products require frequent replacement, causing old garments to end up in landfills, polluting the planet with our out-of-season fashion fads. On average, each American tosses over 80 pounds of clothes every year, filling landfills and deteriorating our ecosystems. In 2017, only 15% of clothing was recycled, with the rest added to the ever growing pile of waste. The distance required to ship these clothes across the world also magnifies their carbon footprint.

Though the total cost of purchase may be significantly lower, the “invisible price tag” associated with purchases rises exponentially. The vague sustainability promises, like Zaful’s “green way of manufacturing,” should prompt consumer caution. The greenwashing demonstrated by Zaful’s Sustainability Panel and Shein’s Social Responsibility Campaign fail to provide shoppers with tangible evidence of ethical, sustainable practices. 

How slow fashion helps

The long-term benefits of shopping sustainably is worth the short-term cost. Organic and recycled fabrics are typically more difficult to produce due to strict guidelines mandated by sustainable standards, making the product more expensive. Responsibly sourced materials like organic fabrics require low-impact crop farming, a costly yet ethical practice. 

Sustainable fashion enables consumers to commit to minimalist, low-impact lifestyles. The commitment requires consumers to choose each piece in our closets carefully and responsibly. 

Your guide to slow fashion shopping

Here’s a list of some things you can do to start slow fashion shopping:

1. Consider “Quality over Quantity”

Next time you have a shirt in your hands or your online shopping cart, consider how many times you will wear it and what value it might add to your closet. What do you really need?

2. Leverage the Power of your Purse

By investing in ethical brands, we can facilitate the shift to a sustainable culture in the fashion industry. 

3. Upcycle

Reusing fabrics for another purpose allows you to decrease environmental impact, while continuing to update your wardrobes or home. Promoting a circular system of consumption prevents clothes from ending up in landfills while promoting creativity. Those old t-shirts just might become your favorite new quilt, pillow case, or tote bag!  By changing our approach to shopping, we as consumers can help sow the seed of sustainability within the fashion industry.

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