Written by Aeowynn Ayres
Art by Lily Anderson
Karl Lagerfeld once said: “Trendy is the last stage before tacky.” As a result of the constant overconsumption of fast fashion brands that is beginning to be normalized, the lines between what is trendy and what is tacky have never been so blurred. It seems that every time I refresh my Instagram feed, a new, horrible clothing trend has taken over. And guess what? The five dollar shirt you just bought from a fast fashion brand because you saw all the other girls wearing it is long out of style now.
These days, it seems that whenever you ask someone where they got their cute top or their funky pair of earrings, they say the same thing: “I got it from Shein.” Fast fashion brands like Shein and Romwe are in high demand as a consequence of teenage fashion enthusiasts. The problem, however, is that although fast fashion brands are much cheaper than conventional department store brands, there are drawbacks that aren’t often recognized–or just intentionally overlooked. More times than not, the apparel is cheaply made and wrapped in mounds of unnecessary plastic–which to me, seems like a waste of money. The environmental impact of the production and packaging alone is enough to turn me off from the brands.
Fast fashion brands outsource their production to supplier firms in developing countries–these suppliers are known as Tier 1 companies. These Tier 1 companies subcontract production to big suppliers that are not affiliated with the fast fashion brand that initially requested the outsource. Since these suppliers are not technically affiliated with the fast fashion brand that is doing the outsourcing, these brands are not contractually obligated to ensure safe and manageable working conditions. Suppliers are getting away with paying workers wages that are barely livable, and by purchasing these products, we’re letting them.
In 2013, a clothing manufacturing compound in Bangladesh collapsed. This freak accident killed 1,134 workers, and injured over 2,500. The brands that had outsourced production in Rana Plaza refused to pay the compensation that would be used to fix the building and help contribute to hospital bills. Considering there are no labor laws in these third world countries, the brands weren’t forced to be held accountable. In total, fast fashion companies produce 150 billion articles of clothing every year. These clothes are often thrown away fairly quickly because the material is cheap and rips easily. It takes 80 years for these clothes to break down because they are synthetic materials.
After finding this out I swore off shopping at any fast fashion brand or business. Why should I give my money to a brand that has completely different ideas than me for the sake of a good outfit? I’ve noticed that since I abolished fast fashion in my dresser and closet, my sense of style has evolved. I take great care in finding pieces that will compliment me and my personality and I enjoy finding and wearing unique articles of clothing. I also have begun to focus more on the art of accessorizing; now that I know that pieces of jewelry I buy won’t turn my fingers and neck green from their poor quality.
Now, while these adjustments to my lifestyle are good, I’d be a hypocrite for criticizing Shein and other similar brands if I didn’t admit that I have purchased from them in the past. Although Shein was established in 2008, they didn’t gain attraction until around 2019–when I was 14. At the time, any money I had to my name was given to me for a birthday or other holiday, so I didn’t necessarily have a lot of it. Shein sells their clothes for dirt cheap, starting at 50 cents, which was immediately appealing to me. Summer was approaching, so I bought a couple bathing suits and crop tops.
I greatly anticipated the arrival of my package. When it finally arrived, I was eager to try everything on. I opened the comically large box of clothes and was faced with something even more comical–the sheer amount of plastic packaging used for the small amount of clothing that I ordered. Every individual garment is enclosed in a clear, plastic bag with thick, black lettering that reads ‘SHEIN’ horizontally on the left side. Along with this, there were those small, air-filled plastic bags that were supposed to resemble bubble wrap. The plastic packaging that had taken up the majority of my bedroom square footage only foreshadowed the unsettling consequences of my actions.
When I tried on the pieces I had waited ages for, they were underwhelming to say the very least. The fabric was very thin, and really just lacked any quality. I traditionally have a larger body type, but even when I sized-up with a large, I still felt like the clothes were way too small for me. I ended up returning all of them.
This practice of returning and selling clothes that don’t fit isn’t inherently harmful, but when the garments are that of fast fashion, we as the consumer are contributing to the negative effects they have on the fashion industry. Resale stores like Plato’s Closet generally only accept trendy clothes–which tend to only be found in fast fashion. When shopping at second-hand stores, instead of the racks being filled with one-of-a-kind pieces, they are filled with tacky and poorly produced clothing that was most likely thrown out after one or two wears. Not only does this ruin thrift-culture, It completely defeats the fun of shopping second-hand if the item of clothing was made less than six months ago.
These irresponsible practices are being overlooked for the sake of a good outfit, but at what cost? Fast fashion should not cost us our planet, our dignity in regards to style, or our morals in regards to workers rights, which is exactly what it is doing.