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A “Fast Fashion” Guide For College Students

“Fast fashion” is a term that describes the stores we all love for their affordable prices and on-trend clothing: stores like Forever 21, H&M, and Zara. “Fast fashion” is perfectly made for college students- the clothes are low-cost, available in mass quantities, and in style. Although Fast fashion seems ideal for college students, it’s not at all ideal for the rest of the world. The toxic impacts of “Fast fashion” are unethical and also avoidable. Luckily, “fast fashion” is not the only option, even if your bank account is running low.

The reasons to shop ethically are numerous. As a college student, I will admit these reasons are a bit hard to read, let alone accept as reality. I used to shop “fast fashion retailers” on a regular basis, without knowing the consequences someone else was paying for.

Fast Fashion Is Hurting the Environment

Everyone knows about recycling. Everyone knows about showering shorter to save water. Everyone knows to not waste food. This is how we know we can impact our planet for the good or the bad, on a daily basis. Something that most of us don’t think about are the things we are throwing away. We throw away items that aren’t of value or use to us, and this is often clothing. In 2019, we go through clothes faster than any other time period. Clothing isn’t the treasure it used to be. As trends come and go, our clothing starts to pile up in landfills. 150 billion garments are made each year, with 12.8 million tons of clothing being disposed of each year (Gunther). If you do the math, this is around eighty pounds per person. With people continuing to buy from the “fast fashion” industry, landfills will continue to fill with unwanted clothing. The fashion industry has turned into an industry that is cheap, with new clothes cycling through week after week, just to end up in a landfill.

Not only does the clothing industry end up cluttering landfills, but they are responsible for polluting water as well. To make a single t-shirt, it takes around 2,720 liters of water. This is more water than the average human drinks in three years. To make a pair of jeans, it takes 7,000 liters. With the petroleum industry being the most polluting industry, the fashion industry is a close second (Tatar). When shopping for on-trend clothing, many don’t know the cost of precious resources that had to be used to make one item.

College students have a choice of either contributing to the pile of trash or changing their ways. Change can be facilitated by shopping smarter. Don’t buy from retailers like Forever 21 on a regular basis, but instead buy from reputable brands like Madewell and Reformation every once in a while. Madewell and Reformation are pricier than “fast fashion” brands, but are made with better fabrics that will last for a longer time. Buying clothes second-hand are the best option, as you are recycling clothes and giving them more use. Buying from thrift stores is not only something fun to do with friends, but it is an affordable way to find clothing. It’s about the thrill of the hunt. As a college student, swapping your clothes with your friends is a great way to find new purposes for unwanted clothing.

Fast Fashion Is Exploiting its Workers

Factory workers are being mistreated in several different ways. As of September 2018, Bangladesh garment workers are earning around ninety five US dollars a month after the recent rise in minimum wages (Elven). Garment workers often work long days without breaks. “Fast fashion” is to blame for the mistreatment of workers not only in Bangladesh, but all over the world. In the beginning, “fast fashion” was meant to create more jobs for people living in other countries while providing cheap, affordable clothing for US consumers. This is not the case as many workers are underpaid and are working long shifts in the factories, often without breaks. Many workers are even exposed to harmful chemicals on a daily basis, as popular brands such as Forever 21, Wet Seal and Charlotte Russe were found to have been selling items with lead contamination (Blum). This not only harms the factory workers, but the people shopping for the product in the store, buying and using the product, especially around food or drink.

Author of To Die For: Is Fashion Wearing Out the World?, Lucy Siegle says that clothing with sequins and intricate beading are often common signs of child labor in the factories. She writes that the machines capable of applying beads and sequins are too expensive for most factories to purchase on their own dime. She claims that twenty to sixty percent of the industry of garment production is done at home. This means that many families are working from home, with the help of the children (Siegle). With the high demand of clothing in factories, workers will sew detailing at home, often with the help of their child’s tiny hands. This puts the child or children in danger, as sewing equipment can be harmful. And worse, if detailed pieces were to be on trend, this would affect the household tremendously, burdening the family with labor. This is immensely unethical, as many workers come home to escape the cruelness of the workplace. Many have to continue the tedious sewing in their own living rooms, rather than spending much needed time with their loved ones. As the trends of the season fluctuate, the health and strength of the factory workers will, too.

Strain is put on the workers as they rapidly work to meet consumers needs. With the fashion industry advancing, “fast fashion” is only getting faster. Amancio Ortega, founder of Zara and fourth richest man in the world, can attest to this. He says “I’ll keep working until the end,” and he has not reached the end. Ortega dropped out of school to make clothing when he was just fourteen years old, leading the the creation of his company, “Zara.” Zara is one of the largest retail companies in the world and currently has the power to ship a finished design out to 2,213 stores in approximately two weeks (Singh). With trends coming and going, stores like Zara find ways to keep up with speed, producing pieces that are cheap and well-stocked. Zara’s clothing might not be made to last for seasons to come, but it will last through the time that it is on “trend,” and that is all that matters in this advancing industry.

The Role of College Students

The culture of fashion has changed drastically. Not only is the environment suffering from the high demands of affordable and on-trend clothing, but people are being wounded from this endless cycle. As the year of fashion is on constant rotation, workers all over the world are weary—and many people are unaware of what they are contributing to every time they go shopping at their nearest “fast fashion” retailer. The earth is at stake, but most are more concerned with buying the latest fashion craze. As a college student, there is a lot to be done. Educating people on this matter is crucial, as conversation can change minds, which can lead to action. Making choices about where we put the little money we do have can also send signals that start chain reactions. Is that $10 sweater worth the negative impact on people and the planet?


Gunther, Marc. “Fast Fashion Fills Our Landfills.” JSTOR Daily, 27 Sept. 2016,


Tatar, Cristine. “Fashion Revolution Day Germany.” Future Fashion Forward, 23 April 2018,


Blum, Deborah. “Fashion at a Very High Price.” The New York Times, 20 Dec. 2013, well.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/12/20/fashion-at-a-very-high-price/?_php=true&_type=blogs&_r=2.

Elven, Marjorie van. “Bangladesh Raises Minimum Wage for Garment Workers.” Fashionunited, 14 Sept. 2018, fashionunited.uk/news/business/bangladesh-raises-minimum-wage-for-garment-workers/2018091438912.

Siegle, Lucy. To Die for: Is Fashion Wearing out the World ? Fourth Estate, 2011.

Singh, Ganit. “Fast Fashion Has Changed the Industry and the Economy.” Foundation for Economic Education, 7 July 2017, fee.org/articles/fast-fashion-has-changed-the-industry-and-the-economy/.



About the author

Holland Keller

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