By: Olivia Coletti ’24
The consumer’s interest in sustainability and desire to buy recycled goods has never been higher, yet global waste tells a different story. With increasingly harmful environmental costs of waste, buyers should take their power as a consumer and use conscious decision-making when purchasing items.
What’s the rush in fashion, and why is it a problem? The speed of companies’ output in clothing has never before been seen. With the rapid recovery in the U.S. economy after the pandemic, there is a foreboding trend of rushing in modern-day consumerism. Fashion plays a big role in our climate crisis: “Today, in fact, fashion accounts for up to 10% of global carbon dioxide output—more than international flights and shipping combined,” according to the United Nations Environment Program.
Estimates from consulting firm McKinsey & Company and the World Economic Forum suggest that the number of garments produced each year has doubled since 2000. This speaks directly to big companies and their inventory turnover. Do you have room for seventy new pairs of jeans in your closet? According to a Bloomberg study, “The U.S. throws away the equivalent of about 70 pairs of pants per person in waste from clothes and footwear each year.” But do we all really buy 70 pairs of jeans? Most certainly not. This production increase indicates large amounts of excess inventory.
When most people think of fast fashion, they think of companies like Shein. Interestingly enough, Sheng Lu, an assistant professor of apparel studies at the University of Delaware, claims, “Fast fashion companies like Shein can actually reduce unwanted clothing, if it’s made efficiently.” According to sales, Shein claims they produce minimal batches of clothes in a sort of “Just in Time” inventory method. This means they produce according to the sale as best they can to avoid waste.
But even with these production ideals bringing less inventory turnover, there is no defending their simultaneous misuse of fossil fuels. According to the UN Alliance for Sustainable Fashion, fast fashion is “the second-biggest consumer of water and is responsible for 8-10 percent of global carbon emissions – more than all international flights and maritime shipping combined.” Shein is one of the largest manufacturers of polyester-made clothing in the world; 95.2 percent of Shein clothing contains new plastics. Polyester is made directly from fossil fuel plants; these clothes are non-recyclable and pollute our air and oceans with microfibers. These microfibers are even found to distort marine animals’ DNA, according to some studies.
Shein has a terrible percentage, but is it alone? Shein is not the only culprit. Almost every store in the mall, almost every brand name—including some luxury ones—are at fault too.
But is society supposed to not shop? There are so many pressures and trends in such a consumer-based world, with so much of it at our direct access. Plus, more sustainable shopping is relatively more expensive than the many more accessible options right around the corner.
Aja Barber’s book Consumed sums this issue up with a beautiful point: fast fashion is a moral issue that cares little for the environmental and human costs of its production. These stressful rapid changes in mass production do not reflect well on the environment or customers’ individuality. Barber states how as a consumer, thoughtfully making a more sustainable purchase makes you more conscious of whether you really want the item, which in turn gets the consumer to identify and express a truly personal and authentic style. The systematic rush in fast fashion impacts our climate, our consumers, and our identity.