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June 19, 2024
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How the Death of Fast Fashion Benefits Consumers and the Environment

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced many industries to adapt to unprecedented challenges, often by shifting the entire way they do business. One of the hardest-hit industries was fashion, which was forced to change how it does business entirely. As a result, the fashion world has been compelled to reevaluate the fast fashion model that has been dominant in apparel for so long.

“Multiple shutdowns at factories, ports, and shipping containers on the wrong side of the world created an utter collapse of the fashion supply chain for footwear and apparel,” says Shannon Scott, President and Founder of COMUNITYmade, a handmade sneaker store in Los Angeles. “The overseas mass production model is outdated and needed a reboot — COVID-19 accelerated the process.”

Small businesses like COMUNITYmade are making strides towards sustainability and improving the environment, even on what may appear to be a minor scale. Regardless, their contributions to the collective movement are not going unnoticed. As more and more consumers are turning to these pioneers for their fashion needs, the pressure on the industry giants is increasing significantly.

Customers are becoming aware of the damage fast fashion causes

“For years, fast fashion has been exploiting cheap labor, contributing to the overflow of landfills and the environmental carbon footprint,” explains Scott. “The spotlight has now turned to make brands accountable for their actions, and consumers are finally starting to vote with their dollars to support brands who don’t contribute to these problems.”

Indeed, consumers are becoming more aware of the damage that the fast fashion system causes at every level. Not only do these outdated manufacturing practices cause immense damage to the environment, the human cost that they have is also significant. Consumers around the world are beginning to realize that the convenience and cheapness of fast fashion costs far more than the few dollars that they are saving off retail prices.

Trends show that consumers in the United States are becoming less and less willing to purchase mass-produced fashion products made overseas. Many associate products that are “Made in the USA” as higher quality than their international counterparts. While these products are perhaps more expensive to produce because of the higher standards with which they are made, many of the costs of importing products have been rising in recent years. 

For one, products made internationally are generally considered to be of less consistent craftsmanship and quality. So, while it might be cheaper to buy individual products made overseas, it’s likely that they will have to be replaced more often than a product made with more expensive, higher-quality materials. As the name would suggest, fast-fashion products are made with the speed as the primary concern, meaning many of these products are made with cheap materials and susceptible to flaws.

How supply chain issues impact fast fashion

Recent years have also seen issues arise throughout global supply chains. Reduced supplies of raw materials around the world have caused widespread product shortages. With factories having to stop production at several points due to COVID-related quarantine and isolation policies, many fashion retailers saw that their supply chains were not as reliable as they had initially believed. Businesses were left losing money, and consumers were left without the products they wanted and needed.

“The sheer distance and carbon footprint created by producing products so far away from the end consumer is not sustainable for the planet,” says Scott. “Think about the recent ‘farm to table’ movement — it’s all about utilizing the local materials and people to create a product that is more sustainable for everyone concerned.”

There are also some substantial costs to fast fashion, primarily associated with buying overseas products. In addition to shipping these products internationally, there are often costs tied to their import, such as certain import taxes that companies must pay before bringing products into the country. These taxes and other costs can rapidly pile up when products are imported in bulk.

The human rights issues of fast fashion

Consumers must consider the human rights issues with fast fashion. Much discussion has been had about the sweatshop model’s ethics — more specifically, the lack thereof — but consumers have turned a blind eye to these issues repeatedly and again. Now, however, people are starting to take action, supporting companies that make their products domestically with ethical practices, rather than unethical international manufacturers.

“The fast fashion model takes advantage of low-cost labor and shortcuts on working conditions, devaluing the people making the products,” says Scott. “These companies think they are doing their employees a favor by giving them a job, but that simply isn’t true. Anytime you take advantage of another person’s time and value, the cost is already too high. Products should not be made to be disposable, and that applies to people too.”

When consumers are aware of all the ethical considerations at play, they will typically choose the more humane option. In the past, consumers haven’t had as many affordable options at their disposal, being forced to choose fast fashion if they wanted to purchase apparel within their budget. But with significantly more options for consumers, the market has opened up, meaning that more consumers are free to decide and support more ethical alternatives.

But consumers shouldn’t only look at the initial price point when making purchasing decisions — they should account for value over time. While it may be initially cheaper to buy a fast fashion product, the quality and longevity received from a premium-quality product makes the slightly higher cost worthwhile. 

“If you add up the amount of cheaper, inferior products you may buy and throw away after a few wearings, versus one quality item, the net amount is often the same, but the premium product will last for years to come,” Scott asserts. The death of fast fashion doesn’t only benefit the environment — although that is something we should undoubtedly be celebrating — it will also help the consumer in the long run, and allow them to look good while doing it.

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