Opinion: College students need more sustainable clothing options | Opinions

Avoiding fast fashion can be difficult for students with limited income and time, and finding common ground is necessary.

Fast fashion is a phrase used to describe trendy, inexpensive clothing found online or in popular stores. While many are drawn to the stylish items, incredibly low prices, and massive sales, they are repelled to learn of many of the unethical business practices the fast fashion industry partakes in, such as textile waste. , child labor and the underpayment of its workers.

However 80% of university students lacked a clear understanding of the harms of fast fashion in a January 2017 study, rising climate concerns among Gen Z are driving students to seek more knowledge on the subject. However, once you are aware of the ubiquity of fast fashion, it can be hard to avoid.

The accessibility of fast fashion brands makes the temptation and convenience hard for students to pass up. Many brands known for their fast fashion practices, such as H&M and Forever 21, have extensive and flashy storefronts. Meanwhile, stores with online designs, such as Shein and Fashion Nova, are constantly releasing new styles to match microtrends.

Shein is one of the worst offenders; a study by Sheng Lu of the University of Delaware found that in twelve months, the Gap listed 12,000 items on its site, H&M listed 25,000, Zara listed 35,000 and Shein listed 1 .3 million. Even more surprisingly, Shein comes out until 6,000 articles per day on average on its site. Online fast fashion stores also use time counters, limited time sales, and thoughtfully placed product recommendations to create a sense of urgency and encourage users to buy more than they initially intended.

It’s understandable that those unaware of fast fashion — or even those short on resources or alternative options — might be drawn in. The temptation becomes even stronger for students because these stores, which offer fast delivery at low prices or weekend hours in storefronts, serve as a place for them to quickly buy clothes.

To make matters worse, fast fashion brands often employ influencers from Youtube, TikTok and Instagram to create outfits and release videos for them. Due to the evolving nature of social media trends, these influencers often encourage their followers to buy new items or even a new wardrobe as each trend comes and goes.

Even those who want to wear their new items after the trend has passed won’t have much luck; studies show that clothing styles sold at fast fashion retailers are designed to be worn less than ten times. Due to the low price, buyers are less concerned about throwing the item away and buying a new one, but this only compounds the growing problem of textile waste in America, who doubled from seven million tonnes to 14 million tonnes per year over the past 20 years.

Buying sustainable clothing brands can be expensive, and the items are often beyond a student’s meager budget. This is an expense that can be difficult to avoid, as it is precisely the elements that make fast fashion cheap that make it unsustainable and unethical. Mateusz Zawada, Chief Financial Officer of star seedsa London-based slow fashion clothing brand, says prices for sustainable fabrics can be two to four times the cost of non-durable fabrics. This is due to the expensive processes used to grow sustainable fabrics as well as low demand from other apparel companies, who often opt for cheaper fabrics such as polyester.

Ethical fashion brands find it difficult to compete with fast fashion brands, because fast fashion brands often cut factory workers’ salaries drastically in order to offer such low prices, which ethical fashion brands don’t want not to do.

According to Garment Workers Center in Los Angeles, most garment workers in California work 60 to 70 hours a week in dirty and dangerous conditions and are paid at a rate of two to six cents per piece instead of minimum wage. These workers, often women of color and immigrants, earn an average of just $300 a week. Many big fashion brands rely on this cheap labor not only to keep their prices low, but also to stay in business; raising their salaries would jeopardize their bottom line, so they see no incentive to do so.

Students who are interested in both fashion and more ethical and sustainable business practices find that, outside of significant income or financial support from parents, switching to sustainable clothing is easier to say than to do. The median dependent student earned $3,900 and the median freelance student earned $13,880 in the 2015-2016 school year – insufficient wages for quality clothing. Therefore, students must look elsewhere to shop sustainably.

Savings is the best, most immediate, fast-fashion alternative. Although this is an attractive option, it has its drawbacks. The styles, sizes, and items available at thrift stores vary widely depending on who donates to that area. Those who don’t have thrift stores that stock their sizes or style nearby can often turn to the internet to use resale apps such as Poshmark and Depop to buy second-hand clothes, often at discounted rates. .

Often, people interested in thrift stores cannot find the right items for them, and more often than not, tall people bear the brunt of this exclusion. plus size women have often spoken their difficulties in finding fashionable and well-fitting clothes, and these problems are often compounded in second-hand purchases.

Because the fashion industry hasn’t mass-produced for plus-size women for several decades, there are fewer plus-size vintage and second-hand items. For those that do exist, the competition is fierce, even among straight-cut women who like to wear plus-size items like oversized pieces. As a result, many plus-size women leave thrift stores empty-handed and discouraged and often turn to fast fashion, which is generally more inclusive and inexpensive.

Additionally, the rise in popularity of thrift stores has raised questions about its gentrification. Popular thrift stores have price increase, discounting prices from poor and working-class buyers who were the original target market. These shoppers report via social media that they see the wealthiest shoppers or second-hand dealers buying the trendiest clothes in large quantities. While it seems unfair to place the sole blame for rising thrift store prices on new buyers rather than institutions that choose to raise prices, those concerned about possible gentrification may find it best for them to limit their purchases from thrift stores.

Detractors and cynics alike argue that finding viable middle ground is futile in our current economic system because most fashion brands, whether budget or luxury, use some kind of exploitation or unsustainable resources. While I recognize the difficulties of creating a completely exploit-free and 100% sustainable product, I believe that pushing for a product that is a measure of improvement is a huge step in the right direction.

Students who have the time and resources to shop sustainably or buy used should definitely do so, but there is a need for sustainable fashion available at low cost to all students. Until that solution is found, the best we can do is consume less, take care of our clothes, seek better quality clothes, and demand better business practices from fashion leaders.

-Tiara Allen is a Marketing Executive

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