The Cost of Clothes: More Than it Seems

Tori Shamlian, Editor

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Imagine walking into Crossgates. What are the clothing stores you gravitate towards? Maybe H & M, Lululemon, Forever 21, or American Eagle?  You walk into these stores with their sparkling floors, beautiful displays of new products, and murals of models smiling and laughing. Now, what would you think if I told you that there’s so much more behind those clothes and appearances, including some horrendous realities, such as a lack of sufficient safety for workers? There are both ethical and environmental dilemmas that accompany the fashion industry.

In 2013, a tragedy occurred in the fashion world, but you may not be aware of it. According to Fashion Revolution, an organization which serves to educate the public about the fast fashion industry, in Bangladesh, a plaza with laborers fell. This killed over 1000 and hurt 2500. The plaza was made up of garment factories. The aforementioned incident is just a small taste of the ethical issues the fast fashion industry poses. There are also many environmental issues that accompany this industry which are related to waste and pollution. But what is the fast fashion industry? To put it simply, according to True Cost (another educational website and documentary about the industry), it involves when clothes are bought and gotten rid of quickly due to their low price.

There are many specific issues relating to the moral aspects of the fast fashion industry. First, there are issues with safety of the factories that produce clothes, as seen by the issue with Rana Plaza falling, as previously discussed by Fashion Revolution. In statistics compiled by Fashion Revolution, there are over 75,000,000 garment workers and they get the lowest payment, working in dangerous factories all over the world. Fashion Revolution also reports that many brands do not follow regulations for health and safety, which are meant to benefit workers. Furthermore, Fashion Revolution states that the minimum wage the majority of nations that make clothing has is extremely low and typically very little for people to have a life with.

If the morals related to the fast fashion industry are not enough to convince you how atrocious the fast fashion industry is, perhaps the horrible aftermath in the environment that follows in its wake. Waste is a major issue in the industry, with around eighty-two pounds of textiles wasted per American per year according to True Cost. Overall, 11 million tons of textile waste are produced from the U.S. according to True Cost. Synthetic clothes can biodegrade over hundreds to thousands of years according to Newsweek, and these clothes are a major presence in the environment for a lengthy amount of time. These are just a few of the statistics which display how much of an effect the fast fashion industry has on our planet.

There are a plethora of issues with the industry of fast fashion, so I asked a couple of Shaker High School students what they knew about them. Both Maya Blanchett and Sydney Suberg are Shaker High seniors who said that they typically shop at stores such as Forever 21, H&M, and Target, with Maya saying she shops at thrift stores sometimes as well. These seem to be typical stores that teens shop at, but how much do teenagers know about their practices? When I asked Maya and Sydney if they knew how their clothes were made, Maya said that she understood that large brands take advantage of the Chinese workforce to make clothing from stores such as Forever 21 cheap and that this included cheap labor as well as a lack of environmental-friendliness. Sydney said she has noticed that the tag on her clothing will typically say the country it is made in. In terms of the environment, when I asked both Sydney and Maya what they knew about the effect the rapid rate of buying and discarding clothes has, they both had similar answers. They both knew that there is a very negative effect, and Maya added that there is a large amount of pollution due to the clothing industry. Sydney and Maya are examples of the fact that while students at Shaker may have some background knowledge about the effects of the fast fashion industry, there is still so much more education that can be spread throughout our school community. This can all feel overwhelming. 

What can a high school student do to combat the abhorrent practices associated with it? Well, there are many solutions that can contribute to combating these issues. First, use the “Good on You” app to find out the ethical and environmental practices various brands use. Another alternative to this app would be to simply look up the practices of stores prior to supporting them. For example, brands with transparency scores of less than or equal to 20%, according to Fashion Revolution, include: Abercrombie and Fitch, American Eagle, Forever 21, L.L. Bean, and many more. Another way to get informed is to watch “The True Cost” documentary on Netflix and peruse their website. This documentary provides a plethora of information about various issues within the fast fashion industry, as well as how to combat them. Even if you feel very uninformed or like you cannot help, there are still ways to help both the environment and the people impacted.

The fast fashion industry is contributing majorly to the environmental degradation on our beautiful planet as well as negatively affecting the life of thousands. While there are many horrible processes and effects going on behind your clothing, you still have a choice. Will you choose to buy the cheap materials, even though they lead to exploitation of workers and our earth? You have the power to make a difference right here in our school community by getting educated and choosing ethical brands to purchase from.