As I was sitting in bed, scrolling through TikTok, I found numerous videos of teenage girls filming massive SHEIN hauls. Sound familiar? Each haul included at least a hundred and fifty dollars worth of clothing. I thought that some of the pieces were trendy and was surprised by the especially affordable prices, so I opened the comment section to see others’ opinions on the brand. I quickly realized that SHEIN was far from ethical. I saw hundreds of comments, claiming that SHEIN was a “fast fashion” brand.
If you use TikTok frequently you probably know what I’m referring to. Fast fashion has managed to flourish in the last few years, especially within teen fashion. Some major fast fashion contributors include Zara, H&M, Boohoo, Forever21, and SHEIN. All these big-name retailers are known for having prices that are incredibly affordable, yet behind the scenes, textile workers are expected to function in abominable conditions. Consumers of these companies often have no understanding of the detrimental impact the fast fashion industry has.
Contrary to popular belief, fast fashion doesn’t have anything to do with pricing or quality. Although these can be indicators of fast fashion brands, fast fashion is defined as brands focused on producing large quantities of clothing over a short period of time. This is due to the constant demand to keep up with trends. While the trends are definitely interesting and stylish, the constantly changing trends should not be at the expense of our planet or the textile workers.
Recently, the rate of micro-trends has skyrocketed. Micro-trends are essentially trends which gain popularity quickly and lose their popularity even quicker. With the escalation of micro-trends, fast fashion brands are pressured to create more and more trendy pieces. However, since these pieces go out of style nearly immediately, the majority of them end up wasted in landfills. The Environmental Protection Agency reported that 84% of clothing ends up in landfills or incinerators, which truly exposes how much unnecessary clothing consumers are buying.
Samantha Asprec, a senior at Dougherty Valley High School and secretary of the DVHS Fashion Club said, “The new speed of trend cycles is heavily contributing to the issue of fast fast fashion because they are going in and out at a very rapid rate, resulting in a throwaway culture.”
The majority of consumers are deceived by terms such as “eco-friendly” and “sustainable” that companies use in campaigns and ads in order to seem more ethical. There’s no way to prove whether or not a brand is deemed “eco-friendly” or “sustainable” since these terms have no legal significance. “Greenwashing” is essentially when a fast fashion company misleads people into thinking that they’re more environmentally friendly than they actually are.
This is used as a marketing strategy as people become more aware of the environmental impacts of fast fashion and want to buy from more ethical brands. When searching for whether or not a company is greenwashing, one should look for real statistics and numbers. Unethical companies tend to simply use greenwashed terms without substantial evidence.
Widely-known company SHEIN is a textbook example, as they lack transparency on their environmental and child labor policies, which only leads to further suspicion on their practices resulting in social controversies. SHEIN faced plenty of backlash on TikTok and Twitter for potential child labor and culturally appropriating items. After SHEIN’s social media debacle on the brand’s ethics, they now have a page dedicated to their “Social Responsibility” in which they are incredibly vague, using absolutely no numbers or statistics.
Not only a few months ago, there was also a TikTok trend in which users ordered at least a hundred dollars worth of clothes from SHEIN and made videos rating each piece. Watchers quickly realized that SHEIN was far from sustainable considering their prices, with a tank top averaging between 3 to 7 dollars. It was too good to be true. With each video getting up to a million likes, these creators were indirectly and unknowingly promoting fast fashion.
Fast fashion has quickly expanded into an environmentally harmful process. Textile dyeing has taken second place in being the largest polluter of water globally: According to the UNEP, it takes an estimated 2,000 gallons of water to make a classic pair of jeans.
With our Earth already being in appalling conditions regarding climate change, the last thing it needs is unnecessary wastefulness. Fast fashion may currently be able to keep up with rapid trends, but at what cost? And who’s truly paying the price?
Fabrics like polyester are acquired from fossil fuels, which results in colossal amounts of greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere. But one of the main issues of fast fashion has always been water contamination. Dyeing clothes, making them water-resistant, etc. require numerous chemicals that all eventually get dumped in nearby waterways like rivers and lakes. With wastewater disposal not being constantly monitored, fashion companies and factory owners have no one to tell them to stop, the One Green Planet reports.
It’s absurd to think that companies can be paying their workers fairly, ethically sourcing their products, and selling their products at the price that they do while still making a profit. Fast fashion is almost always incredibly cheap, which leads you to wonder how much the labor cost actually is.
It’s no secret that companies choose to have their factories in Asian countries because of the cheaper labor cost. According to the Garment Worker Center, 85% of fast fashion workers are paid between 2-6 cents per piece, working 60-70 hours per week.
If the unlivable wage wasn’t enough, these workers also have to work in cramped and dangerous conditions the majority of the time with little to no ventilation, no access to clean drinking water, and usage of hazardous chemicals.
Juan Miguel Ebalo, senior, and DVHS Fashion club president said, “I understand that fast fashion is affordable and all but I don’t understand how some people are pro-fast fashion when they are fully aware of the child labor and the impacts.”
Companies such as Forever 21 refused to sign the Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety, which grants workers access to safe working conditions. According to Global Labor Justice, female workers from Gap and H&M have reported: “daily risk” of physical and sexual harassment. This inhumane treatment of fast fashion workers is simply unacceptable.
Unfortunately, we can’t expect all consumers to collectively stop buying from these retailers. It’s unrealistic since fast fashion contributors tend to have the most affordable prices and the easiest accessibility. However, we must take steps towards ending the unethicality of the truly malicious fast fashion industry.
While we understand that fast fashion is the only affordable option for some, we need to normalize buying timeless, good-quality pieces of clothing rather than trendy, disposable fashion. As world-renowned designer Vivienne Westwood quoted, “buy less, choose well, make it last.”
Ebalo said, “I’ve seen people buy a crap ton of clothes from SHEIN, and wear them maybe once. It’s the opposite of ethical.” Our ignorance towards the planet and textile workers is showing. We don’t care enough, because if we did we wouldn’t be ruining the planet for single use products.
Also, limit purchases from these big corporations and start purchasing from small businesses or thrift stores. Nonetheless, boycotting can only do so much. Ultimately, we need to pressure these big fast fashion retailers into doing something about the detrimental effects that they are having on our world through petitions, limited spending, and spreading awareness of the cruelty in the fast fashion industry.