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Fast Fashion and Environmental Racism

For many, fast fashion has been a game changer. Cheap and trendy clothes allow the participation of people who previously didn’t have access to keeping up with trends. Brands like Zara, H&M, Forever 21, Shein, and Fashion Nova fall into this category. The negative effects of this industry have come to light more now than ever, but the narrative is rarely surrounding the people it affects the most. Fast fashion disproportionately affects marginalized communities in various ways, both in the countries where these garments are produced, and in the countries where they are sold. I find it is important for consumers to be aware of these issues so they can make a choice to support companies that prioritize ethical and sustainable production practices.

Fast fashion brands famously outsource to developing countries with incomprehensive environmental and labor protection laws. Some of the most common countries utilized are China, Bangladesh, Vietnam, India, and Pakistan. While specifics may change between countries or individual factories, workers are not paid a living wage and work under extremely poor conditions. Most of the time these workers are women and children. Sometimes workers are paid per garment rather than by the hour, meaning time dedicated to maintenance or short breaks are not compensated. Just think, if you paid 5 USD for a top, how much do you think the person who made it was compensated considering these brands still need to make good profit margins to stay in business? Because of the nature of globalization, with many middlemen involved in the production and distribution of garments, fast fashion companies are often not held responsible for these practices despite their role in perpetuating this cycle of poverty and human rights violations.

In addition, fast fashion also contributes to environmental racism. Chemicals used in textile production are released into the environment, polluting local waterways and the air while also disrupting the natural ecosystems and wildlife in the area. This again disproportionately affects the marginalized communities living near these factories, exposing them to toxic chemicals and thus increasing their risk of developing health complications. For example, Azo dyes are commonly used to color textiles. These compounds can release toxic chemicals benzidine and cadmium which are known carcinogens causing issues such as respiratory problems. There is a laundry list of chemicals used in textile production which can lead to a range of health problems not only for workers encountering them on a daily basis, but also for consumers who wear these garments. This, of course, is not disclosed by brands when making a purchase.

Fast fashion brands are also culprits of cultural appropriation. They attempt to rebrand traditional clothing styles from marginalized communities without giving these communities any kind of credit or compensation. These communities are also often forced to buy from fast fashion brands because of the increasing cost of high quality clothing. These cheap clothes fall apart quickly, causing them to feed back into a cycle of replacing it with more cheap quality clothes. Not only does this increase waste, but it further perpetuates the cycle of poverty. While I know fast fashion has a chokehold on our generation, I urge you to rethink the next time you are tempted to shop at one of these brands. Rather than buying six low quality pieces, consider spending that money elsewhere buying just one that will stand the test of time. While fast fashion companies are certainly at fault, we as the consumer have power in our choices as well.

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