The Real Cost of Fast Fashion: What Brands like Zara Don’t Tell You

MakersValley Blog | The Real Cost of Fast Fashion: What Brands like Zara Don’t Tell You
Amulya Agrawal

Amulya Agrawal

With the influx of influencers on social media, fast fashion has taken over the world. These influencers are imperative to the success of fast fashion, as many brands are turning expensive outfits into cheaply designed clothes that anyone can inexpensively purchase. However, it’s important to realize that fast fashion causes numerous harms – both environmentally and when thinking in the context of the fashion business world.

Impacts in the Fashion Business World

Do you remember when Kim Kardashian wore a black vintage Thierry Mugler gown to the Hollywood Beauty Awards in 2019? Fashion Nova, one of the biggest fast fashion brands, quickly replicated this design, and, unsurprisingly the product sold out within only a few hours. Over the years, companies like Fashion Nova and Zara have been accused of ripping off high-end designers and replicating their designs on cheaper materials. These fast fashion companies profit off of the designs of talented designers who have put in a significant amount of time and effort into creating unique and stylish products, using high-quality, built-to-last materials. It’s frustrating to see these pieces, replicated in cheaper fabrics and sold for more than half off of the price of the original designer outfit, end up profiting these companies for work that is not their own.

The most upsetting part about all of this – this practice is completely legal as long as the brand does not put another business’ logo or identification on the product.

Kim Kardashian sues fast fashion company
Photo Courtesy: HOLLYWOOD TO YOU/STAR MAX/GC IMAGES; FASHION NOVA/INSTAGRAM

Impacts in an Environmental Context

Fast fashion also has devastating effects when examined in an environmental context. The United States, on its own, produces nearly 11 million tons of textile waste a year. A large portion of this is contributed by fast fashion products. Each cotton shirt is estimated to require the input of nearly 700 gallons of water, or approximately 10 bathtubs. By quickly producing cheap apparel products, these gallons of water add up quickly and result in a significant amount of textile overproduction.

While getting trendy outfits to sell at an inexpensive price point is tempting and exciting for many emerging fashion designers and young retailers, make sure to consider the implications associated with this. Specifically, consider the paths taken and the paths cut to account for the low prices.

Impacts in the Fashion Labor Force

You have probably also heard a lot about high poverty and child labor rates in many third-world countries. As prices go down for clothes produced, for many garment factory workers, their wages fall as well. The majority of this lower paid fashion labor work for big fast fashion brands like Zara and Topshop. Hence, it is generally better to invest in sourcing clothing and apparel products that are more expensive, of higher quality, and original. This way, you support the laborers who produce the clothes, will be able to sell clothes that wear longer without continuously adding to landfills, contribute less to negative environmental impacts, and support the creativity of designers who work hard to develop unique products.

Fast Fashion Impacts the Fashion Labor Force

So, what steps can you take to become sustainable retailers, while still producing fashionable products?

Here are some steps you can take as a retailer to protect the environment while supporting laborers and high-end designs created by hardworking designers:

  • Avoid fabric material used in production at fast fashion stores like Zara, Topshop, Fashion Nova, Gap, and Forever 21. Invest in more expensive, better quality fabric that consumers can wear longer without quickly disposing.
  • Avoid producing clothes with synthetic fibers like polyester. Polyester is a cheap alternative to natural fabrics and is produced through the use of large amounts of oil, coal, and water. Instead, invest in fabrics for clothes that are made with more environmentally friendly materials, such as bamboo, linen, and organic cotton.
  • Be conscious about where you are purchasing fabrics and clothes from. Find out how clothing producers treat their workers and analyze the environmental implications their production results in.
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