The Problems and Effects of Fast Fashion

Delainey Root, MVC writer

Fast fashion is a “design, manufacturing, and marketing method focused on rapidly producing high volumes of clothing,” as defined by Fast fashion has recently exploded in popularity due to the rise of cheap online shops like SHEIN. However, most people do not know the awful effect fast fashion has on the world and all the problems that come along with it. 

Fast fashion as we know it today became a huge industry starting in the late 1990s to early 2000s. Retailers such as Zara and H&M were fast fashion brands that gained a lot of notoriety during that time. Fast fashion became extremely popular, especially with younger people, due to it being cheaper than the high-end brands that were previously popular. 

Fast fashion has become an even bigger problem in the last few years. It seemed that people were ending their support of brands like H&M, but, during quarantine, people wanted cheap and quick clothes they could order when stores were unavailable or had restrictions. Now, shops like SHEIN have taken over the internet. SHEIN has gained a lot of popularity due to the exposure it receives on apps like TikTok, where “#shein” has over 10.4 billion views. Little do the same people posting know that they are supporting harmful business practices and, overall, an absolutely awful brand. 

For one thing, SHEIN clothes are incredibly poor quality. The clothes have proven again and again to match the price point. On SHEIN, clothes can sell for as little as five dollars. This is because the clothes are made of poor quality fabrics that are uncomfortable, scratchy, and fall apart after a few washings. Many consumers believe that extremely low prices make it okay that the clothes they are buying only last a few months, but they do not realize the impact buying these clothes has on the environment. 

To keep the prices so low, SHEIN uses synthetic fabrics, such as polyester and nylon. These materials are known as being bad for the environment due to the fact that they take decades and potentially even hundreds of years to decompose. To add to their environmental impact, brands like SHIEN put out clothes at an absurd rate. SHIEN CEO, Molly Miao, said that the company releases somewhere between 700 and 1,000 new styles every single day. All the sheer variety does is make people buy more, which subsequently hurts the environment more and more with every single purchase. 

There is another problem: the workplace conditions of SHEIN’s employees. On the social responsibility page of their website, SHEIN states, “We strictly abide by child labor laws in each country that we operate in. Neither we nor any of our partners are allowed to hire underage children.” This is great, except for the fact that in many of the locations of their factories, such as Bangladesh, the working age is only 14. The documentary “Untold: Inside the Shein Machine” found that SHEIN workers who worked 16-hour days, with one day off each month, earned about $572 for that entire month when they produced hundreds of pieces of clothing a day the retailer can then sell. It was also found that some SHEIN workplaces had no emergency exits, and the windows were barred, making it so workers would have almost no way to escape in the case of a fire. 

A lot of the pieces they sell also bring up issues themselves. SHEIN once sold Muslim prayer mats with the title of “frilled Greek carpets.” They later apologized, but apparently did not learn their lesson. This was shown when, less than a week later, the brand began selling necklaces with the shapes of swastikas on them. They have also been caught stealing art from lesser known artists as well. One perfect example is in the case of Tiina Menzal. Tiina Menzal, or @theresa_nothing on Instagram, had her art stolen without any type of credit by SHEIN six times. When people approached the brand about the theft, they were simply offered large sums of money for unlimited licenses to the art. 

SHEIN and other fast fashion brands have all been awful. They source their clothes unethically, put their workers’ lives in danger, and steal clothing ideas from smaller, less mainstream artists. The best way to beat fast fashion is to not buy into it, both figuratively and literally. These unethical brands only care about money; show them that their business practices are not acceptable by refusing to buy from them. The fast fashion industry should take a break and slow down.