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Not so fast: The cost of being trendy


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The current fashion industry is designed to make you feel “out of trend” almost instantly. Traditional fashion used to follow the seasons, but the increasingly fast fashion cycles have compressed to about every four weeks.

This fast-fashion model — a retail industry term that denotes how quickly clothes go from design to stores — plays on the desire of many consumers for new, trendy clothing. While the $5 shirt and the $20 jeans are tempting at trendy retailers like Forever 21 and Zara, it’s time to think before we buy.

Fast fashion, also known as disposable fashion, operates on a business model of high quantity and not necessarily high quality. The clothes are expected to be disposed of after being worn only a few times. This, in turn, persuades consumers to buy more clothing, which feeds our overconsumption culture.

Americans are purchasing five times the amount of clothing that they did in 1980, according to Elizabeth Cline’s reporting in The Atlantic “Where Does Discarded Clothing Go?” This overconsumption has dire consequences.

A report in May by Global Labor Justice, which works to empower women workers, found that pressure to meet strict production deadlines leads to the abuse of women in some Asian factories supplying U.S. retailers.

The workplace encourages the mistreatment of women workers by male bosses, leaving them “especially vulnerable to physical, verbal and sexual harassment, and violence,” according to the report.

It should be part of our shopping routine to be aware of the products we buy and the potential implications of buying them: What are we supporting and condoning with our purchases? An easy way to avoid some of these issues and not contribute to hard working conditions is to go thrift shopping.

Shopping secondhand is just as cheap, if not cheaper, than your favorite fast-fashion retailer. It keeps clothes out of landfills (as about 84 percent of clothes in America end up in a landfill or incinerator each year, according to the Environmental Protection Agency) and it is a form of recycling.

Lucky for you, thrift shopping is also very cool. You look retro chic, and it’s virtually impossible to wear the same thing as everyone else. Who wants to be the person at the party who wears the same shirt as three other people? Not to mention, there’s a chance you will find something valuable while thrift shopping — maybe even a vintage designer.

If you think that you can’t thrift shop forever, which is reasonable, you can start by shopping sustainably, and holding your favorite companies accountable. Force the fashion industry to take some responsibility: “I will start buying from your store again if you take steps to protect your female factory workers and make eco-friendly products.”

And hold yourself accountable; do not succumb to trends. You can, in fact, be fashion forward by wearing sustainably made or thrifted clothes.

Isobel van Hagen is a freelance writer.