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8 Reasons to Rethink Fast Fashion

8 Reasons to Rethink Fast Fashion

Not too long ago, fast fashion megastore Forever 21 announced plans to launch a new brand called F21 Red. Already known for low prices, these stores would offer clothing at costs that make Goodwill seem pricey — jeans for $7.80, tanks from $1.80 to $3.80. How can a retailer sell jeans for $7.80 and still make money? You don’t want to know, but it’s vital that you find out. All of those inexpensive finds might seem easy on your budget, but the world is paying a high price for fast fashion.

1. Fast fashion exploits overseas workers.

Remember the boycotts against the Gap and Nike back in the 90’s for using sweatshop labor? Today, business practices have gotten even shadier — and perhaps because clothes are cheaper, shoppers seem to care even less. Fast fashion stores are particularly culpable here, due to their drive for lower-than-ever prices and the frequency of their demand for new goods.

Back in the day, companies ordered clothes for each season. (This is still the way most high fashion labels work — the clothes that are on the New York runways in October showcase what will be available for spring of the following year.) Garments might take up to a year to actually be produced, and if an apparel company wanted something faster, they’d have to pay up.

Now, fast fashion chains like H&M and Zara introduce new styles as often as every two weeks. Practically as soon as photos from fashion week go up online, there’s an immediate chain reaction of fast fashion stores rushing to duplicate the trend. How do they do it? By subcontracting manufacturing overseas to the lowest bidder — generally in countries that already have some of the leanest production costs on earth. Rather than having long-term relationships with the factories, companies are comfortable with abrupt break-ups — so if they want something faster, the factories have to keep up or lose their contracts.

The push to quickly create clothing that costs buyers as little as possible leads, predictably, to factories that put production schedules and companies’ demands ahead of safety or workers’ rights. This was highlighted by the catastrophic Dhaka fire in 2012 and the 2013 Rana Plaza building collapse, which killed a combined total of over 1,200 Bangladeshi apparel workers and injured many more. The faulty wiring, lack of exits, crowded conditions, and poor construction are reminiscent of New York City’s Triangle Shirtwaist Fire. But that happened in 1911. It’s 2014.

Why is so much clothing manufacturing is going on in Bangladesh? Mainly because rising wages and inflation in China have made producing clothing there prohibitively expensive for manufacturers who seek to feed U.S. tastes for ever cheaper clothing. It won’t stop there, either — U.S. News recently reported that the Gap is looking to move some production to Myanmar (a country not exactly known for a stellar human rights record), and H&M is expanding to Ethiopia.

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2. Fast fashion contributes to the decline of U.S. manufacturing.

Politicians and pundits often the lack of U.S. manufacturing jobs that pay a living wage, allowing people who maybe don’t have a college degree to support themselves and their families. When people ask where the “good jobs” have gone, one answer is well, we can’t have decently-paid factory work and shirts that cost less than $5.

According to Northern California public radio station KQED, in the 1960’s — when roughly 95% of clothing manufacturing was made in the United States — the average American household spent over 10% of its income on clothing and shoes (like $4,000 in today’s dollars). Your average American shopper bought fewer than 25 garments per year.

Now, all of those figures have flipped. Today, less than 2% of all clothing is manufactured in the U.S. The average household spends less than 3.5% of its income on clothing and shoes (less than $1,800). The most shocking number: Now, your average American shopper is buying roughly 70 garments per year. That’s nearly 3 times as many items as 50 years ago — and yet our annual household spending comes out to less than half of the amount spent in the 60’s.

Though clothing design and marketing still generally happens in the U.S., from the 1970’s onward more and more apparel manufacturing went overseas (and in case you forgot how that went, scroll back up to item one on this list). To maintain their profit margins while feeding appetites for inexpensive clothing, manufacturers have country-hopped to wherever can provide the lowest costs. You can guess how well U.S. factories have fared. Given the higher cost of manufacturing in the states, today only about 150,000 apparel manufacturing jobs remain. Those workers make about 38 times the wage of their Bangladeshi counterparts, so yes, clothing that is legitimately American-made is not going to be that cheap.

3. Fast fashion also exploits U.S. workers.

That said, apparel manufacturing in the U.S. isn’t all decent wages and reasonable working conditions. It’s mostly neither of those things. Sweatshops absolutely exist, particularly in large cities like New York and Los Angeles, and it’s not uncommon for these to be contractors manufacturing clothing on behalf of fast fashion chains.

In particular, fast fashion behemoth Forever 21 has been the subject of several lawsuits related to conditions in Los Angeles factories that make their clothing (there’s even an Emmy-winning documentary, Made in LA, that looks at the struggles of the immigrant workers to gain basic rights). The New Yorker reports that in 2001, the company was sued on behalf of workers who worked well over full time while earning much less than minimum wage in grotesque conditions. How did the clothing chain respond? They said they couldn’t be held responsible for their contractors’ practices and filed defamation lawsuits against the groups that organized boycotts of the stores. (The dispute was eventually settled with the company agreeing to help activists but refusing to admit wrongdoing.)

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But then virtually the same allegations cropped up in 2012, this time brought about following a multi-year investigation by the Department of Labor into Los Angeles sewing factories. The federal court issued a subpoena, then sued, then ordered Forever 21 to hand over records documenting workers’ hours and compensation. The workers in these factories are often unskilled recent migrants, who may be undocumented and/or unable to speak English. Their precarious status is something that unscrupulous manufacturers can exploit — and that’s how you they can be paid even less per hour than the cost of your $5.80 miniskirt.

4. Fast fashion is environmentally disastrous.

“Buying clothing, and treating it as if it is disposable, is putting a huge added weight on the environment and is simply unsustainable,” says Elizabeth L. Cline, author of Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion. In her book, Cline documents the numerous tolls that textile manufacturing takes on the earth. Though in the U.S., textile manufacturing faces greater regulation to make it less destructive, again, most of the manufacturing takes place overseas where there is much less oversight. Cline cites the stat that fiber production now takes roughly 145 million tons of coal and between 1.5 and 2 trillion gallons of water.

But it’s not just the resource strain caused by manufacturing — it’s also the issues at the other end, of people constantly getting rid of their used (or even unused) clothing. The Huffington Post reports that the average American throws out 68 pounds of textiles per year — not donates or consigns, straight-up throws in the trash. In case the sheer wastefulness isn’t galling enough, bear in mind that because most garments (especially fast fashion ones) are made with inexpensive, petroleum-based fibers that don’t easily decompose (such as polyester, nylon, and acrylic), they’re going to be taking up landfill space for decades to come. As Cline points out, people generally recycle plastic bottles or avoid buying them in the first place, but people are pretty okay with buying lots of plastic clothing.

Even if you donate used clothes to charity, at this point nearly half of all charitable donations go directly to textile recyclers. On the one hand, yes, a large portion of this is reused in different ways (recycled fibers can be used in stuff like insulation). On the other hand, though, it’s unbelievably wasteful. There’s the use of water, coal, and so on in the manufacturing process. But then there’s also the “downstream” costs, including to the charities themselves, which are forced to spend a considerable amount of money sorting through clothing they can’t use (like ripped, torn, or soiled items) and disposing of it. Fast fashion has even made the textile recycling business more difficult — the lower quality of the clothing, Cline reports, means that recycled fiber is often sold below cost (and for the record, recycled fiber is sold for less than a nickel a pound).

H&M has been faced especially heavy criticism for its espousal of “disposable fashion,” and has done more than other stores to combat that image. They have released the “Conscious Collection,” billed as “sustainable style” and featuring items like a $7.95 tank top made with organic cotton. H&M also now boasts a selection of “premium quality products” (like $99 cashmere cardigans) which cost more and are ostensibly longer-lasting. They’ve also started putting recycling bins right in their stores, which will accept used clothing in any condition.

It’s a nice gesture, but at times the company’s attempts at proving its ethics are ludicrous. For example, H&M has a sponsored story titled “Fast fashion doesn’t automatically mean unsustainable” published in the UK’s Guardian (styled to look like legitimate site content, but paid for, branded, and no doubt heavily vetted by H&M). In the story, the author argues, “…everyone in the fashion industry knows that luxury brands and high street brands more than occasionally use the same suppliers. Factory workers are paid the same salary to produce luxury goods as so-called ‘fast fashion’, and under the same conditions.”

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To recap then, their argument is that factory workers will be exploited no matter what, so might as well go with the cheaper pair of leggings. You can tell yourself that well, you’ll give those leggings to charity, and then someone else will wear them, but given the lower quality and cheap brand, they’re more likely to wind up in a landfill than on somebody else’s legs.

5. Fast fashion can wind up costing you more than “real” clothes.

If you’re on a budget and looking for ways to save money on clothes, one way to evaluate the price of an item is to calculate the cost per wear for each item. You could complain that this is just a trick to make an expensive item seem reasonable, but it’s actually a way to force yourself to think about the effects of your purchase on your bottom line. You need to think about both how often you’ll wear the item, and how long it will likely last.

Say you’re looking for a pair of black heeled sandals. You can buy a pair from Charlotte Russe for about $30. If you wear them just to one party buy them for a special occasion and wear them just for that, that’s your cost per wear right there — $30. Wear them three times, it’s $10. If the cheap pleather cracks, if the heel breaks, if the plastic soles are too worn, that’s the end of the road for those heels. If you’re going to replace them with a new pair, that’s another $30. It would be easy to wind up spending $120 per year on four pairs of the same cheap black heels, with a cost per wear of roughly $10.

Now here’s a different scenario. We’re still looking for black heeled sandals, but say you get them from Cri de Coeur. Founded by two Parsons grads, their vegan, sustainably-produced, and totally stylish shoes retail for around $150 for a pair of heeled sandals. If you wear them the same amount as the cheap heels, they’re only costing you a little bit more per wear — $12.50. But since these are considerably higher quality and will hold up much better, you’re probably going to wear them more. Even if you only wore them 16 times in one year, your cost per wear would drop below the $10 mark. You also don’t need to make those three additional trips to the mall to replace your busted-up heels. Which scenario seems more sensible?

6. Fast fashion’s low quality changes how you think about clothes.

Ellen Ruppel Shell, author of Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture, argues that when we buy “cheap chic” clothes at places like Target or Mango, even though there’s not planned obsolescence — the clothing isn’t designed to fall apart (though some have alleged that it is) — we don’t expect it to last. We don’t invest much in it monetarily or emotionally, it’s just to fill the gap (something to wear to that party Friday night) and then its job is done. Part of why Americans toss so much clothing is because we no longer bother to repair a lost button, or resole a worn-out shoe. If clothing feels cheap, fast, and disposable, that’s how we treat it.

In an article on the website College Fashion, after explaining “how Forever 21 works” (i.e., mentioning that unethical labor practices help keep prices low), the author goes on to give tips for shopping at the retail chain. For example, look at the seams: “If the two sides of the seam appear to come apart relatively easily, the thread starts to come undone, or you feel that with a little bit more energy you could rip the item in half, it’s not made well and won’t hold up for long.” Why would you shop in a store where the item literally falling apart in your hands is a likely scenario?

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Cline, author of Overdressed, also notes this phenomenon. She writes that “low prices and fast trends have made clothing throwaway items, allowing us to set aside such serious questions as How long will this last? or even Will I like it when I get home?” For many people, even bothering to return an item that looks less good outside the store is too much of a hassle. But cheap isn’t free. If you’re going to toss your clothes after one wear, you’re throwing money away, too.

7. Fast fashion collaborations trick you into paying for the name.

What used to be mega-events — round-the-block lines for Karl Lagerfeld for H&M, Missoni for Target crashing the big box retailer’s website — are now regular occurrences. Mass market retailers (notably Target and H&M, but also Mango, Topshop, and Zara) regularly trot out collaborations with high fashion designers, giving consumers a taste of what H&M has dubbed “massclusivity,” according to Dana Thomas, author of Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Luster. These limited-time capsule collections are designed to do pretty much one thing — send shoppers into a buying frenzy where they don’t even care what they get, they just know they’re getting something with the designer’s name on it.

Sure, that’s not how these brands would describe it. Thomas quotes Chanel designer Karl Lagerfeld as saying that fashion isn’t a matter of price, “It’s all about taste.” But how tasteful is waiting in line outside a mall store or constantly hitting refresh on your web browser just to grab something, anything that has a designer’s name on it? Considering that many fashionistas claim that it’s not about the label, it’s about the style, it’s more than a little surprising that these collaborations consistently create such buzz (Joseph Altuzarra coming to Target this fall is all over every fashion mag’s September issue).

Once the thrill of the initial scrum is over though, shoppers are left with items that say Missoni, or 3.1 Philip Lim, or Rodarte, or whichever designer they are. But are they really? Cline notes that actual Missoni dresses, for example, are made in Milan using natural fibers like virgin wool, viscose, and alpaca. Missoni for Target? That would be acrylic made in China. You could argue you’re paying for the design, but realistically, anyone who recognizes the designer is probably also going to recognize that you’re wearing the H&M version, not the real deal. Sure, it’s a lot less than a “real” item from one of these designers would cost… but chances are, it’s also something you wouldn’t even have considered buying if it didn’t have the designer’s name attached.

8. Fast fashion distorts your sense of value.

Though Americans like saving a buck — honestly, who doesn’t? — with the rise of fast fashion, we expect our clothing to cost virtually nothing. The strange thing is that even though we appreciate lower prices on all goods, we’re pretty willing to pay more for certain types of products. Some of the most desirable products — like Apple computers — are literally unavailable at a discounted price, and people still line up every time there’s a new iPhone. A computer or a smartphone is an investment and lasts a while, but think about other things in your life you’re willing to pay a bit more for. A grande latte at Starbucks costs around $4, and you drink it in a matter of minutes (or if you sip, we’ll call it an hour). If you’ll spend $4 on a bit of caffeination, is it really that important that a t-shirt cost only $3? The money you’re saving on that shirt has real consequences — it’s worth the time to reflect on what it truly costs.

Featured photo credit: Mike Mozart via flickr.com

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Last Updated on July 10, 2020

The Definitive Guide to Get out of Debt Fast (and Forever)

The Definitive Guide to Get out of Debt Fast (and Forever)

Debt can feel crushing, like a weight that is always weighing you down. Looking at those numbers, it can feel as if you’ll never get out from under it. However, if you really want to learn how to get out of debt, it is possible with a great deal of focus and self-control.

Getting out of debt isn’t impossible. Like any big goal, all that it takes is an action plan to identify where you are and creating a plan to zero out your debt.

Identifying All of Your Debts

The first part of paying off your debt is getting a complete picture of what you owe. When you have everything written out in front of you, it makes it much easier to create an action plan. Depending on how much you owe, it might also help you realize it’s not as bad you might have originally thought.

Here’s how you can get started identifying your debts:

1. Own Your Debt

Before you start identifying all of your debts, take a moment to process that you have debt but want to get out of it.

Forgive yourself for any past mistakes, missed payments, or overspending. It might be painful to accept how much debt you have at first, but you must own it.

2. Make a Debt Tracker

It’s astonishing how few people ever created a tracker to understand their total debts. Most likely, it comes from not wanting to accept the guilt of having debt, but, if avoided, it can make it nearly impossible to get out of debt.

Open up a new Google or Microsoft Excel sheet and list out all of your debts. Start with the name of the creditor, interest rates, total balance, loan term length (if any), and the minimum amount due each payment. This will include student loans, credit cards, and any other type of debt owed.

3. Get Your Debt Number

Once you’ve made your debt tracker and taken the other steps, identify your total payoff number. This is crucial, as you will have a starting point and a clear goal that you are trying to achieve.

Prioritizing Your Debts

All debt is not created equal. It’s imperative to understand that there are different types of debt.

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1. Understand Bad and Good Debts

Bad debts are usually paying for things you want instead of always need. While there might be some emergencies that max out your credit cards, often times it’s excessive spending[1].

There are three main types of bad debt:

  • Credit Card Debt: The average American household owes over $16,000 in credit card debt!
  • Auto Loan Debt: According to CNBC , the average auto loan in the US is $30,032!
  • Consumer Loan Debt: Consumer loan debt isn’t as common as credit card and auto loan debt, but it’s still considered bad as interest rates are usually between 10-28%.

Good debt is identified as investments in your future. Here are three common types of good debt:

  • Student Loan Debt
  • Mortgage Loan
  • Business Loans

2. Decide Which Debt to Pay off First

Once you know each type of debt and their interest rates, you can begin to pay off debt quickly.

Focus on paying off bad debt first, regardless of if it is a credit card or auto loan. Start by paying off the loan with the highest interest rate first.

If you have several credit cards with different interest rates, you want to focus on the one with a higher APR. You will actually save more money by eliminating the card with the highest interest rate.

3. Don’t Pay the Minimum Amount

Paying the minimum amount digs you into a hole as interest rates will offset your payment. Even a small amount more than the minimum can help you pay off debt much faster.

Removing Obstacles to Pay off Debt Quickly

Creating a debt tracker and prioritizing a plan is simple, but avoiding temptation can be difficult.

1. Set a Reminder to Track Your Debt

“If you can’t measure it you can’t manage it.” -Peter Drucker

It’s so important to track your debt to ensure that you get it paid off quickly. Similar to working out and measuring your results, you need to track your debt constantly. Start with a weekly reminder, where you sign on and log your updated number. Did you increase, decrease, or stay the same?

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Regularly tracking your student loan balance can be incredibly motivating, as well. You will get a huge confidence boost each time you see your total debt amount decreases.

Set weekly and monthly goals so you can have short term wins and keep the momentum going.

2. Hide Your Credit Cards

If your biggest debt is credit cards, you need to eliminate temptation and remove them from your wallet.

Some people have gone to extreme measures by freezing their credit cards. Why? This would create an ice block around your card, which would require you to chip away at it slowly. This will give you time to think if it’s the best idea to buy that thing you’re about to buy.

3. Automate Everything

Willpower can be a huge downfall to paying off your debt. By automating your bills each month, you will ensure that willpower isn’t involved.

4. Plan Ahead

Getting out of debt will require some sacrifices, but with enough planning, you can make it work.

For example, if you know that you have a friend’s birthday or family dinner coming up, plan ahead for the costs. Whether you need to cut back on spending the week before, pick up a side job, or meet them after dinner, do what is needed.

5. Live Cheaply

The only way to get out of debt is to make some sacrifices on your spending habits. Find ways to save money each month so you can apply that amount to your outstanding debts. Here are some ways to save money each month:

  • Live with roommates
  • Cook dinners and prepare lunches for work instead of eating out
  • Cut cable and choose Netflix or Amazon Prime
  • Take public transit or bike to work

Finding the Lowest Interest Rates

The higher your interest rates, the harder (and longer) it will take you to pay off any debt.

If possible, you want to find ways to lower your interest rates to help get out of debt quickly. Here’s how you can get started:

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1. Maintain a High Credit Score

Your credit score will have a large impact on your ability to refinance your loans and receive a lower interest rate. If you have a low credit score, it’s unlikely you will be able to refinance your loans. Use these credit tips to increase and maintain an excellent score:

  • Never miss a payment
  • Don’t exceed 30% of your credit limit
  • Don’t sign up for more than one card at once
  • Limit hard inquires, like auto-loans and new credit cards
  • Monitor frequently with free credit-tracking software

2. Find Balance Transfer Offers

Start by opening a free account on credit.com. Credit.com offers you the chance to open a free account and see what type of balance transfer offers you can receive. Some of your existing credit cards might already have 0% or lower APR balance transfer offers available.

Contact each of your credit card providers to ask about lowering your rate for a one-time balance transfer offer[2].

If you do take advantage of this option, make sure that you use a balance transfer and not a cash advance. Cash advances have a ton of high interest fees (15-25%, depending on your credit card) and will only compound your debt problem.

How to Get Rid of Debt Forever

Setting up a plan, removing temptations, and getting the lowest interest rates is the first step to get out of debt.

1. Keep Monitoring and Adjusting

Once you have a plan, don’t get comfortable. Track your debt payoff plan and make the necessary adjustments when needed.

Monitor your credit scores with a free site like CreditKarma. The higher your credit score climbs, the more likely you will be to secure a new, lower-interest loan.

2. Earn More Money

There are only so many ways to save money. Instead of clipping another coupon or making sacrifices for your morning coffee, find ways to earn more money!

Think about it…it is much easier to find ways to earn an extra $1,000 per month than find $1,000 to cut from your budget.

Here are some examples of ways to earn more money:

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Talk to Your Boss

Have a conversation with your boss about current salary and/or commission rates. If you’re not satisfied or want a change, don’t be afraid to look around at other positions. Some of them might even have a student loan debt reimbursement plan!

Start a Side Hustle

This could be coaching students on the weekends, driving for Uber, or taking paid online surveys. There are tons of ways to make money outside your 9-5. Now that you have a clear plan to pay off your debts, you’ll be more motivated than ever to figure out creative new ways to earn money.

Build an Online Business

There are so many websites and blogs that earn money from ads, affiliates, and other online products. Find your niche and get started.

3. Celebrate Your Wins

As you progress in your debt payoff journey, don’t forget to celebrate your wins. You need to always reward yourself for the hard work and discipline that is required to get out of debt.

While you shouldn’t celebrate so big that it increases debt, make sure to factor in little rewards to keep you motivated.

4. Set New Financial Goals

Eventually, with a plan and these steps, you can rid yourself of your debt. Once you do, make sure to celebrate your monumental achievement, but don’t stop there.

Now, you can focus on acquiring wealth and increasing your net worth. Set new financial goals so you have a new target to aim toward. Here’s how to set financial goals and actually meet them.

These could be anything now that you are debt free! Think about where you want to travel, buying your first home, or saving for your future retirement. Just like before, make sure that your goals are specific, measurable, and achievable.

Conclusion

Congrats, you can now set a plan in motion to finally pay off your debt quickly (and hopefully forever)!

Remember, if you want to get out of debt quickly, it’s not always easy. Just like any big goal, there will be sacrifices, challenges, and problems to overcome.

More Tips on Getting out of Debt

Featured photo credit: Pepi Stojanovski via unsplash.com

Reference

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