Written by Emma Desilva.

Fast fashion: the infamous buzzword that has taken over consumers’ perception of the fashion industry and even our own purchasing power. From the global blog, Good on You, fast fashion can be defined as “cheap, trendy, clothing that samples ideas from the catwalk or celebrity culture and turns them into garments in high street stores at breakneck speed.” Fast fashion culture has come up recently due to a change in the way we shop for our clothing. Historically, shopping had been done a few times a year, replacing old, worn pieces with new, up to date ones. But today, we are able to get a new, on-trend piece in a matter of hours at any time of the day. 

Even though all consumers search for clothes in very different ways, in numerous price points, and in ever changing styles, one thing is common amongst us all: the need to clothe ourselves. This definite demand drives how fast fashion came to be and their ability to dominate the retail space. With consistently high demand and a highly inflated market of fashion brands, the only means of competition is with the price. When you see a shirt priced for $3, you might be thinking, how can a shirt be so cheap? The answer lies within the entire supply chain – from the origin of the materials to the means of production to the mode of transportation to get into store shelves or in inventory warehouses. Pressing issues like child labor, poverty level wages, and extreme carbon emissions from mass transportation riddle and define the supply chain in fast fashion. Even with the steps corporations have taken to lessen these issues, they are still very prevalent today. 

I became fascinated with the inner workings of the fashion industry when I started studying here at Haas. I had always been infatuated by fashion and textiles and saw it as a future career path for me, but never knew what I wanted to do within the industry. It wasn’t until I took Professor Alan Ross’s UGBA 107, The Social, Political and Ethical Environment of Business, where we were tasked with writing a final paper on something we found interesting that touched on the topics learned in class. Here, I  explored and ultimately found my interest in the fashion industry, which lied in the intersection of human rights and climate crisis issues that stem from the industry.

The fashion industry tends to fly under the radar when it comes to these issues, but startling facts about its impact in the world have started to take center stage, as consumers grow ever more concerned with the ethics of their products. Aside from contributing 10% of global carbon emissions, more than all international flights and marine shipping combined, fashion is also plagued with a crippling business model. With the recent closures of mega stores like Forever 21, Topshop, Barney’s, American Apparel, and Victoria’s Secret, consumers have become more aware of their manufacturing processes, even just by seeing the sheer amount of stores and products they offer. 

A 2020 resolution of mine was to stay away from fast fashion enterprises, so your Zaras, H&Ms, and Forever 21s, and look to buy more sustainably. I’ve been carrying this out through vintage/thrift stores (which is very convenient thanks to the Bay Area), online secondhand apps like Poshmark, Mercari, TheRealReal, or thredUp, and with sustainability focused brands, like Reformation, AmourVert (retail store down on 4th Street), Levi’s, Outdoor Voices, Gap, Nisolo, Cuyana (founded by Berkeley Haas alumna), Whimsy + Row, Patagonia, Aloha Shoes, Foundationals (founded by Berkeley Haas alum), Tencel, Allbirds, Everlane, and this extensive list from Remake. What I’ve found is that the allure of buying multiple pieces has slowly gone away and is replaced with the satisfaction of owning a few pieces that did not hurt the earth or another human being. I also found that shopping more sustainably can be more expensive. While thrift stores and online secondhand apps definitely help balance the budget, spending the extra cash to get a well made, long lasting piece goes a lot further than wearing a top two or three times and then trashing it. So as a student, it may seem tough to break the fast fashion cycle, but by making small, thoughtful choices through researching companies’ sustainability practices (or lack thereof), stopping by Buffalo Exchange or Mars on your walk home to grab that new cool jacket you were thinking about, or even just deciding to skip that weekly Amazon haul, you can make a big difference. Choices like these will have a long time impact on the future of the industry and the way we shop forever.

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