Cheap Clothes Have a High Price Tag — and It’s Impacting Everyone

Though the price of fast fashion is appealing to many consumers, the industry faces irreversible consequences with regard to the global economy and climate patterns. Online clothing companies such as Shein and Zaful, as well as retail stores like Zara and H&M, produce affordable and trendy clothing that quickly fall in and out of style.

Although it’s true that the affordable clothes allow both companies and consumers to keep up with the latest fashion trends, these clothes actually come at a very high price.

Some believe that fast fashion is simply a response to the demand of consumers who want fashionable clothing at a low cost.

“Trends change as a result of us essentially wanting new things. How do we stop humans from wanting new things?” CAS senior Adetoun Adeyemi said. “I feel like it is elitist to guilt trip people away from buying clothing they consider to be affordable.”

On the other hand, the overarching success of the industry can be attributed to the fact that these companies are creating such a demand by continuously feeding into a vicious cycle of exploiting labor conditions through child labor, low wages and unsafe working conditions while harming the environment in the process.

This raises the question: if mass-produced clothes do so much harm, why do people shop for them?

Cosmopolitan magazine intern and CAS senior Annabel Iwegbue strives to become a more conscious consumer.

“While I have definitely bought a lot from fast fashion brands in the past, I am trying to phase out of it,” says Iwegbue. “I have recently learned that the fashion industry is most responsible for pollution, and a lot is due to fast fashion and how they produce their clothing.”

From 2000 to 2014, the average consumer purchased 60% more clothing annually, according to McKinsey & Company. This corresponds to a rise in clothing production, which has doubled in the same time frame, causing a rise in massive waste that ultimately settles in landfills and oceans.

“I don’t want to partake in that, especially as I try to be more environmentally conscious,” Iwegbue said. “I try to thrift more and not get so tired of my clothing as easily.”

But other students feel that just thrifting is not the definitive solution.

“Thrifting is a frequently suggested option, which is great for many situations. However, this is also not a perfect answer,” Gallatin senior Antonia Neel said. “Sometimes you cannot find clothes at the thrift store appropriate for every situation. New York City is a great resource, but my hometown, for example, does not have thrift stores where I could definitely find work appropriate clothing.”

Neel also believes that companies such as Zara and Amazon should have a responsibility to do more.

“[Zara and Amazon] need to use their weight as corporate giants to push for varied legislation, such as nationalized healthcare and an overhaul of environmental policy,” says Neel.

Though Neel and GLS senior, Natalia Bafia, both express concern toward fast fashion brands, they have both bought clothing from these companies. The cite difficulties in affording higher quality, more expensive clothes, especially when living in New York City.

“I think that consumers who have the opportunity to purchase non-fast fashion brands should do so,” Bafia said. “Those consumers who have the means to become educated on the topic and to invest in a more expensive or a more sustainable item should. If consumers were taught of the cost-per-wear of an item, they could potentially realize that certain items have a higher utility even if they are more costly than fast fashion.”

Still, the amount of clothing being produced has outmatched our capacity to recycle and this system of reusing clothing is one way to stop contributing to the problem.

This article was originally published for Washington Square News. 

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