I recently saw a post on Instagram that really struck a chord with me. It was a picture of t-shirts priced at $2. Underneath, the poster wrote, “Thrift store prices have increased while Walmart prices have stayed the same. ‘Shop smart’ and purchase 6 shirts at Walmart for the price of one at a thrift store!” While I’ve seen similar posts about sales and deals people score on clothing and accessories, this one bothered me more than usual. Essentially, it makes me question what people really think smart shopping is and whether these beliefs and practices cost more than the dollars they are saving on a t-shirt.
I am no saint and I truly enjoy a deal like every other person. From high school all the way through law school and even as a young professional, I have shopped at fast fashion clothing stores to buy clothes that were not only on-trend but also affordable. Heck, I think a lot of my clothes currently are from fast fashion clothing brands due to convenience, cost, and habit. But when I think about their ability to transcend seasons and durability for multiple wears, I cringe because it’s more often than not that these articles of clothing are worn less than a handful of times before they are discarded or donated only to end up in landfills.
So what is my point? I am refusing to shop fast fashion going forward for multiple reasons. First, the ethical implications of fast fashion should be more than enough to make anyone rethink buying their next pair of three-dollar leggings from Forever 21. As a student of Economics, I get it: huge manufacturers are able to enjoy economies of scale that allow them to decrease the cost of producing goods and pass those savings on to consumers. To some degree, I agree and understand this argument. But when you look at the countries from which these goods are exported, they are most commonly developing nations that do not have well-regulated labor and environmental laws. As a result, the wages people earn and the conditions in which they work are ghastly.
After looking at a few clothing tags I personally own, I noticed that many are from Bangladesh. According to minimum-wage.org, the minimum annual wage in Bangladesh is 18,000 Taka, or approximately $212. That is the ANNUAL minimum wage. Broken down monthly, that is barely $18 or approximately 60 cents per day. It would take a person earning minimum wage in Bangladesh five days of wages to purchase those $3 pair of leggings from Forever 21. Does that put it in perspective for you?
Another reason why I am aiming to quit fast fashion is due to its inability to survive multiple wears and washings. In law school, I remember buying a pair of jeans from H&M that cost about $20. After a few wears, I washed and dried it only to find a poorly constructed pair of pants with inseams that no longer lined up properly and a waist that did not match the rest of its shrunken body. Comparatively, I have a pair of Levi’s denim I bought from a thrift store sophomore year of college, which was over a decade ago. They are still my go-to shorts every spring and summer. (Shopping second-hand is another topic on its own!) I sincerely understand the desire to try trends with inexpensive clothing from fast fashion retailers. However, it’s also important to understand the real cost behind those savings.
Again, I am no saint. I have illustrated my participation in fast fashion and admit I still have many pieces from such retailers. I cannot go back in time, but I can make changes so that going forward I no longer support such practices or businesses. As for the clothing I already have, I believe that throwing them out or donating them just to purge my closet of my own guilt is counter-productive. Instead, I plan on wearing them for as long as possible and then trying to repurpose them as rags or some other useful item.
I am not perfect. But I am making an attempt at making smarter decisions when shopping so that my spending habits are aligned with my morals. These are my beliefs. What are yours?