Perspective: A Fashion Crisis

A reflection of my failure to be an environmentally responsible fashion consumer


The fashion industry uses 25% of all chemicals worldwide, emits 10% of global carbon emissions and subjects its garment workers to horrific, unsafe working conditions. Many people, myself included, are aware of the damaging effects of fast fashion on the environment and laborers. We are also aware that where we spend our money as consumers has an impact, positive or negative, on these fast fashion companies. However despite having this knowledge, my purchasing habits often do not align with my moral inclinations to protect humans and the environment. 

I read in the Wall Street Journal that the average article of clothing is worn only seven times before being discarded. I did not believe it at first. However, once I started counting my own clothes, I realized it is true and probably an even lower number for me. 

Disregarding shoes, undergarments and jewelry—which I always buy new—my daily outfits tend to be evenly split between items purchased new, second hand or from more sustainable brands. When I am getting dressed, I often look at my outfit and remember where I bought everything. When I have an all-thrifted outfit, I congratulate myself. 

However this does not factor in the clothes I own but do not wear. Depop purchases I touched once or a Black Friday order of which I have not removed the tags. The fact is, the clothes I wear on a daily basis represent only a portion of the clothes I have purchased. 

It would be easy for me to say I do not shop at Shein, Zara, or any of the “really bad” fast fashion brands. However, the truth is this fact does not make me a responsible consumer. I shop a lot. I thrift a lot, and I buy new clothes a lot. As a result, I over consume. 

The problem with fast fashion is not solely that it exists but that it is vastly over consumed, meaning the best way to be sustainable is to buy less. Thus, as a chronic over consumer with a mild shopping addiction who has far too many clothes than I could ever need, I am failing to be an environmentally conscious consumer. 

So if my morals are to protect the environment and garment workers, why do I still purchase clothing from fast fashion brands? I have struggled with this question for a long time. I do not have a good answer, and I cannot justify my actions. 

I can, however, reflect on the reasons behind my behavior. One reason is that I am a highschool girl who likes to keep up with trends, and feminine clothing trends move incredibly fast. Skinny jeans, for example, were popular and then unpopular in a few years, leaving me scrambling to buy adorable wide-leg pants (which I love). Importantly, I do not want to and would feel less confident wearing my perfectly fine skinny jeans from 2019. Part of this issue stems from very successful marketing campaigns that are pushing forth faster and faster trend cycles. 

Another reason is the prices. Urban Outfitters’ $18 tops allow me to buy far more clothing than the more sustainably-sourced $40 Reformation versions. This issue is amplified for people of lower socioeconomic status, who’s choices are more limited when it comes to affordable fashion choices. The difficulty of fighting fast fashion stems from people like me, who have the means to make responsible choices but fail to do so.  So, what can I do? My urge to dress nicely is not going to go away, and fashion marketing is not going to get any less persuasive. However, I can set attainable goals for myself and think critically about the value of an item before I purchase it. I will use the site Good On You, which ranks brands based on their treatment of animals, humans and the environment. I can learn to rework clothing I already own so it lasts longer than fast trend cycles. I can make sure when I buy an item that this is something I will wear more than seven times. Overall, I must remember that failing to be an environmentally conscious consumer does not mean that I should stop trying.