Fast fashion, or the consumption of inexpensive clothing produced by mass-market retailers in response to fast-paced trends, is on the rise with young adults—but there are multiple sustainable alternatives to replace it, including tips from folks in Cincinnati working to make a change.
Fast fashion, popularized by retailers like Zara, H&M, and SHEIN, has been shown to have dire environmental consequences and has faced controversies over working conditions and unfair wages for the workers producing fast fashion items. Young adults may be tempted to buy clothes online from fast fashion brands because they are inexpensive and accessible. Fashion trends are constantly changing, especially with social media platforms like Instagram influencing consumer purchases. This often means that a purchased item may only be worn once or twice before being thrown out. Social media makes this type of behavior more accepted, says Taneica Oliveira, editor-in-chief of Cincinnati Style Report.
Working with a digital fashion magazine has given Oliveira experience with the effect of social media on fashion trends, and she understands influencers tend to promote fast fashion. “I definitely think there is something to be said about being more realistic, influencers themselves being more realistic about the things that they post, because nine out of 10 of the influencers that you see that are putting on these clothes have either gotten those for free or they’ve gotten them at a very heavy discount and they’re not going to wear them again,” she says.
An influencer with thousands of followers can promote clothes from any brand, which is why Oliveira says that influencers should be “leading by example” and taking initiative in leading followers to try sustainable options. But there are many influencers who encourage their followers to consume fast fashion, and young people, who have limited budgets and spend a large amount of time on social media, are the perfect demographic for targeted fast fashion trends. “When you’re a college student, you have the mind, you have the ambition—but you don’t have the funds yet. So you can’t go to a Reformation, or even Poshmark, and get yourself a pair of Giuseppe Zanotti heels. It’s still an obscene amount of money for the average 20-something year old,” she says.
There are multiple options to be more conscious about fashion, Oliveira says. “I have become very interested in watching influencers and YouTubers who are doing what they call a ‘slow fashion,’” Oliveira says. “[They are] going through every season and taking out what they are not wearing, and thrifting, and doing swap parties, which means basically taking things from each other’s closets and seeing what they like and then the rest of it they donate, instead of buying a whole new wardrobe every season.”
Shoppers can also buy local brands that focus on sustainability, like Sosha Bianca Studios, which designs items locally and produces sustainably and ethically at fair trade operations in Mongolia, or Creamy Studios, a streetwear brand focused on its environmental footprint.
Other sustainable fashion practices like sewing, cutting, and upcycling clothes are at the forefront of the work done by the Sustainable Fashion Initiative (SFI), a UC College of Design, Art, Architecture, and Planning (DAAP) student collective aiming to reduce waste from fashion. “Rather than getting a new T-shirt for 2021, they would take past shirts and bring them to SFI, and SFI would cut them, sew them up as opposed to getting a new T-shirt,” says Laurie Wilson, Associate Director of DAAP.
Wilson, who has been involved in the fashion industry for many years, has seen how fashion consumption trends have changed over time. “In the classes that I teach, you can tell what the hot buttons are [for] millennials and Gen Z by just listening to the conversations that come up in class and where interest levels are and how people feel about different companies,” says Wilson. The influence of social media in this age group has also had an evident impact on the fashion industry and consumption trends, she says. “With the onset of online retailing, fast fashion just became more and more a part of everybody’s go-to stores,” says Wilson.
DAAP student Sarah Malas, who is involved with the SFI, explains that the collective’s mission is two-fold. “The first one is to make the fashion program at DAAP completely waste-free, so we collect, audit, sort, clean all the fabric that the fashion students use and then we try to find ways to repurpose it,” says Malas. “Our other mission is to talk to the community to raise awareness about sustainable fashion. We teach people how to mend their clothing.”
Although the progress is slow, the fashion industry is making changes in terms of shifting its focus to being more sustainable, Oliviera says. “I think we’re swinging in the right direction for that kind of thing.”