The Unexpected Consequences of Fast Fashion: Part 2

May 8, 2020

Jenna Camareno

If you haven’t yet read Fast Fashion Part 1, make sure to go there first and catch up!

Here is part 2. Here’s you’ll learn more about the systemic impact of fast fashion on our world and the human race.

Sweat Shops

In the 1960’s, most Americans invested in around 25 new clothing items in a year. 

Today, the average American shopper loads up 72 new garments in 12 months.

In sync with the fast fashion industry’s marketing strategies, the demand for cheap clothing has skyrocketed. 

Nowadays, hardly any of our clothing is made in the US. A little over 40% of our clothes are exported from China. 

Sweat shop workers in countries like China and Bangladesh frequently find themselves in dire working environments, with 10-18 hour workdays, 7-day working weeks during peak seasons, wages as low as 3 cents an hour, and no voice towards making changes in their workplace. 

On April 24, 2013, a huge Bangladeshi factory called Rana Plaza collapsed due to known structural issues. The very day before, the building had been temporarily evacuated due to noticeable cracks in the walls, but then workers were sent back in. It killed over 1000 workers, most of them female garment workers.

Some well-meaning people argue that although sweat shops look grossly unappealing by American standards, they offer the preferable alternative to workers in impoverished countries. 

Undeniably, having any job is better than having no job. Having an honest job is better than having to work in an illicit profession such as the sex industry. Nonetheless, I don’t think we should settle for these standards for our sisters and brothers across the world. Would we excuse sweat shop conditions if this were our sister, our daughter, or our mother? 

What would it look like if we expected the human beings within our sphere of influence to be treated with dignity? 

I’m not advocating for increased government regulation. I’m not calling for an end to capitalism. I think both of those things increase poverty, so they would be mistakes.

Rather, I’m brainstorming how we can let our purchases speak for themselves. How can we support private companies that respect the image of God in each person?


Now that you see the far-reaching consequences of cheaply produced clothing, would you really want to just go and throw one of these garments away when you get tired of it? 

Cheap clothing is filling up landfills, and put simply, there is nowhere to fit it. The apparel industry has been given the distinction of being the 2nd most polluting industry in the world. 

Our Consumer Mentality

In buying into the fast fashion mentality, I’ve started believing the lie that I’ll be fulfilled by having more stuff. 

It’s the consumerist mantra.

Pinterest, Youtube videos, Instagram, and all those sales emails in my inbox aren’t helping.

The thing to understand is that our greed and insatiability may have started as something pure. Many of us women love beauty and enjoy putting together a cute outfit. None of this is bad; I think it’s how God made us. 

But sprinkle enough focus and hope into nearly any good thing and it can be turned into an idol. The seductive idols of fashion include greed, vanity, sensuality, youthfulness, and the list goes on. 

Idols tend to connect us with some sense of identity apart from Christ. Fashion might tell us the world will see us a certain way if we can simply put together the right outfit. But as an identity, clothes end up disappointing, because in the end that’s all they are: clothes. In the end, any identity emerging from fashion is empty and fleeting.

What We Can Do

We each have a choice as to what to wear each day.

We speak with our dollar and with our clothing choices.

I do believe a healthy, robust capitalism is part of the answer. If capitalism were running in an uncorrupted fashion in countries like China and Bangladesh, I don’t think the oppression that fast fashion brings would be able to survive.

Yet, capitalism must be tempered by conscience.

Alternatives include buying fewer but higher quality clothes, thrifting, swapping clothes with friends, or re-purposing old clothes by remaking them into something new.

An excellent website to explore the ethical standards of your favorite clothing companies is Good on You.

Nowadays there are some amazing, high quality clothing brands with beautiful ethical clothing, such as Everlane and Reformation.

Thrifting is one of my most favorite things to do. In fact, if you live in a big city like LA, you probably can get incredible deals on resale clothing that are barely worn. For those of you who don’t hail from a big city, there are great options like Poshmark and Thredup.

To repurpose garments we can do anything from adding some new statement buttons on an old coat to cutting an old skirt into squares of pretty rags to use in your kitchen. Be sure to check out the Haulternative movement that is creatively countering wasteful fast fashion on Youtube!

One way we can reduce the spread of polyesters into our water system (see part 1) is to buy clothing that is made out of natural fibers such as cotton. Secondly, we can wash our clothes only when they are actually dirty, rather than over-washing.

One of the things we need the most is a mindset shift. We need to learn to be content with what God has already given us, rather than using buying as a hobby, escape, or way to create an identity. Consumerism is insidious and I’m hardly immune. Contentment is profoundly counter-cultural.

All in all, I’d encourage each of you to keep learning about fast fashion. But at the same time, don’t beat yourself up about choices made in the past. Look for small and manageable ways to begin changing your lifestyle.

For Further Research:

The True Cost (also available on Netflix DVD’s)

The Gorgeous Life is about all the facets of female life in Christ Jesus. You’ll find tips to cultivate glowing health, be more present and alive in your relationships, develop inner and outer beauty, and laser-focus your sense of purpose in the world.

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