The Ethics of Fast Fashion


Jolie Zenna

“The Ethics of Fast Fashion” first appeared in the spring 2020 print edition of The Communiqué. To view the edition in full, please click here.

Who doesn’t love a good shopping spree, especially one right from the comfort of your own home? With fast fashion outlets like Zara, Topshop, and Primark, along with many others, it only takes the click of a button to buy the latest styles for a great price. Keeping an eye on the latest trends, these major companies release new clothing weekly — some even daily — ensuring that customers are never wearing yesterday’s look. But have you ever wondered about the means or consequences of producing such a large amount of clothes so quickly? 

Many consumers are not aware of the horrible working conditions of the factories where clothes from fast fashion websites are made, and it isn’t necessarily their fault — big names in fast fashion spend a lot of time trying to cover up the industry’s dark side. Many Australian fast fashion companies, such as Cotton On, have hidden supply chains, meaning that their brand continues to make new clothing without even knowing the manufacturer. Cotton On, in addition to other similar retailers, is suspected to have manufactured its clothes in Rana Plaza, where over 1,100 people died because of substandard working conditions that led to the collapse of the building in 2013. Other popular Australian fast fashion brands like Princess Polly, Hello Molly, and Showpo, which are regularly endorsed by social media influencers, may all be manufacturing their clothes in factories that mistreat and endanger their workers. According to Scorecard, over sixty percent of Australian major fashion brands are cloaked in manufacturing secrecy. When disasters such as the Rana Plaza factory collapse occur, these companies are quick to deny their association with them and enable the normalization of huge human rights abuses for the sake of efficiency. Workers are not the only concern in producing clothes for fast fashion, as the environment is jeopardized as well. According to the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, the fashion industry is already responsible for twenty percent of the world’s wastewater and ten percent of global carbon emissions. 

Consumers, including students at Cresskill High School, indirectly perpetuate this mistreatment by buying from such companies. 47.4% of Cresskill High School Student respondents said they shopped at the stores Zara, TopShop, or Primark, which are all brands where fair worker treatment has come into question.

When fast fashion companies are sponsored by your favorite celebrities and seen all over everyone’s search page on Instagram, demand for their products is only going to grow, and so are these numbers. According to the United Nations Environment Programme, fast fashion companies produce so much clothing by volume that they are also known to produce beyond the need, filling landfills with skirts and sunglasses that no one bought. By buying clothes from these brands, you are contributing to water pollution and the mistreatment of women and children in factories in China, Cambodia, India and so many more places that do not have the means to defend themselves against this billion-dollar industry. Of these respondents though, 76.3% percent of the respondents said they would stop purchasing clothes from brands that mistreated their workers.

But hey — there are simple changes you can make to help mend the mess that fast fashion companies are creating; namely, support brands that are transparent about their manufacturing and make efforts to help the environment. According to the Clean Clothes Campaign, popular brands like Abercrombie and Fitch, Puma, and H&M have all signed the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh after the Rana Plaza disaster, enforcing regular inspections and transparency of manufacturers. H&M is also teaming up with Guess to make jeans out of recyclable waste.

Spring break is coming soon, so instead of ordering a bunch of bathing suits from companies like Shein where manufacturing is kept a secret, try to support your local boutiques. It’s a double positive: you aren’t supporting businesses that mistreat their workers and are now shopping at a boutique means that no one will have the same bathing suit as you on vacation. As you can see, there are plenty of ways to look cute and protect workers and the world against fast fashion. 


Sustainable Fashion Brands

  • Reformation has a traceability performance that shows where their garments are manufactured and states the eco-friendly chemicals they use in their printing. 
  • Levi’s has a “Sustainably Designed Collection” where they use recycled denim
  • Alternative Apparel’s factories are WRAP-certified, meaning they take precautions in manufacturing to have less of an effect on the environment and all of the factories adhere the Fair Labor Association’s code of conduct 
  • PACT uses organic material to make all of their clothing and only use Fair Trade Factories.
  • thredUP uses recycled fabrics instead of buying new fabric in order to limit the amount of thrown out fabrics filling up landfills
  • H&M Conscious has a whole collection of clothes from recycled material. The collection carries anything from sweaters to underwear.
  • Eileen Fisher made a “Waste No More” campaign to take responsibility for its fashion footprint. This campaign brings more sustainable options to the brand.
  • Cuyana makes sustainable clothing that lasts many years to stop wasteful clothing from filling landfills
  • Amour Vert’s products are all made in San Francisco so there are no unknown mistreated workers in international factories. They also use organic materials for clothing. 
  • Patagonia offers a repair and reuse program where you can fix items bought by them instead of throwing them out and creating more waste. The company is also planning to make its chain Carbon neutral by 2025
  • Columbia’s products are made in ways which have low impact on the environment and employ communities in need, but in a transparent way, not in bad working conditions.
  • Athleta’s clothing is very sustainable, 60 percent of it being made from sustainable fibers. They also use recycled polyester and are using less damaging dyes on their clothing.