Fast Fashion: Think before you buy

Fast fashion clothing in a pile, with the recycling logo on one of the shirts

Jose Gonzalez Campelo/The Cougar

Fast fashion companies such as Temu and Shein have become extremely popular in the last couple of years. Many students have started turning to these sites to keep up with trends in an affordable way, but many either ignore or are unaware of the many ways fast fashion can be harmful.

For example, both Temu and Shein have been accused of using forced labor to produce their clothing. Allegedly, the companies exploited labor from the Uyghur people, a predominantly Muslim people group located in China.

Despite laws banning the sourcing of materials in Xinjiang due to multiple human rights violations in the region, materials from there have still been found in shipments to the United States. 

Even with this broadly available knowledge, it can be easy for many to ignore issues that do not impact them personally. For some, being reminded that they are contributing to these practices can feel like a personal attack on their character.

Any criticisms of consumer culture and how it contributes to fast fashion tend to fall flat when brought up. More ethical clothing options are frequently more expensive, and it can be easy to dismiss concerns by saying: “Well, pretty much all companies are exploitative one way or another.”

This is not entirely wrong, but this line of thinking can lead to people simply giving up on any efforts to consume consciously and sustainably without consuming alternative options.

It is also worth noting that in conversations criticizing fast fashion brands, Chinese-based companies are frequently subjected to an unfair double standard.

For example, some concerns surrounding Temu’s data collecting practices tend to prey on American fears of the Chinese government’s influence. However, a wide variety of US-based apps use almost identical data collection practices and aren’t criticized nearly as much.

There are valid criticisms and concerns over privacy and malware threats on Temu in particular, but conversations about this should not automatically jump to the conclusion that every Chinese company is linked to the Chinese government or is part of a secret plot to attack Americans. 

But even if we do our best to stay informed, exploitative monopolies can make it difficult to not support unethical practices. So how are buyers and broke college students supposed to consume consciously?

It might come as a surprise, but some of the best solutions do not require consumption at all. These may include learning how to mend damaged clothing, getting into DIY projects or exchanging unwanted clothes with friends and family. 

Ultimately, it really is not that difficult to boycott brands that are well-known to contribute to human rights violations. Inaction is arguably one of the simplest forms of protest.

While regular buyers should not be held accountable for the unethical practices of massive companies, it is also up to the consumer to think critically. In many cases, the most ethical option might be to just avoid fast fashion and consumerist culture as much as possible.  

Alyssa Rios is a junior History major who can be reached at [email protected]

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