Fast Fashion: The Reality


Stella Thrift, Staff Writer

It’s no surprise that fast fashion and its effects are tremendously harmful for various reasons—namely, the environment, sweatshops, and child labor, but the industry also hosts an abundance of other issues. We have all heard about why it’s bad, yet millions of people worldwide continue to buy from fast-fashion companies for their cheap, easily accessible clothing. In 2021 alone, Shein, a popular fast-fashion site, generated $15.7 billion. That’s a 60% increase since 2020 when they made $9.8 billion.

The primary demographic of fast-fashion shoppers falls under younger women, usually in their teens or twenties. Four researchers from Sheffield Hallam University surveyed 56 students aged 18-24 and four aged over 24 about their thoughts on sustainable fashion. 63% agreed that they were concerned about the social implications of the fast-fashion industry, 48% said they were concerned about environmental implications, and 3% stated they were not at all concerned about its social or environmental impacts. 62% admitted to shopping at a fast-fashion retailer monthly. Less than half of the surveyed students stated that they consider where and how their clothes were made before purchasing them. The researchers also conducted six in-depth interviews, and five of the six respondents could not name any brands producing sustainable clothes. It’s clear that Gen Z is concerned about fast fashion’s effects on the environment, with 94% believing that “action is needed relative to sustainability” (, yet so many continue to buy from unsustainable brands. 

The reason behind the rise in fast fashion may lie in the neurological reactions it brings. In 2007, a team of researchers from Stanford University, MIT, and Carnegie Mellon University observed the brains of test subjects using MRI technology as they made decisions while buying clothes. The researchers found that when they showed one of the study’s subjects a desirable object for sale, the pleasure center, also known as the nucleus accumbens, in the subject’s brain lit up. The more the person wanted the item, the more activity the MRI detected. Pleasure is also activated through bargaining. Part of the joy of shopping is not only buying something you like but getting a good deal on it. In the consumer culture of the West, it makes sense that fast fashion is such a primary clothing source. An extensive catalog, low prices, and easy accessibility feed this neurological process. 

There are some alternatives to fast fashion, some just as cheap but much more sustainable. Second-hand shopping has become increasingly popular in the past few years. It promotes a more environmentally-friendly lifestyle and can be just as cheap and easy to find as clothing from fast-fashion stores. Another option is to buy better quality, albeit expensive, clothes that will last longer. Renting clothes is another excellent substitute for fast fashion. Renting companies such as Rent the Runway are convenient for the clothing worn on special occasions. Waiting a day before purchasing something also helps as it prevents you from buying an item on impulse. 

There are numerous ways to wear the clothing you want without contributing to the fast fashion industry. Although cheaper, less sustainable clothing is helpful when you’re on a budget or don’t have the money for more expensive clothes. Being mindful of how you shop is beneficial to not only you but to the world.