When senior Savannah Rosenzweig goes shopping, she often focuses on the present: the cute new shirt she sees, the affordable price tag. 

“You see something you like, and that’s just what you want,” Rosenzweig said.

It wasn’t until the summer of 2019 that she started learning about fast fashion on Twitter and began to change her way of thinking.

“Fast fashion” describes clothes that are sold to keep up with the current style. But this means that many of the clothes are cheap — in both senses of the word. 

To keep costs down, clothes are often made of synthetic materials that don’t last long. 

According to “How Fast Fashion Is Destroying the Planet” in The New York Times, “More than 60% of fabric fibers are now synthetics, derived from fossil fuels, so if and when our clothing ends up in a landfill (about 85% of textile waste in the United States goes to landfills or is incinerated), it will not decay.” This landfill contributes to methane emissions and thus to climate change. 

Junior Pragathi Vivaik said the waste fast fashion produces is one main issue. 

“People aren’t even putting the clothes they don’t use anymore to an alternative use,” Vivaik said. “They just toss them out. I understand how people may want to keep up with the trends, but they should at least find alternative uses to the clothing they aren’t wearing anymore.”

Additionally, in the article “UN Helps Fashion Industry Shift to Low Carbon,” the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change secretariat estimates that because of the long supply chains and energy-intensive production, buying clothes contributes to around 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Furthermore, “shifting practices in the fashion industry is key to limiting warming to close to 1.5 C above pre-Industrial Revolution levels.”

Producing clothing uses high amounts of resources. For example, according to the United Nations, it takes 10,000 liters of water to grow the cotton to produce a single pair of jeans. 

Now multiply that by how many jeans you have in your closet. Now consider how many people in the world own that many jeans.

Despite these effects, a Jan. 6 Octagon poll of 104 students revealed that 52% of high schoolers have never heard the term “fast fashion,” and 58% don’t think it’s bad for the environment.

In fact, according to freshman Tonye Jack, there are some benefits to fast fashion. 

“I don’t want to be spending a bunch of money just to look good,” Jack said. “It should be comfortable, affordable and fashionable all at once. That’s why I like a lot of fast fashion, like Forever 21.”

Senior Jason Li holds a similar position: He appreciates that fast fashion has led to affordable clothing options for guys.

“There are a lot more options to choose from, especially for guys because guys’ clothes styles are really limited,” Li said. “The fact that I don’t have to go to expensive stores to buy from designer brands for good style is convenient.”

Thanks to the lower prices, Li said he can pursue fashion as a hobby rather than a necessity.

Sophomore Masai Dumisani is focusing her sophomore project on this topic to help bring awareness to its harmful consequences.

“It affects everyone — buying and wearing clothes,” Dumisani said. “I wanted people to know the causes and effects (of their actions).”

An article on Sustain Your Style, a website created by a former fashion industry veteran, Mathilde Charpail, describes various ways average people can reduce their impact.

Reduce. Avoid the need to constantly restock your wardrobe by buying durable clothing with season-less designs. Higher-quality products eliminate the need to replace old garments after only a few months of wear, while timeless pieces allow consumers to stay in-style without overhauling their closets. You can also target sustainable brands such as Levi’s, whose Water<Less jeans collection uses 96% less water to make than its other collections. 

Reuse. Buy second-hand clothing from thrift stores, reducing the need to produce new clothing, and saving resources and energy. According to Rosenzweig, Goodwill and local thrift stores offer clothing options at a similar cost to fast-fashion stores while avoiding the hazards that come with the price tag. This includes contributing old clothes to local thrift stores rather than throwing them out, where they could end up in landfills.

Recycle. This means literally recycling old clothing so the fabric can be used for new designs. Stores such as The North Face and H&M allow people to drop off old clothing in return for a gift card or coupon. Junior Hana Lee said she also donates her old clothes to a family friend who recycles the cloth and donates the new pieces to Camp Fire victims.

Rosenzweig said she keeps sustainable brands in mind when shopping for specific pieces.

“There’s some places that I wouldn’t think of as being ethical clothing, like Patagonia and Columbia, but they are,” Rosenzweig said. “I think about that when I’m going to buy a jacket or athletic wear. I’ll think, ‘Maybe I should go to these stores.’” 

Brands such as Patagonia — which aims to reduce its carbon footprint — and Columbia — which has programs like Rethreads to recycle materials — offer customers options to support the sustainability movement and reduce their shopping by buying high-quality products. 

Lee often recreates fast-fashion pieces by reusing her old clothes or purchasing basics from thrift stores and making alterations.

“Let’s say I see a really cute red shirt that I like at the mall,” Lee said. “I (won’t) buy the shirt at the store, but I’ll go home and take the red shirt that I have and try to make it similar to the one I saw in the store, so it’s like making your own fast fashion.

“Most of the time, I don’t buy what I see in the store because I know I can either go to the thrift store and buy it or just find something at home to make it.”

“Most of the time, I don’t buy what I see in the store because I know I can either go to the thrift store and buy it or just find something at home to make it”

—Hana Lee

Similarly, Vivaik donates old clothes to Goodwill and recycled-clothing bins.

Vivaik said she used to recycle clothes at Phoenix Children’s Hospital Foundation’s American Textile Recycling Service, but since she moved to Sacramento, she only donates to Goodwill.

She also used to save old clothing for projects when she was younger.

“I’ve cut up old clothes for art projects,” Vivaik said. “I remember (my class and I) made mini-wreaths out of a wire hanger and strips of cloth, and we all hung ours up for Christmas. We did a collective collage, too, as a class.”

According to Dumisani, a simple change in mindset helped her sustainability efforts.

“If I buy something from a clothing chain, it has to be a piece that I will wear a lot,” Dumisani said.

“I have to think about, ‘Is this actually something I need or really want?’ instead of, ‘Oh, I’ll just buy it because I can.’”

Originally published in the Feb. 4 edition of the Octagon.

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