Fast Fashion makes trends quickly and cheaply available to consumers. This status quo is applicable across industries too: Fast Food, Fast-Paced work, Fast and Furious entertainment––you get the picture. This culture focuses on the short-term, disposable, and easily replaced nature of consumer products. But its core mentality ignores some larger questions: its unseen costs, environmental impacts and sustainability, and numerous underlying ethical questions.
Here's a foreign concept in the fast consumption paradigm: as a consumer you are actually in control. An exceptional piece of advice from Andrew Morgan's stirring film, The True Cost, is just that: consumers have the ability to dictate industry trends with their purchases. What does it mean, then, to participate in fast consumption? And, what exactly might change when you choose to participate in slow consumption (e.g., Slow Fashion) instead? Maybe a new status quo.
COSTS: MATERIAL AND HUMAN
A triple cheeseburger at McDonald's in Austin, Texas, is $3 before tax.
Fleece-lined footless tights at Urban Outfitters in Austin, Texas, are $2.99 before shipping.
The minimum wage in Bangladesh, as of 2014, is about $65 per month or just about $3.50 a day as a garment worker.
The optics here are not great.
A day of labor in Bangladesh has the same monetary value as these individual disposable products; products that typify fast consumption. Clearly, this example also contains glaring but basic inequities in the life cycle of a pair of tights from cotton to consumer. A purchase price, however, is not the only cost. There are significant environmental, economic, and human costs in fast industries that most people have yet to realize. It's worth slowing down to consider them.
Think about your everyday choices in the grocery store. There's always the bucket of organic apples, some of which will be slightly bruised, that cost more than the waxy, perfectly shiny apples in plastic packaging. The inorganic apples probably grew with the help of pesticides and genetically modified seeds. Generally, people are aware of these differences when they pick out their fruit. But are you as aware of your Fast Fashion versus Slow Fashion choices? In the textile industry, a significant environmental impact is caused by the depleting and/or damaging of natural resources via water and material waste. This is not an exaggeration either: cotton, a pervasive material in our clothes, requires “2,700 liters of water—what one person drinks in two-and-a-half years—to make [a single] shirt.”
Fast industries have also changed the global consumer economy. Fast food is not just burgers. Think of the burritos, salads, pizzas, and smoothies ordered, created, and received in under 4 minutes. Likewise, Fast Fashion brands churn out new lines and products every month instead of twice a year. And delivery services like Amazon and DoorDash have combined a customer's need for speed with a desire to make decisions remotely. A push for faster and faster production (and consumption) creates low-wage jobs, but those come at a price too.
It's the people taking on the low-wage positions––whether making the textiles or biking the noodles to your door––who bear the brunt of our hyperconsumerism. “The True Cost” talks about happiness as a measurement of success stating that “clever ads tie consumption to happiness, but people in the Western World seem much more depressed.” There are increasingly more suicides by Indian farmers every year, and the average American is more downtrodden than ever despite the ever-growing ability to feel and be connected with fashion, food, and the rest of the globe. (Disproportionately, garment workers are young women who enter factories in their teens).
Fast Fashion is powered by money––the consumers' money. With every purchase, we are the ones who take on an obligation to consider how and why we spend it. There is an understanding that the fast-food industry understands the ethical quandaries associated with its eat fast, die young approach to the restaurant business. And yet, the happy meals and grab-n-go options continue unabated.
Fast Fashion, too, is the status quo. But, it doesn't have to be.
As the customer, you have the ability to purposefully select where you purchase everything, from your garments to the stuff you eat every day. Even if you're not an expert yet (and let's be real, there are very few experts yet), you have already started arming yourself with essential information when it comes to making incremental positive changes. You do have the ability to change the status quo of fast consumption, and the best part is that you can start right now.