Written by: Vidhi Pathak
After spending hours and hours shopping, I have concluded that maybe shopping every week isn’t such a great idea. And as it tuns out, constantly buying new clothes can have a detrimental effect on the environment and mental health.
In the current day, an average American buy 68 articles of clothing each year. This translates to a whopping 3 million tons of textile waste from the States annually. Where is this coming from, you may ask? Well, it is safe to assume that all the credit goes to a recent cultural phenomenon known as fast fashion. Fast fashion is a trillion-dollar industry focused on making quick and cheap versions of clothes made by high-end designers. These clothes are trendy and affordable and have forever revolutionized the fashion industry as we know it. Essentially, these brands create and launch affordable knockoffs to popular clothing designs, tempting their consumers to achieve stylish looks without breaking the bank. And as a constant fast fashion consumer, I can confirm that it is a hard deal to pass up; especially because there is an ever-present variety of clothing to choose from, urging customers to keep buying new clothes each week.
And these fashion trends seep into the foundations of elementary life as well. Following the latest fashion and wearing the trendiest clothes has become a cornerstone for achieving social popularity. Fitting into the status quo requires many children to purchase new clothes from the latest fashions, causing mental health issues amongst elementary-aged kids. These unnecessary social protocols also put a heavy financial burden on parents, who are forced into buying new clothes for their children. This trend is causing anxiety and depression amongst the youth and adults alike.
But fast fashion is impacting more than just mental health and financial security. As it turns out, this cultural phenomenon is coming at a high cost to our environment. In 2018, textile production created more carbon emissions than all international flights and maritime shipping combined. Unfortunately, fast fashion has an ugly side, built upon unethical labor and harmful chemical processing. Factories producing clothes use thousands of liters of water to create synthetic fabrics and dump all the toxic waste in rivers and freshwater sources. These harmful practices damage fetal development and cause deadly mutations.
Clothes made from fast fashion are also being produced at a lesser quality. This creates an endless cycle of buying and trashing pieces of clothing, giving rise to millions of tons of landfilled waste. In addition, most of the textile waste procured are non-biodegradable: taking thousands of years to decompose. Some of this waste also gets incinerated in poor developing countries, contributing to a rising level of greenhouse gasses and a degradation in air quality for its inhabitants.
As members of first-world society, our first instinct is to follow the latest trends and fit into a projected social norm. But what we must realize is that being fashionable doesn’t have to come at the cost of our environment. A study conducted by a global thrift retailer discovered that overflowing wardrobe closets were the number one reason people dispose of their clothing, having worn each piece only three times. This statistic reveals another worrying aspect about the fast fashion industry: how it is grounded in the idea of material gratification. Being able to purchase stylish pieces at cheap prices stimulates feel-good hormones, contributing to the addictive elements of shopping. This form of psychological addiction creates an endless cycle of purchasing and disposing, setting extremely toxic standards.
Behind every trendy Instagram post stands thousands of liters of water, pollution, child labor, mental health illness, and greenhouse gasses. The fast fashion industry is the biggest polluter of the planet. And as a frequent shopper myself, I believe that realizing the impacts of my actions is key to making a change. Valuing each piece of clothing I already own and buying clothes from thrift stores, is a good place to start. In the end, I truly believe that each and every one of us can make a difference. What we must realize is that our planet is one of a kind. It has given us so much and continues to give us the gift of life every single day. It is time we honor that.
Vidhi Pathak is a senior at BASIS Phoenix. Vidhi is passionate about being a globally conscious citizen and encourages others to join her efforts to create an environmentally friendly community. In her spare time, Vidhi is an avid reader and enjoys spending time with her family and friends. She will be heading to George Mason University’s Honors College to study Environmental Science and Business in the fall.