A look at UAHS students’ use of fast fashion and the impact of overconsumption.

BY SAFIA MALHOTRA, ’23; GRACIE HELFRICH, ’23 AND FIA GALLICCHIO, ’22. GRAPHICS BY STELLA PETRAS, ’22 AND LUCY O’BRIEN, ’22.

When senior Kendall Crotty plans her outfit for the next day, it can be a 30-minute affair. She starts with a central piece, usually the bottoms, and styles other pieces around that. Her choices tend to
be vintage items from thrift stores, but there are some
new things from Pacsun or Urban Outfitters thrown in. The next morning, she puts on her thoughtfully crafted ensemble, grabs her backpack and heads to school.
Students put varying amounts of time and money into their outfits each day. Some, like Crotty, plan the night before. Others throw something on five minutes before they head out the door. Some students fill their wardrobe with the trendiest pieces from Shein and Forever 21, while others spend their weekends thrifting or shopping on the thrifting app, Depop.
Clothing can be used by students for self-expression or just for comfort; it can be a message of class or not a message at all. Nevertheless, the issue of fast fashion has been widely discussed by students, with varying opinions on its merits.

WHAT IS FAST FASHION?
In recent years, overconsumption and fast fashion
have been points of contention for environmentalists.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines fast fashion as “inexpensive clothing produced rapidly by mass-market retailers in response to the latest trends.” Fast fashion brands tend to cut costs through low wages and cheap fabrics.
“Fast fashion is when you have companies that are mass producing clothing and are able to sell them at a lower cost, but the quality
is not as good,” environmental science teacher Jordan Walker said. “And
so eventually, what happens is you know a consumer might buy something, and it will last for a couple years, but they throw it out, and it has to be replaced.”
Despite the clothing being lower quality, many consumers still shop at stores supplying fast fashion for numerous reasons.
“I definitely understand why people shop at fast fashion places, myself included, and I definitely know about the effects it has on the environment and also the way that it treats its workers in order to reduce those costs,” senior Evelyn Wu said.
Yet not all UAHS students are aware of the impact of fast fashion and overconsumption, or even what fast fashion is in the first place, despite the growth of the industry in recent years.
“Fast fashion… is it child labor?” sophomore Audrey Dungan said.
Sophomore Manny Stavridis described fast fashion as “clothes that you can throw on quickly or clothes for less formal things.”
Micro-trends, or fleeting trends that begin and end quickly, contribute to the rise of the fast fashion industry. Rather than purchase long-term basic clothing items, consumers buy and toss away trendier pieces of clothing.
Olmstead described micro-trends as “any trend that’s basically really popular on Instagram.”
Crotty said that these trends can have a cumulative effect.
“Micro-trends and things are just constantly going,” Crotty said. “The fashion cycle is just getting smaller and smaller, so we’re constantly getting new trends, and consumers are expecting lower and lower prices now, so if designers want to be making money, they have to go for those cheaper options.”
In addition to clothing companies and designers, consumers play a role in the rise of fast fashion.
“Fashion designers are one of the smaller problems; it’s consumers,” Crotty said. “We’re constantly getting new trends, and consumers are expecting lower and lower prices now, so if designers want to be making money, they have to go for those cheaper options.”
In order to avoid this, it’s recommended that consumers stop throwing away as many clothes. According to the BBC, around 85% of clothes are thrown away in the US.
“I’m not saying go out and throw out all your clothes or never buy from fast fashion, because sometimes that is your only option. But, use the clothes you have and that you can wear,” Crotty
said. “Take up sewing, learn how to mend and keep things for
a long time, because that’s the best way we can possibly avoid
overconsumption.”
Some people rely on companies that produce fast fashion
because of the low price point. Wu said the issue isn’t buying cheap clothes but rather throwing away clothes that have
gone out of style.
“I don’t think the problem is as much shopping
at fast fashion, because it is affordable, and a lot of people can’t afford sustainable clothing,” Wu said.
“It’s just when people over consume and then throw away their clothes very often.”

THE ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT
Fast fashion leaves a massive environmental footprint behind through production and disposal. Clothing production in itself requires considerable amounts of resources, energy and time.
“Environmentally speaking, fast fashion involves a lot of natural resources,” Walker said. “That really impacts our landfills, which then pollutes other natural areas.”
Walker said that this is due to the cyclical, ever-changing nature of fast fashion.
“Fast fashion is always evolving because they’re trying to keep up with specific trends,” Walker said. “What might be in this year is going to be totally out next year.”
Another environmental issue with fast fashion is that clothes are often made in many different countries. Shipping the clothes around the world can have its own environmental impact.
“It takes a toll on the environment, sourcing from so many countries,” Wu said.
Businesses end up throwing out most of their clothing in order to make room for the next fashion trends that will sweep through the media.
It’s not only businesses that drive this practice, but consumers as well. In today’s world, there is pressure to not wear clothes that are “out of style,” which leads to clothing being disposed of constantly.
When textiles are thrown out, they remain in landfills and elsewhere, leaving a stain on the carbon footprint of the fashion industry. According to Business Insider, fashion production makes up 10% of humanity’s carbon emissions, and 85% of all textiles go to waste each year.
One solution is buying from sustainable sources. However, purchasing environmentally friendly clothes can be expensive for cash-strapped consumers. For example, Reformation is a 100%
carbon neutral company that prides itself on being sustainable. However, Reformation is also very expensive. Currently, the cheapest item on the site is $38. On top of that, only five items cost under $50.
Price is an issue expressed by multiple students and is a reason why brands that sell trendy items for little to no cost are in such high demand.
“[Shein is] cheap and the stuff they have is actually cute,” junior Talia Bortz said. “If you just want stuff to wear to school, just regular stuff, there’s nothing wrong with that. And everyone’s like, ‘Oh, if you buy there, that’s fast fashion; that’s bad for the environment’—and yes, that’s true, but … Pacsun’s like that [too], Brandy Melville: all those places are still fast fashion.”
Olmstead, however, feels very strongly against businesses like Shein.
“I never have and will never shop at Shien or Zaful. I think it’s best to stay clear of brands like those and also to not buy micro- trendy clothes,” she said.
Despite the environmental impact, fast fashion is usually cheaper and provides a source of jobs for people.
“Some nations that we see [the production of] fast fashion being prominent—that’s a source of income and jobs, and it’s cheaper to do it there,” Walker said. “They don’t have the means to address all of these environmental issues, whether it’s financial means or technology.”

THRIFTING
For those looking for less expensive options, thrifting is a cheap and sustainable way to buy new clothes.
Yet, while thrifting is a good alternative, it isn’t always ideal. Shopping at thrift stores has become increasingly trendy, and this has presented some problems for people who rely on thrifting.
Many people have made businesses out of reselling items they find at thrift stores for large markups. For example, Depop is an app where users can buy or sell clothes, and it has become a hive for this sort of activity.
Thrifting and Depop are popular among many UAHS students, including Wu.
“I would say a lot of my wardrobe is actually thrifted or bought off of Depop now,” Wu said.
According to a 2021 article published in Vox, people who purchase massive amounts of secondhand clothing for resale purposes in the upper and middle classes are contributing to the gentrification of thrift stores.
This “gentrification of thrift stores” shifts the purpose of thrifting from keeping costs low and clothes accessible to an after school activity or business opportunity.
“Thrifting has now become more trendy, and that’s because people are keeping with the line of overconsumption; people are constantly going back to these thrift stores every single day,” Crotty said. “You don’t need to do that. You’re keeping the mindset of ‘I need to buy a ton of clothes’ in thrift stores.”
The Vox article also mentions that low-income shoppers might be priced out of thrift stores in their area, and plus- sized consumers, who already struggle to find clothing in the firsthand market, could be left with fewer options.
While Crotty buys her materials from thrift
stores, she tries to limit how often she goes.
“I go to the thrift store once every two to three months if I
need materials for a fabric, or sometimes I’ll go a little earlier if it’s like an emergency for a project.”
According to Crotty, most aspiring fashion designers make clothes out of sheets and comforters.
“A lot of times people aren’t really buying that stuff most of the time at thrift stores, especially not here.” Crotty said.
Different consumers rely on thrift stores for different reasons, and the fact that thrifting has become a trend has impacted their day-to-day lives.
“If you go in with buying things that you know that you absolutely need at the thrift store, I think that’s good,” Crotty said. “When you come in and just buy out $500 worth of clothes at the thrift store, I think that’s when we reach a problem.”
Still, Olmstead said that people can buy clothes from thrift stores to upcycle or to reuse fabric.
“I have found it has been hard to find good fabric in Ohio, so I always go to the thrift store to look for big t-shirts or blankets to cut up and use as fabric,” Olmstead said. “Plus, they are unique. I do think it is important to use what you buy, though, even the scraps.”
Olmstead started her own clothing line in May, 2021. She sells upcycled vintage and thrifted pieces. She views her upcycling and repurposing of clothing as an art form and an expression of self.
“I like the feeling of knowing no one else is going to have it, that it’s something special for you,” Olmstead said.
She does, however, recognize the negative consequences of thrifting and points out that, while she was once able to buy shirts for no more than $2, she now can barely find one for less than $3.
“I repurpose thrift store clothing because it’s cheap, the best fabric I can find and unique.” Olmstead said. “I don’t believe I am taking away accessibility of thrift stores. Millions of clothes are donated every day and thrift stores cycle in clothes every day.”

PASSION FOR FASHION
Crotty, who is devoting her capstone project to fashion sustainability and body image, has a passion for fashion design and wishes to work in the industry.
“I really like it because you just get to express yourself in any way possible,” Crotty said. “That’s something that nobody can take away from you. You can’t take away your style or how
you look because that’s just one thing that you can find any way to express yourself no matter what the rules are.”
Olmstead has been interested in fashion and the industry surrounding it from a young age.
“[My interest in fashion] started when I was younger,” Olmstead said. “My mom works at Hollister and Abercrombie, so she taught me how to sew and we would always do projects together. Then I kind of lost interest in it in middle school, and then I kind of got back into [it] sophomore year, shopping and planning outfits.”
What originally began as a hobby morphed into inspiration to go into the industry after Olmstead worked with a fashion designer.
“I got really inspired and I thought, ‘I don’t know, maybe
I could do this as a job.’ Then we started doing little sewing projects. We’d go on Pinterest to see what we wanted to sew, and we would make patterns and then sew it,” Olmstead said.
Yet, on the opposite end of the spectrum, there are people who are not as admirable of the world of fashion design. One of these individuals is Natalie DellaSelva, a fashion major at the Columbus College of Art and Design.
Since DellaSelva was young, she aspired to create clothes. Like Olmstead and Crotty, she planned to major in fashion.
“When I was 8 years old, I took a sewing class from a nun who lived down the block from us,” DellaSelva said. “Once
I took that class and I learned how to sew, I fell in love with sewing, fell in love with the ability to create a piece of clothing and have this gratification of ‘wow, I made this thing.’”
However, she now has a negative view of the fashion industry.
“I truly do hate the fashion industry,” DellaSelva said. “I don’t think it stands for anything that I believe in. So no, I don’t want to work in the fashion industry.”
In the spring of 2019, DellaSelva went to study abroad in London. While there, she took a class on fashion theory which opened up her eyes to what fashion truly is.
“Fashion is different than clothing,” DellaSelva said. “Clothing is not specific to the western world; people have been wearing clothing or dressing themselves since the beginning of time. But fashion hasn’t existed since the beginning of time. Fashion is a relatively new idea, and basically fashion is what’s created when people started buying clothes.”
DellaSelva describes fashion as “based on obsolescence.”
“It’s designed to have a date where it will no longer be useful,” DellaSelva said. “Something becomes cool, something is trending, people start adopting it, and then, eventually, for it
to be cool it also has to become uncool. So, it’s adopted, people love it, and then people start thinking ‘eh, this isn’t as cool’ or
‘something else is cooler.’ And then all of a sudden people aren’t wearing it anymore.”
However, DellaSelva still wishes to make clothes. She currently has a side job as a tailor making clothes and
plans to keep doing so after she graduates.
“My goal is to turn that into a viable job and
ultimately work for myself as a freelancer,” DellaSelva said.
DellaSelva has designed earrings and enjoys styling clothing, but she said that she doesn’t plan to become a designer as a career. Still, she said that fashion would remain a part of her life in the years ahead.
“I just think it’s something that brings me joy, and so I’ll obviously continue it for however far I’m going to go into the future,” she said.
While having individuals making their own clothes does help on a smaller scale, it may not be enough in order for there to be wide-scale change. Even if a few hundred people were to stop buying from environmentally detrimental brands, there could still be millions of others that would continue to support them.
“The companies are focusing on the needs and demands of the consumers,” Walker said. “It’s also the consumers that are driving what the companies are doing, and so they go hand in hand. And I think if consumers become more aware — ‘Oh, I’m not gonna buy that brand because [of] all the pollution they’re causing in such and such country, I’m going to go for a more sustainable brand’ — [when businesses] start to lose consumers, that’s where change happens.”
Ultimately, Walker said that consumer awareness is the key to change.
“Students and people in general, I think, are more likely to make a change if they know what’s happening,” she said.