Fast fashion has been growing rapidly over the last 20 years. Its demand is higher than ever before. College students particularly see the many benefits of fast fashion.
It's exciting, fun, and pleasurable to buy fast fashion. Shopping new trendy clothes at affordable prices is not only accessible for many young consumers but also offers a large variety of styles. There are so many advantages of fast fashion. It's difficult to resist.
The textile and apparel industry is expanding. Fast fashion is one of the major contributors to its growth. It's everywhere, in high-street retail stores such as H&M, Zara, Primark, GAP, Forever 21, and in online marketplaces.
A very large proportion of all consumers globally prefer to shop fast fashion over its alternatives (88% in the United States, 46% in Europe).
Fast fashion is still very popular today because it's convenient, accessible, and affordable. It's part of the culture of instant gratification.
Fast fashion brands and designers create new stylish pieces of clothing inspired by runway shows every week. They make them accessible to most people, including college students, for a fraction of the price.
The rise of fast fashion is caused by globalization, technological progress, the influence of the Internet and social media. It has changed the fashion industry and consumers' behavior forever.
But the overproduction and overconsumption of cheaply made clothing have huge negative consequences. Fast fashion has a terrible social and environmental impact.
It contributes massively to climate change. The apparel and footwear industry accounts for 8% of all greenhouse gas emissions globally, which almost as much as the total for the whole of Europe.
Fast fashion also creates large amounts of waste. Americans alone generate more than 16.9 million tons of used textile waste each year. And apparel production accounts for 20% of all wastewater worldwide.
Farming and manufacturing processes such as bleaching, dyeing, washing, and treatment are very chemical-intensive steps in garment production. More dyes are toxic and pollute the nearby environment, destroying ecosystems and endangering human health.
The fashion industry employs 300 million people around the world. But it creates unfair and unsafe work conditions responsible for the death of thousands of people in catastrophic events, such as the Rana Plaza garment factory collapse in Bangladesh (2013).
Despite its clear drawbacks, many college students still buy fast fashion regularly. Here is why.
1. Fast fashion is affordable
Today's fast fashion phenomenon is global because of its benefits for modern consumers. It focuses on simplicity, efficacity, and affordability to generate more sales.
People are asking for new trendy clothes at a low price. They see the latest trends presented on the catwalk in Paris, Milan, or New York. With fast fashion, they can wear the same looks without breaking the bank.
College students have low-income in general, and massive amounts of debt. The federal student loan debt of college students aged between 25 and 34 rose to USD 498 billion as of the second quarter of 2019, according to the U.S. Department of Education.
For a reasonable price, young shoppers can dress well and find new styles very easily. Fast fashion can be overwhelming at times with so many choices and new weekly trends. But it remains fast fashion simple, accessible, and satisfying.
2. Large style variety
The large variety of clothing choices and outfit availability are very appealing to college students.
With globalization and improvements in manufacturing techniques and supply chain management, design and production time for fast fashion have decreased dramatically.
It's now easier than ever to replace old clothes with new styles frequently. Fast fashion stores import and sell new designs every week. Quickly and cheaply made clothing is highly praised around the world by young shoppers.
Fashion Nova is a fast-fashion brand than gained massive popularity on the Internet through social media and influencers. It produces more than 600 new styles every week.
3. Fast fashion worldwide availability
It's difficult to resist buying fast fashion because it's everywhere. Fast fashion is convenient and practical. It's easy to head to the nearest chain store or shop online to renew our wardrobe.
Zara is one of the most successful fast-fashion companies. It operates 2259 Zara stores in 96 countries and makes more than 1 million garments every day.
Before the early 1800s, the fashion world was small, slow, and local. Then, clothing became cheaper and easier to produce. And the large majority of consumers took a liking for affordable and trendy clothes.
Mass-produced clothing and fast fashion is now a global phenomenon. But it also has a high cost for the planet, the people, and the animals living on it.
Read up my article on how fast fashion affects animals to understand its disastrous impact on wildlife.
4. Social cohesion for college students
Fast fashion allows young shoppers to mix socially. Social classes still separate our modern society today. Especially in college, lower classes mix with upper classes because they want to move up.
Social inclusivity is important for many students in schools. Mixing experiences is not only important for better education but also socio-economical diversity later in life.
Fast fashion promotes the throwaway culture, excessive consumerism, and makes clothes disposable commodities. It exploits local and underserved communities in sweatshops to produce cheap garments.
Check out my article on fashion brands that still use sweatshops to learn how to identify clothing made from inhumane manufacturing methods.
Despite its negative qualities, fast fashion contributes to mixing social classes more than ever before. Low-income consumers can now wear new clothes easily and appear to be part of any social class.
5. Following the latest trends
Fast fashion makes the latest trends accessible to everyone. In search of something new to replace old clothes, consumers turn to fast fashion to fulfill their needs.
College students spend lots of time in the same social circle every day. They are also used to documenting their outfit on social media.
The hashtag #ootd standing for Outfit of The Day is a way for young shoppers to show what they year for a special occasion.
Only a few people are willing to be seen in the same outfit twice. And fast fashion helps young fashionistas.
6. Styles from personalities and celebrities
Fashion models, celebrities, and social media personalities influence consumers to buy fast fashion.
With the evolution of communication and marketing strategies, fast fashion is now in front of many college students constantly.
It's easy for young shoppers to imitate the outfits of influencers they follow through fast fashion.
Fast fast brands and retailers understand these new shopping behaviors and will often partner with influencers to promote their new collections to college students.
Rent the Runway is a rental service that provides designer dresses and accessories. It started doing a ton of college marketing in 2017 very successfully.
7. Transition into adulthood
Fast fashion helps college students out when school is finally over. It makes high-end items that represent a higher income bracket cheaper and more accessible.
Especially when it's time to make a good first impression, for example in a job interview, fast fashion makes professional or business attire affordable for young demographics.
A blouse and dress pants used to cost a lot at the tailor before fast fashion became widespread.
8. Fast fashion is fun
Many college students love to shop for fast fashion because it's a fun activity. Some even buy new clothes daily or are addicted to shopping. Compulsive shopping is dangerous and devastating in many cases.
Young consumers often buy new clothes they don't necessarily need because it's enjoyable. Shopping can even give the same feeling as getting high.
We feel pleasure, excitement, and an adrenaline rush when we hunt and finally discover beautiful clothes we want to buy. Just like visiting new places, eating new food, and meeting new people, buying fast fashion is liberating and invigorating.
9. Participation in sport activities
Many college students play sports. It's a huge commitment. But it's very rewarding and well worth the effort. Unfortunately, many college athletes live under the poverty line (86% in 2011).
Without fast fashion, it would be difficult for students to obtain the equipment and the customized college apparel they need to perform.
Between socks, shorts, compression pants, sweatpants, sweatshirts, rain jackets, coats, hats, polos, shoes, and many other accessories, athletes must wear the right clothes to participate in sports events.
10. Underwhelming alternatives
College students buy fast fashion because alternatives are lacking. Sustainable and ethical fashion isn't appealing enough today. It's not a popular choice for young consumers.
The manufacturing costs and retail prices of low-impact clothing remain high. Fashion brands must spend a lot more money to protect the environment and treat workers fairly.
Even if the green movement is booming and more consumers are asking for eco-friendly products, the demand for conscious clothing must rise a lot more to make it accessible to more people.
Sustainability isn't the deciding factor to buy fashion yet. Young shoppers consider price, style, and ease-of-purchase much more important when shopping for new clothes.
The demand for new stylish and affordable clothes isn't going to decrease any time soon. But our fast fashion addiction is extremely damaging to the environment.
Read up my list of the top 10 solutions to the fast fashion industry to learn what you can do to help.
About the Author: Alex Assoune
Alex Assoune (MS) is a global health and environmental advocate. He founded Panaprium to inspire others with conscious living, ethical, and sustainable fashion. Alex has worked in many countries to address social and environmental issues. He speaks three languages and holds two Master of Science degrees in Engineering from SIGMA and IFPEN schools.