With Coachella right around the corner, young adults everywhere are scrambling to find last-minute fashion pieces that stand out in the crowd.
Many turn to fast fashion websites, like Shein and Zara, for affordable, trendy pieces for the weekend-long festival. Music festivals spur attendees to spend approximately $307 million on clothing items per year, according to Teen Vogue.
The rise of fast fashion, or inexpensive clothing produced rapidly by mass-market retailers in response to the latest trends, has encouraged brands to create new collections faster than ever.
Historically, fashion outlets would release collections by season. Prior to 2015, there were around 11 seasons and respective collections distributed throughout the calendar year. However, an average of 52 collections were released by brands the following year, according to The Good Trade.
According to an article from Nature Reviews Earth and Environment, this influx of clothing production has caused immense environmental damage as well as sustained toxic and dangerous work environments for factory workers, according to the Atlantic.
Companies like Shein debut almost 1,000 new pieces daily, as noted on their website. These production methods create an excess of clothing that eventually end up in the landfill.
Every second, approximately one truck of garbage full of clothing is burned or thrown into a landfill, says the World Resources Institute.
Katrina Caspelich, the director of marketing at ReMake, a fashion and women’s rights organization focused on sustainability, urged individuals to rethink their shopping habits.
“In the last decade, our clothes have been coming to us too fast and too cheap and the human and planetary costs of this hyper-consumption model are hidden from our collective consciousness,” Caspelich said
Approximately 80% of clothing factory workers are women ages 18 to 24, according to the World Resources Institute. The U.S. Department of Labor also discovered a high volume of forced child labor in a variety of countries including Argentina, Bangladesh, Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Philippines, Turkey and Vietnam, among others.
As demands for clothing increase, working conditions for those creating the pieces become more dangerous; Many employees work long hours in unsafe conditions for unlivable wages. These companies may prioritize profit over people, which only exacerbates hazardous working environments.
A 2017 report from Deloitte Access Economics found that paying workers more ethical wages would only raise retail prices by 1%.
However, for college students, ethical consumption is not always their first priority. Instead, students look for what’s cheapest.
“I am probably going for affordability first, and if it’s also sustainable, that’s a huge plus,” said Lou Maestri, a sophomore global business major.
Maestri owns her own clothing brand, LuckyLouClothing, which she created during the pandemic. Her brand is focused on streetwear style pieces in a variety of sizes with T-shirts ranging around $20 - $25.
Though sustainability was important to Maestri and her clothing brand, small businesses may struggle to afford sustainable practices.
“If you want to order something sustainable, you have to order a super large quantity so that it’s not absurdly expensive,” Maestri explained. “It’s frustrating from a small business point of view because even though I want to be sustainable, it’s almost paradoxical because I’d have to order excess product, which is inherently unsustainable.”
Junior Borja Schettini, the director of content for USC’s student-run art, fashion and culture publication HAUTE Magazine, also shared the difficulties of trying to produce sustainable and ethical clothing as a small business.
“We actually offset our carbon emissions with all our online shipping,” Schettini said. “I also made sure to find a supplier that was more environmentally conscious. The merch I designed this semester is made of organic cotton and recycled polyester.”
Schnetti said it’s possible to be a more ethical consumer by shopping at second-hand clothing stores. LA specifically, they said, is a great spot to find second-hand clothing.
“I can’t remember the last time I bought something at full price because there are so many clothes that we have available [in LA],” Schnetti said.
Thrift shopping has become a popular avenue for young adults interested in a more sustainable lifestyle, according to NPR. Second-hand stores have unique pieces at an affordable price, all while not contributing to pollution associated with excess clothing production.
When entering a thrift store to hunt for your future stand out pieces, keep a few sections in mind:
The scarf section usually has an abundance of options that are perfect for a tie-up shirt. Head to the swimsuit section and look at the tankinis since they make super cute crop tops. Try looking in the men’s department for jeans.
Stop by the children’s section and look through their XL shirts for fun graphic tees. Look through the sleepwear for amazing slip and satin dresses. Lastly, while checking out, take a look at the jewelry section and bags.
An even better way to piece together cool outfits is using what you already have or sticking to the basics and buying less.
“I find myself participating in a consumerist mindset and lifestyle, because sometimes when you do participate in retail therapy, it does create a momentum where I want to keep on buying stuff,” Schnetti said. “Then I have to ask myself, will I even be wearing this for that long?”
Caspelich explained this consumerism mentality can result in promoting planetary destruction, disempowering women through unjust labor practices and it is ultimately too expensive for consumers and the planet. She encouraged consumers to challenge brands.
“Be curious and don’t be afraid to speak up, ask them questions,” Caspelich said. “Take your questions and concerns to brands you love. They’ll appreciate the feedback and they’re always listening, even though it may not seem like it.”
Taking stock of what you own, shopping vintage, renting pieces, borrowing clothing from friends and taking good care of everything you have in your closet are a few other ways Caspelich shared to change fashion habits.
Coachella released a statement encouraging attendees to “be creative and reuse the clothes you already have in your closet” to promote more ethical practices.
But there is hope for a better future, according to Caspelich.
“The good news is that we as everyday shoppers are powerful,” she said. “How we buy is how we vote. If a groundswell of shoppers demands sustainable fashion, the market will respond.”