By Sylvie Labelle

Fast fashion: cheap, mass and rapidly produced clothing that has long been criticized for its less than kind impacts on the environment yet worshiped for its irresistible deals and ‘trend-ability’. Shein and other brands like Temu, Pretty Little Thing and BooHoo have thrived off of selling low-cost consumption fashion. However, many shoppers and fashion connoisseurs alike are beginning to recognize that there are hidden fees behind said deals, which we simply cannot afford. Fees and costs like increased carbon emissions, water pollution, and extreme waste coupled with humanitarian crises like poor working conditions, unfair pay, and child labour.  

The externalities of fast fashion are beginning to outweigh the benefits for many shoppers, and it is expected that there will be a massive shift in consumer behaviour in the coming years. Critics may argue that this move away from the likes of Shein is just a political trend that will pass with time but there is passion and urgency behind this movement. It is clear that our ethics, and likewise our planet, cannot stomach much more of this unsustainable domination.  

Thrifting and second hand shopping is a great way to enter your sustainable era. One of the best ways to find pre-loved clothing is by staying local and checking out your local charity shop. These shops are a treasure trove for good-quality, fashionable clothes that have just out-grown someone. A tip if you’re leaving college, charity shops are a great place to find office attire that is ready to go on another work journey, saving you money and reducing waste at the same time.

If you want a more vintage or designer flair, try more alternative thrifting locations and online platforms like Depop. Or to give your closet some of the luxury it deserves, and give designer exchanges a go. These shops allow for luxury and style to be re-loved once again, while decreasing the demand for new production. As we embrace our vintage polo sweaters and long for early 2000s Coach bags, we indicate to brands that we are done with obscenely trendy wasteful fashion production. It highlights the fact that we as consumers appreciate timelessness in our fashion and that we aren’t searching for anything less.  

However, waving goodbye to Shein is harder for some shoppers than others. The affordability of sites like BooHoo and Temu are unmatched, and often more sustainable brands, like Patagonia, are very expensive. Fast fashion is capitalism’s solution to ‘inclusion’, making everyone feel like they can participate in current trends even if they cannot afford to shop designer. But this inclusion is surface level, and only something consumers in privileged, developed countries benefit from. To achieve genuine inclusivity, consumers should not be faced with the choice of ethically compromising themselves to participate in society. Sustainability should not be an option for brands, but something that should be a norm in the fashion business.  

Our entrance into our sustainable era will not come without its challenges. Sustainability is not something that will come about on its own – it will be a move only possible through consumer action and boycotting. The fast fashion industry is one of profitability and dominance. We need to speak up, say no, and bring light to the externalities of fast fashion to confront this crisis head on. This confrontation will make the experience of waving goodbye to Shein inclusive, fair, sustainable and, of course, fashionable.