She Would Want That: Gen Z and Fast Fashion

Mary Carolan

In the western world, fast fashion companies including Shein, PrettyLittleThing and UrbanOutfitters, are some of the most popular clothing brands, amassing a huge quantity of consumers. However the insidious underbelly of the fast fashion industry is no secret. Today, 100 billion garment items are produced annually, of which 92 million tonnes end up in landfills. Whilst the Western world reaps the benefits of cheap labour, garment workers are paid a wage low enough to barely provide for themselves and their families. Mary Carolan explores both the origins of the ‘exploitative dichotomy’ between ‘the worker and the Western Market’, and the Western hypocrisy of preaching ‘mindful and ethical clothing consumption’. 

I was a little girl once, curious in youth. If I pinched myself, do you think I could wake up there? To five years old, to small dresses and floral headbands that barely kept my 70s bangs out of my face. Back to the innocence of knowing absolutely nothing about yourself but not being expected to; forever chasing the dreams that my adolescent self may never see, the moon with the sun. Sixteen came around all too quick, when the question both of how I perceived myself and how I wanted the world to perceive me was brought to the forefront of my thinking. When too suddenly I wanted long straight hair and blonde highlights, to grow a little taller but just enough that I can feel as dainty as I should be, to look put together, purposeful, “clean”. Matching colours and socks. As I write this, I have short dark brown hair. Curly. I’m nowhere near 5’5”. I’m wearing the same platform Doc Martens I always do; clunky and awkward. My red nails are chipped, and my amber earrings don’t match the men’s plaid shirt that I borrowed from my friend. But these are just some of the things that make me feel like I’m stepping out into my own life, an older girl now still trying to keep alive the same childlike blithe.

Willingly, fashion has followed me through every window of my life, blowing the curtain so delicately behind me that I hardly noticed my changes; changes that were consumed by a transformative aesthetic culture that looked to create a new non-verbal communication of both character and representation. Because I see representation as what makes our generation different. We are an age of pragmatics; pushing to be the ones to put more meaning into everything, subsequentially blossoming possibility in revolution.

While we preach mindful and ethical clothing consumption, we lack the introspection to see our own hypocrisy 

But though we may be presumably “woke” in thought and in surface level conversation, our fatal flaw exists among our craving to be “in”, to feel individual and unique when all this really means is keeping up with the latest fads. So, while we preach mindful and ethical clothing consumption, we lack the introspection to see our own hypocrisy- this being our collective ignorance of the conglomerate whispers we knowingly allow through that same window. We fall for their temptation as they gust us askew from a dialogue of sustainability and into the modern culture of vapid materialism that lives and breathes in our wardrobe, defining our (fleeting) confidence as adolescents.

The truth is, for us, our hope has become not for ‘quality instead of quantity and exclusivity instead of mainstream, but about quality and quantity as well as exclusivity and mainstream’. In asking for all of it, all at once, suppliers simplify this complicated and intense supply chain by cheap labour, found primarily in the Global South.

But when was it that the exploitative dichotomy between worker and the Western fashion market came to look like it does today? Tracing back to 1990s New York, Zara hosted the first of what we could name ‘fast-fashion’, selling new styles and collections at a rate that would  ‘match the breakneck pace at which fashion trends move’. With this focus on affordability and, thus, accessibility there is no wonder why soon-to-be manufacturing giants’ such as Zara became so desirable; each consumer as if to represent a singular celebration of their success and our intensifying, conscious, blindness to their controversiality.

Human casualties are left behind like a season just so we may appear chic

We are answering to the “democratization of fashion”, a certain decrease in the association of privilege with clothing and an increase in these goods globally. This presence of the real contradiction between sustainability and commercialism is what researchers Malthe Overgaard and Nikolas Ronholt coined as Gen Z’s “Fast Fashion Paradox”. Our values are being argued with the level of privilege we are willing to sacrifice. Human casualties are left behind like a season just so we may appear chic; long hours, low wages, and the lack of social guarantees.

So, if I could go back to then (to the girl with the innocence and the floral headbands and the carelessness and the wonder) I would hold her hand a little tighter as she comes to embrace her difference. I would wonder as we walked; if we were all able to do that, to go back with more love, would vulnerable identity and the self-consciousness of youth lessen? Is there a chance then that profit-centric industries would collapse?

Because I think she would want that.

Mary Carolan 

Featured image courtesy of Becca McHaffie on Unplash. Image license found here. No changes were made to this image.

For more content including uni news, reviews, entertainment, lifestyle, features and so much more, follow us on Twitter and Instagram, and like our Facebook page for more articles and information on how to get involved.

If you just can’t get enough of Features, like our Facebook as a reader or a contributor and follow us on Instagram.



Leave a Reply