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The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Side Of Fast Fashion

(Feb. 14, 2019) Jenny Murphy (left) and Mary Ruppert-Stroescu joined Thursday's "St. Louis on the Air" to discuss how people can become more become more conscious consumers to alleviate some of the harmful effects of fast fashion.
Lara Hamdan | St. Louis Public Radio

High fashion designs can take about four to six months to come to life and into the market. Fast fashion, however, is a term used by fashion retailers to describe the practice of making those high-fashion trends quickly and cheaply available to consumers. A clothing design can make it from sketch to mannequin in six weeks.

Media personality Kim Kardashian criticized the fast-fashion trend last week. She posted a picture on Instagram sarcastically asking fast fashion brands to wait until she actually wears a dress before selling a knockoff version

A recent Wash U study by associate professor Christine Ekenga examined how the practice has ended up hurting the environment, workers and society. On Thursday’s St. Louis on the Air, host Don Marsh delved into its effects and what people can do to become more conscious consumers.

Joining Marsh to discuss these topics were Mary Ruppert-Stroescu, associate professor of fashion design at the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts of Washington University in St. Louis; and Jenny Murphy, founder and executive director of Perennial, a local non-profit community workshop and store.

Ruppert-Stroescu explained how the fast fashion industry has created a “take now, consume now, throw away” mindset due to successful marketing and publicity campaigns.

“So you kind of don't really think too much about what you're wearing, why you're wearing it, what you're going to do with it when you're finished liking it, how you would combine it with other things in your wardrobe,” she said. “It’s just kind of like a mindless thing of, ‘I'm going to get it, I'm going to wear it because [companies and celebrities are] telling me to.’”

Clothing retailers like H&M, Forever 21, Zara and GAP have been criticized for using sweatshops – where employees are poorly paid and working environments can be dangerous.

These factories also result in high levels of textile waste, water pollution and use toxic chemicals – all which lead to negative impacts on the environment.

“[It’s the] ‘consume now, throw away’ mindset that has created an enormous amount of waste textile waste in our landfills,” Ruppert-Stroescu said.

“Sometimes you can go into a store and see a t-shirt that costs less than a sandwich. And if you think – that cotton has to be grown, cultivated, harvested,” she continued, “it has to go in bales to a factory where they're going to turn the fibers into yarns, and then woven or knit, and then colored in and cut into clothes [by] all the people along that whole chain. It’s just mind-boggling how that t-shirt could be $8 and still make it worthwhile.”

To address these kinds of environmental problems, Murphy said it’s all about “bringing them down to a scale where people feel like they can really take action and taking them on personally.”

Murphy founded Perennial in hopes of alleviating some of the burdens mass production of garments has led to. They organize craft and DIY classes and community clothing swap events where people donate items they don’t want and take home items that they do want.

“The more and more people that become aware, are able to make something themselves, repair something they have and spread the word about the way our consumer culture has tricked us into being really poor stewards of the environment and of communities around the world,” Murphy said. “I think that sort of is that small impact that can grow into a larger impact.

And [as] people stop buying and are also getting bad publicity about these things, a lot of large fashion companies have started taking measures to recycle the clothing that they are selling, or provide repair services and try to close that loop ... as a way to address these issues and also to try to retain their customers.”

But Ruppert-Stroescu reiterated that not everything about fast fashion is bad. The lower prices retailers offer are accessible to people across incomes and that some fast-fashion clothing can last a long time.

“The idea is to take the time to understand where your clothes come from, the quality and time that is put into them and kind of plan to keep them around for a while,” she said.

St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Alex Heuer, Evie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region.

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org.

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Lara is the Engagement Editor at St. Louis Public Radio.