Fast, cheap, toxic

Gen Z turns to thrift stores as fast fashion chokes our environment

Amanda Day, Staff writer

Scrolling through fast fashion websites like Shein and Forever 21 is addictive. Trendy clothes right at your fingertips, and all for a cheap price. I’ve caught myself doing this on multiple occasions, scouring for dupes of popular Pinterest outfits, the little number above the cart image growing by the minute.

However, hidden behind this seemingly colorful curtain is a dark reality. Fast fashion is like fast food, according to Elizabeth Cline, an apparel industry expert and author of “Overdressed.” Consumers find something affordable and trendy, but are unaware of the humanitarian, economical and environmental costs that come with these cheap clothes.

It’s hard not to overstate the environmental costs that cheap clothing produces. Business Insider reports that the fashion industry is accountable for at least 20% of all the water pollution worldwide, and is the second largest consumer of water. Many giant lakes and rivers like the Aral Sea in Central Asia have now been reduced to little ponds and deserts, due to the amount of water needed to produce clothes nearby. Shirts and jeans are mainly made out of cotton, which requires a high water intake.

Clothing production has doubled since 2000, with rates increasing as the internet floods with Shein, Zaful, and Zara hauls- all fast fashion companies.

On TikTok, an estimated
3.7 billion views fall under the hashtag #sheinhaul and another 16.6 billion under #shein. Businesses like these contribute to the 100 billion clothing products made each year, 20% of which is actually sold. The leftovers then go to landfills, where they will take centuries to decay, as most clothes made of synthetic materials aren’t biodegradable.

Addressing this growing problem are Gen Z-ers who are turning to an age-old solution: thrifting. In a recent online poll, 66% of Bear Witness readers say that they have shopped at second-hand stores, many of them citing their low cost and environmental impact as a solution.

Environmentally and ethically conscious Gen Zers in particular are more likely to turn to second- hand products and thrift stores. This small action of thrifting is encouraging and shows that Gen Z is more aware of the harmful impacts affecting the environment and how we can resolve it.

A ThredUp sales report survey showed a 16% growth in Gen Zers purchasing secondhand apparel in 2020, and more than 40% of teens have purchased second- hand clothing, shoes or accessories in the last year.

Additionally, online thrift stores such as Depop and ThredUP have sprouted as teens browse their used wares. A Wall Street Journal survey estimates that out of Depop’s 15 million users, 90% of them are under the age of 26.

Thrifting and shopping second hand helps cut down the usage of plastic, recycling, less water wasted, and discouraging global warming. But to Gen Z, it means a lot more than just helping our world.

Students who want to express their individuality and personal style can find that thrifting caters to that need with unique, rare items. You’re almost guaranteed to thrift a piece of clothing that no one else has, so you can still follow what’s trending, while keeping it unique to you.