The once $6 billion retailer Forever 21 announced it is filing for bankruptcy on Sunday, Sept. 29. The Los Angeles-based company has been in business since 1984, but in July 2019, its net worth dropped to $1.6 billion, according to Forbes.
In recent years, Forever 21 has been meme-ified on internet platforms like Twitter for its eccentric Asian street style-inspired items. GQ culture writer Gabriella Paiella tweeted “Flying a $9 chihuahua-sized crop top at half mast today out of respect for Forever 21’s bankruptcy filing” after the company made its announcement.
With dresses that offer cliche quotes, a bodysuit that features the Cheetos logo and even a US Postal Service-themed line (???), it’s not hard to see why Forever 21 may have fallen out of favor with its aging public.
The individuals who once purchased “I hate Mondays” graphic tees may now have different views on purchasing trendy clothing. According to the Pew Research Center, 74 percent of American adults believe “the country should do whatever it takes to protect the environment.” With a shifting view of what it means to be environmentally conscious comes the denouncement of fast fashion.
The fashion industry is designed to make consumers feel like they need to purchase new items to stay on trend. The seasons of spring, summer, fall and winter no longer exist — now the fast fashion industry releases clothes weekly for 52 micro-seasons.
This all matters because the world’s citizens acquire 80 billion clothing items each year, according to the Wall Street Journal. Each of those clothing items is worn an average of only seven times before ending up in a landfill, possibly because those cheap clothing items aren’t made to last, they’re made to be bought. Flimsy seams and cheap pleather mean that instead of keeping an item for 10 years, you’ll wash the shirt once and it’ll fall apart or the faux leather shoes will crack and you’ll donate them to Goodwill. This is not a sustainable model. Doesn’t it make more sense to dish out extra money on something that will last you three decades rather than three months?
It gets worse when you take into account the environmental impact of creating the clothes. More than 60 percent of modern fabrics are created from fossil fuels, which means those clothes won’t decay when they go to a landfill. The use of synthetic fibers in the garment industry means that the tiny, dislodged microplastics in the ocean won’t decay either.
Even the creation of cotton isn’t faultless. It takes 713 gallons of water to make one cotton T-shirt, says the World Wildlife Foundation. This is the same amount one person would drink in a two-year period. Fabric dyeing also accounts for water pollution and waste.
The impact is not limited to the environment — fast-fashion brands also exploit the labor of individuals in foreign countries, which happens under the guise of helping to maintain their economy. In reality, these workers are working long hours for less than minimum wage.
Bangladesh’s $28 billion textile and apparel industries “generat[e] 20% of GDP and over 80% of export earnings, while employing 4.5 million people, mostly women.” A study conducted by the Center for Research on Multinational Corporations and the India Committee of the Netherlands showed that factory recruiters in southern India “convince parents in impoverished rural areas to send their daughters to spinning mills with promises of a well-paid job, comfortable accommodation, three nutritious meals a day and opportunities for training and schooling.” However, the research revealed that these girls are working under conditions that “amount to modern day slavery.” According to the International Labor Organization, 11% of the world’s population of children are engaged in child labor. Beading and sequins are indicative of child labor. Additionally, Individuals who dye clothing are exposed to hazardous chemicals.
These and more are reasons why the world should look toward a more sustainable closet. Fortunately, there are many ways you can help.
Don’t buy things unless you need them. Mend your holes, sew buttons back on, have those old pants tailored to fit your waist instead of throwing them away. Borrow items from friends, especially fancy, one-time-wear items, like a new dress for a coworker’s wedding.
When you do buy, make sure you’re purchasing from a brand that sources materials sustainably, provides their employees with good working conditions and pays them a livable wage. A quick Google search for sustainable and ethical clothing brands can give you a list of potential places to spend your money. To see if your favorite brands are worker-friendly, you can look on their websites. For example, H&M has a sustainability tab at the bottom of their homepage (which is problematic because H&M is, in fact, not sustainable at all).
If you’re not looking to spend the big bucks (because, though rightfully so, these stores bear expensive price tags, especially when compared to Forever 21), you can seek out items made from eco-friendly fibers like linen, hemp, bamboo, alpaca, wool and peace silk.
And last but not least, the most sustainable way to shop is to shop secondhand. This could mean going out to a brick-and-mortar thrift or consignment shop or buying secondhand online using websites like Depop, Poshmark or ThredUp.
Whatever you decide to do, know that you can still stay on trend without looking to fast fashion monoliths like Forever 21. You probably don’t need that wallet shaped like a hamburger or that sheer top with eggplant emojis over the nipples. Try to rework things in your closet and develop your own personal style without looking to fast fashion stores for inspiration — they’re just trying to get you to spend $5.90 on yet another tank top. Remember: fashion fades, style is forever. And that denim jacket that has “Fries Before Guys” written in glitter on the back is neither fashionable nor stylish.