Why do We Buy Fast Fashion?

Why do We Buy Fast Fashion?

Anna Dabrowski, Head Editor

It is not uncommon to be fed a fast fashion clothing haul by the popular social media app Tik Tok after scrolling on the “for you page” for less than five minutes. Popular brands such as Shein, Zara and Forever 21, known for their cheap prices and trend relevance, have hijacked the clothing market. While many “influencers” post Shein fast fashion hauls, other environmentalist and social justice Tik Tokers have been speculating as to why so many Americans purchase fast fashion. Some claim that the U.S. population is so far removed from environmental and labor issues that consumers are uneducated as to the harm their habits can cause. Others claim that the all-encompassing factor is the unbeatable low prices of the cheaply made garments in question. The most probable cause however, is the convenience that fast fashion provides regarding accessibility to trends. Even when educated on fast fashion, and presented with alternate more moral purchase options, many consumers continue to purchase fast fashion out of convenience. 

Fast fashion is generally described as the rapidly changing trends that result in the production of bulks of cheaply made garments. These garments then end up in the landfill next to last year’s “hot new item” as soon as the next fashion season rolls around. Economics professor Adam Hayes claims that the rise of fast fashion occurred “because of cheaper, speedier manufacturing and shipping methods, an increase in consumers’ appetite for up-to-the-minute styles, and the increase in consumer purchasing power—especially among young people—to indulge these instant-gratification desires” (2). Many fast fashion companies outsource their production to developing countries with poor wages and labor laws. These companies are often not transparent about their supply chains and treatment of workers. Additionally, fast fashion contributes heavily to the world’s carbon dioxide footprint due to the sheer amount of garments and other items that are produced simply to be worn twice (24).  If fast fashion has so many negative accompaniments, why do consumers overwhelmingly prefer this purchase style?

One potential cause for this preference is a lack of education. Many activists believe that American consumers are simply not as mindful about their purchases and as a result support companies that do not share their morals. An online sustainable clothing store, Stride, based in Australia explains this concept on their information page. The owner believes that consumers have an “information threshold.” This means that when buyers learn something negative about the effects of their spending habits, they will likely change them. The store’s sustainability advice page encourages the buyer to gently educate their friends on sustainability in order to increase the bubble of people who are knowledgeable (7, 8). Bruce Cameron, head of the Textiles, Apparel Design and Merchandising department at Louisiana State University, teaches classes on textile sustainability. He holds the same point of view regarding sustainability and education. Cameron believes that when more people become educated about the dangers of fast fashion, and educate the people in their lives about these impacts, a chain effect occurs. Cameron writes “If you become educated, and then you start telling your friends about these types of things, and they become educated, it becomes a snowballing type of an effect” (33). It would be reasonable to assume that a lack of education is the sole reason for the popularity of fast fashion. However, with the growing sustainability movements on social media, this becomes less plausible. Fashion magazine columnist Daisy Wallis says that “TikTok has given activists, designers and consumers alike a new platform to share their creativity and passion for sustainable fashion. Whether it’s through viral dance routines, informative clips or how-to- guides, TikTok is the ideal place to share the importance of sustainable fashion”(30). Social media apps have both influencers that encourage and discourage fast fashion. Young people especially have been educated on the harm fast fashion causes through social media, yet they still do not use their power of purchase to mold the market. 

A more plausible reason as to why people purchase fast fashion is a factor that is especially prevalent with teenagers, price. Teenagers often work minimum wage jobs that do not allow them to accumulate much spending money. Think about it, a quality pair of jeans may cost nearly a hundred dollars, or ten hours of minimum wage work. What teenager would be willing to pay this price for one garment when they could buy ten? An article written for the Sustainable Fashion Collective by Olivia Gecseg details the origins of fast fashion related to price. She claims that fast fashion came about in the 1960s when high class fashion became available to everyone due to mass manufacturing in factories. America’s middle class got a taste of abundance and never looked back (12). This is a fair argument, Americans tend to like, well stuff! Still, accumulating clothing can be accomplished through other means. Fast fashion exists parallel to a blossoming market of thrift stores and resale platforms. An NPR article “When Second Hand Becomes Vintage”, details this shift in consumerism. Author Savannah Sicurella interviews college student Perez. Perez says “Thrifting has been normalized. Since so many people are doing it, it’s now seen as cooler. It’s seen as better than going to the mall. Younger people find it fun, like a game. A hunt for something unique” (4). Thrifting or buying second hand can be as cheap, or even cheaper than purchasing fast fashion. Teenagers could easily thrift almost entire wardrobes, if they supplemented with the occasional save-up-and-buy for larger sustainable purchases. This is uncommon however, which indicates there is an underlying cause that still enables youth to buy fast fashion. 

The most probable reason that anyone buys fast fashion is convenience. It is scientifically proven that our brains love shopping. In 2007 a research study summarized by Marc Bain was conducted by elite scientists from schools such as Carnegie Mellon and Stanford. The study analyzed the brains of people using fMRI technology while they were out shopping. It was found that the pleasure center of the participants’ brains lit up when they saw a “desirable object for sale” (3). We are human, we are going to want things, we are going to want many things, and we are going to want many things for less. Humans will always seek out more, and the “more” being presented is not thrift stores, but fast fashion mall stores and online shopping platforms. Statista.com estimates that 76.6 million households will have an amazon prime subscription by the end of 2022 (Chevalier, 1). For reference there are only around 122.8 million households in the U.S. total. Amazon is a major online shopping platform that enables fast fashion, and it is extremely convenient to use. People have busy lives, and when presented with the option to make a few clicks on amazon or similar platforms, or to dig through tubs of clothing looking for the correct size, they will almost always choose the mouse pad. 

It is easy to give people the benefit of the doubt. No one wants to be immoral, or hurt others, or harm the earth. We could assume that everyone is purchasing blindly, not giving a second thought to the garment workers in India, or the pollution they are contributing to in Beijing, but this is not true. The sustainability movement is growing substantially, and publicly. Most consumers in the U.S. know fast fashion is wrong, but still we can provide another layer of doubt. Not everyone makes enough money to shop sustainability, how can we fault that? This is easily debunked with the growing acceptance and popularity of thrift shops and second hand clothing. So alas, here we are, no more excuses to hide behind. We are a slightly lazy nationality that is less willing to put in the time to close the laptop, get in the car, and look for opinions that help our fellow man and planet. 

Works Cited

Bain, Mark. “The Neurological Pleasure of Fast Fashion.” The Atlantic, 25 March 2015,

www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2015/03/the-neurological-pleasures-of-modern-shopping/388577/. Accessed 26 April 2022

Borskey, Ava. “Education could reduce the fashion industry’s carbon footprint and influence 

consumer behavior.” Climate News 36, 5 July 2021, climate360news.lmu.edu/education-could-reduce-fashion-industrys-carbon-footprint-

and-influence-consumer-behavior/. Accessed 26 April 2022

Chevalier, Stephanie. “Total number of households in the United States with an Amazon Prime 

subscription from 2018 to 2022.” Statista, 22 February 2022, www.statista.com/statistics/861060/total-number-of-households-amazon-prime-

subscription-usa/. Acessed 26 April 2022

Gecseg, Olivia. “What is Fast Fashion and Why is it Still Popular?” The Sustainable Fashion 

Collective, 20 January 2020, www.the-sustainable-fashion-collective.com/2020/01/20/

why-is-fast-fashion-still-popular-and-what-is-it-costing-our-planet. Accessed 26 April 2022

Hayes, Adam. “Fast Fashion.” Investopedia, 29 April 2021,




Accessed 26 April 2022

Sicurella, Savannah. “When Second Hand Becomes Vintage: Gen Z Has Made Thrifting a Big 

Business.” National Public Radio, 18 June 2021, www.npr.org/2021/06/18/1006207991/


Accessed 26 April 2022

Wallis, Daisy. “The Future of TikTok and Sustainable Fashion.” KeiSei Magazine, 




Accessed 26 April 2022