Fast fashion is a business model based on mass-producing clothing items at a low cost. These items are often poorly made by underpaid workers and created using toxic textile dyes to fulfill an item’s demand before a trend fizzles out, according to Greenpeace International.
Brands like Singapore-based SHEIN pump out more than 10,000 new items a day to meet the demand of frequent fashion fads, and younger Central Florida citizens gravitate toward the cheap, readily accessible apparel.
Giovanna Conde, shift manager at the thrift store Plato’s Closet in Kissimmee, said that when what’s in style falls out of fashion, items are often discarded and sent to either a landfill or donated to thrift stores. She’s seeing firsthand how Central Florida thrift stores are feeling fast fashion’s impact.
A store like Plato’s Closet goes through about 30 to 40 donations of clothing a day. Conde routinely sifts through the bins and bags and notices that there’s a common thread in them — and that’s fast fashion.
“I’m on buys five days a week and I see it every single day,” Conde said. “There’s not one buy that will not have something from SHEIN.”
Thrifting was once a solution for the overconsumption of fast fashion, but as the discarded, out-of-style items build in the donation piles, employees and thrifters are left with a sense of dread for the future of thrifting.
“People are not ashamed to bring in the bags that came in brand new,” Conde explained, “It does kind of like hurt sometimes in the store because then those are some items that we will have to clearance out because of how trends are just moving so quickly.”
Generation Z vs. Fast Fashion
A survey by the online consignment and secondhand store ThredUp showed that 62% of Generation Z and Millenials often look for items secondhand before going to a general retail store. However, here in Central Florida, many young shoppers have recently been met with a lack of quality clothing in secondhand stores.
Hailey Winder, a student at the University of Central Florida who was raised on thrifting, is having that very problem.
“Growing up in thrift stores I remember when you used to be like ‘Oh, winter’s coming. I want to go get a quality jacket,’ and I’d go with my mom and go get one, and I could find it in any single thrift store,” Winder said. “Now it’s so different.”
Winder is acutely aware of the effects of overconsumption. As someone who thrifts once a week she has taken notice of how much fast fashion is left over in these stores.
“It might be 60/40; 60% fast fashion, 40% regular brands, honestly, and I think it’s because of the area I live in,” Winder said. “Here in Orlando, especially the ones right next to UCF, I think they’re literally just becoming secondhand fast fashion stores.”
Where has all the real fabric gone?
Fast fashion in thrift stores goes beyond excess clothing and the item’s limited longevity in terms of quality. These items are also made with poor materials that it affects the buyer’s health.
Besides the faux leather and plastic-like apparel, most fast fashion items are ridden with toxic synthetic dyes, according to EarthDay, a global environmental friendly organization.
This makes it incredibly difficult for the item to decompose in a landfill or sell off the rack of a local thrift store.
“If you feel your body’s off, consider if you’ve bought something recently fast fashion,” Winder said. “I get eczema flare-ups if I wear crazy fabrics, dyes. Like where has all the real fabric gone?”
Despite the fate that has befallen thrift stores, Winder said there’s still hope for change. It will just take a collective effort.
“Take a few minutes out of your day. Think about your favorite pieces in your wardrobe and why you love them and how they make you feel and the shapes that you create on your body that you love,” Winder said. “And I think that will help you be a better shopper.”
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