One day when I was a senior in high school I placed a large order at an online clothing store known as SHEIN. When I placed this order I had no idea the brand, and others like it were so problematic. The whole appeal is fashion that is sold for dirt cheap. I personally have ordered upwards of fifteen items for under one hundred dollars. Does that not sound wonderful? Well, like everything in life, there is a catch, or in this case, multiple catches. Not a single item sold by SHEIN is high quality, and most will not last longer than one or two seasons. These items can be sold so cheaply because the people working in SHEIN’s factories are paid next to nothing. Over the years I became aware of the reality behind stores like these. Friends and peers would make passing comments about fast fashion. It did not take long for comments like “at least I do not support children working in sweat shops” to make me drop my fast fashion habit. By the time I enrolled in Wicked Problems, I understood that fast fashion was bad, but the depth of my understanding was limited. It was through these readings and classroom discussions that I was able to find the answers for my questions. The lesson that stuck the most with me was that fast fashion is easy to fall into, and that is completely by design. These companies target consumers who cannot afford higher quality, sustainably made pisces. They provide near exact “dupes” for popular styles that are sold at a fraction of the original price. But because these pieces are so poor quality, they will not last, even if the consumer wants it to. This locks them into a cycle of constantly having to spend money on new clothing, further driving the companies business was well as polution to the planet.
So how do we fix fast fashion? While the answer varies for every country across the world, in the case of the United States, they cannot be stopped. At least not for the damage they have caused the environment. Perhaps another company could sue them for trademark infrigements, because they openly steal other designer’s creations on a rergular basis. But that is beside the point. Given the economic structure of the United States, SHEIN will not receive reprecussions for something like their price point. Capitalism allows people to set their own price point, it is literally one of the biggest selling points of capitalism. That leaves the burden of responsiblity on the people. If a person can afford to shop sustainably, I believe they have the responsibility to do so. I do not think there is much of an excuse for buying a SHEIN top when you could take the route of sustainability. Even people who do not have as much financial freedom can find ways to shop sustainably. Thrift stores are a great example of this. Thrift stores keep quality pieces out of landfills and in the homes of people who will continue to wear them.
Growing up my mother taught me that clothing in good condition should never be thrown away. She does not have much patience for ignorant waste. A few times a year my family will have a massive wardrobe purge. Pulling out what is not needed and donating it to GoodWill. My mom made well sure that I understood clothing is supposed to last. A message I suppose I lost sight of for a time.
One thing I have spent a lot of time pondering since the beginning of the semester is climate change, specifically the people that deny it, or push against reforms. My first thought was that they must not care if the world goes up in flames. But in my head that just did not make sense. I do not understand how a human, with human thoughts and feelings, would not be scared for irreversible climate change. Then it occurred to me, fear. Something people love to deny experiencing, yet it is fundamental to the human experience. The thought of the planet rising up against centuries of abuse is objectibely terrifying. So perhaps that fear is what keeps some people locked in denial. Or perhaps it is money, or even a combination of the both. I would be pretty scared to look in the mirror as a powerful CEO and admit to myself that my actions may have caused irreversible damages. That is a pretty rough pill to swallow. Fear can make people do and say some weird things, that is the glory of the human condition. But with that being said, fear still does not excuse our innate responnsbility to care for our planet. Children are scared of the dentist, yet they still go. Fear should not mean that men and women are released from their duty. This personal responsibility is equal for every person, from the president to the mail man. Even though the president has much more influence, it is still incredibly important for both men to do their parts and carry their own weight.
While reflecting on my childhood there was another thing that stood out to me. I have memories as a child, as I am sure we all do, just times where I noticed small instances of pollution all around me. During carpool I would look at the puddles and be entrannced with the swirling rainbow on the surface created by oil on the ground. When I visited my grandmother in Los Angeles and accompanying her to have her car’s smog filter changed. These small moments that were normalized for me as a child. I was raised in a relatively clean, well-maintained city, and yet there were pockets of pollution constantly surronding me. Even today, I will be driving down the road and when a truck releases a massive plum of thick, black smoke, all I can think about is the atmpshphere. I just watch the smoke rise and join the rest. And while I know that one individual release is not going to make or break our environment, I also know that it was the straw that broke the camels back. I look forward to the day that shipping trucks are upgraded to something more environmentally friendly. Because the United States’ trucking system is so massive, so expansive, and so not helping reduce green house gases.
Wicked Problems has taught me to look at the world in a whole new light. I have been taught to put myself in the shoes of a person half a world over. To understand the problems they face and what I can do as a steward of earth to ease them. I have learned that while a problem may not directly effect me, there are steps I can take to contribute to the solution, not further the problem. Take sweat shops in developing countries as an example. I cannot singlehandedly provide better pay and working conditions, but I can refuse to facilitate the companies that take advantage of hard work. I can use whatever platform I have, not matter how big or small, to advocate and continue to bring these issues to light.