Adopting the School Uniform Mentality (excerpt)
Prompt: Write a short opinion piece on fashion and ecology, focusing on an issue in the fashion industry that needs our attention.
I chose to center my op-ed on the harmful effects of the fast fashion industry, but more importantly, how we as consumers must make the difficult decision to alter our own purchasing habits.
Although various environmental issues can be linked to multiple industries, fast fashion contributes to a large percentage of them. Fast fashion promotes unethical business practices, and we should take advantage of the psychological impacts it has on us in order to negate its harmful effects.
I remember waking up at the age of five with an outfit laid neatly across my bed each morning. The outfit seemed to mimic different versions of itself on a daily basis. The tops were asheer white in color, with either short or long sleeves. The bottoms were khaki or navy and were generally skirts or pants. The weather dictated which top or bottom would be laid that day, and I felt no urge to argue about what it picked out for me. The other kids in school seemed to feel the same way. This same pattern of simplicity within my everyday attire occurred at the ages of six and seven as well. It wasn’t until I reached the age of eight that I began to question this manner of dressing. The mannequins in malls, the women displayed on flyers and kids at other schools all seemed to have a different methodology when it came to choosing their everyday attire, and I couldn’t help but notice that it contrasted with mine. Their outfits were composed of different colors and designs, and they never wore the same ones on a daily or even a weekly basis. When questioning teachers as to why I had to wear this attire every day, the answer was always the same – school uniforms were a way for kids to learn in an environment without the distraction of worrying about what to wear or being scrutinized for being part of a different socioeconomic class – something that may be visible within attire. I often disagreed, feeling as if dressing this way confined my ability to dress creatively. It wasn’t until I reached middle school, where I was given the freedom to dress as I wanted, that I soon understood and longed for the basic uniforms I once wore daily. Sure, I was given permission to be as creative as I pleased, but I was alsosilently feeling the pressure to adhere to an unspoken dress code, one that conformed to society’s ever-changing trends. The story of once being a kid who wore clothing solely for practicality purposes, to becoming obsessed with the aesthetic appeal of an article of clothing throughout the process of adulthood is an important one, as each phase of the story can be loosely translated into a segment of the relationship between our role as consumers today and the fast fashion industry. First and foremost, it’s important to define fast fashion and understand its impacts. Fast fashion is defined as the process of companies re-producing current trends (often seen first on the catwalk) quickly, for low prices and cheap labor costs. This sounds innocent enough; however, many issues arise from this method of production. For one, many companies overproduce clothing, as there is no way to accurately forecast the number of people who will purchase a select garment. As a result, large amounts of fabric are wasted, and clothing is usually tossed/destroyed which is detrimental to the planet (1). This occurs both in the production process and when the clothing is in the hands of a consumer. The clothes are often cheaply made and come with low price tags, and buyers often use the price of the clothing to determine value; in the case of fast fashion, low prices mean devalued items (2). The result of this mindset leads to pounds of textile waste. Environmental impacts don’t stop here, as toxic chemicals are used when cultivating material (such as cotton), as well as in the dyeing process (3). Workers are also negatively impacted by fast fashion, as they’re often given low wages in inadequate working conditions (4).
Upon being informed of the negative effects of fast fashion, some may argue that we must delegate the role of abolishing the system to the fashion industry itself, as they appear to be at fault for the numerous wrongdoings to the environment and workers. Understanding the business model these companies operate on may further emphasize this assumption. Fast fashion works by combining “quick response” tactics, better defined as the process of companies rapidly producing and stocking clothes after spotting a trend (5), with “enhanced design.” Enhanced design allows companies to create articles of clothing that are so on par with trends, that the consumer no longer has the desire to delay purchasing until they go on sale (6).
(1) Luz Claudio, “Waste Couture: Environmental Impact of the Clothing Industry,” Environmental Health Perspectives 115, no. 9 (September 2007)
(5) Cachon, Gérard P., and Robert Swinney. “The Value of Fast Fashion: Quick Response, Enhanced Design, and Strategic Consumer Behavior,” Management Science 57, no. 4 (2011): 778-95.