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Beyond the Hype... is Fast Fashion Really Worth It?

By Ainsley Benbow

When I was younger, if I was ever walking around the Macquarie shops with my family, I would see these superior and absolutely exponential teenagers! They were the centre of my universe for where, what, and who I wanted to be when I was older. 

I would also take note of their very unique and stylish clothing choices. I would always wonder, “Where did they get all these cool clothes? Where? Where? WHERE?”

Now being one of those teenagers that my younger self looked up to so much, it is far from the simple truth that I used to believe in. Fashion these days is far beyond anything than just a cute crop top and pair of jeans that your friend is wearing. It is the embodiment of the exploitation of workers, sexism, racism, cheap-low quality products and environmental issues that all have majorly flourished because of our modern-day society's overpopulation, ideals of ‘aesthetics’, and fashion trends.

It has a very simple word phrase to describe it in its entirety, ‘fast fashion.’ 

Fast fashion by definition from Wikipedia is the business model of replicating recent catwalk trends and high-fashion designs, mass-producing them at a low cost, and bringing them to retail quickly while demand is at its highest. In simpler terms, it is stylish clothing that is produced and sold quickly to consumers allowing them to be low-priced, however, this causes multiple social, economic, and environmental issues.

There are many flaws in the fast fashion industry. Well, more than meets the eye. It is an iceberg far greater than the one that sank the Titanic. Containing all sorts of stories and truths behind this estimated 2 trillion dollar industry including racism, sexism, toxic work culture, corruption within work environments, high quantities of clothing leading to mass environmental issues and non-recyclable waste, inequalities, and more. 

Recently, I have watched a thrilling new documentary bringing these particular items to light, and influencing me to write this very article. It was called ‘Brandy Hellville & the Cult of Fast Fashion’. This is only one of the many, if not all, of fashion brands that are consumed by the factors attributed to Fast Fashion. Brandy Melville, or Hellville as stated in the documentary, can be used as an example to showcase the seriousness of only one company that has been exposed to the limelight. 

Brandy Melville

Brandy Melville was founded in the early 1980s by Silvio Marsan and his son Stefan in Italy, and later spread and flourished rapidly in the US in 2009. With 97 stores worldwide and 40 taking severe popularity throughout the United States with its trendy cute crop tops, skinny years and notorious “one size fits all” approach to sizing which was as it seemed, very exclusionary and particularly small. The documentary approaches the audience with a list of alarming, racist and possibly illegal practices by Brandy Melville.

Throughout the documentary, racism was a clear divider in the stores and behind the scenes. In-store workers who worked the front desk were preferably white and very skinny making it a very ‘exclusive’ brand with all the other workers in the back, this being people of colour or other ethnicities. This was an unspoken rule that the young women and girls hired to work there had to dress and look a certain way. It was a very harsh working environment for these young girls having so many expectations to be ‘the perfect brandy girl’ leading many former employees to recount feeling insecure about their bodies and having eating disorders while working at Brandy Melville.

There have even been accounts where workers have been told to take a photo of a  ‘pretty girl’ right then and there in the store and send it up to higher authorities where almost instantly they would get back to them saying to hire them… just because of one photo!? A former vice-president said Marsan would text and ask him to fire employees if he didn’t like the way they looked and didn’t fit into the brandy style - ‘cult’ if you ask me. This only furthers the claims of ongoing sexism and objectification of women's bodies. And for what? For them to sell clothing that only furthers insecurities because of the shocking “one size fits all” sizing system and stunning in-store workers that make them feel they have to fit into those standards.

Its slogan used to be “one size fits all”, however, this was until customer backlash which made them change it to “one size fits most”. HOW is ‘most’ BETTER? It was allegedly like having one small size in stock as it kept the store exclusive however this disregards ‘most’ of the world's population being even in-store workers had a hard time fitting into these tiny tiny skinny jeans and skirts. There was even a viral “BM challenge” (Brandy Melville Challenge), where people participating would try to lose weight to fit into a tiny skirt.

Not only have all these things been associated with and accused Brandy Melville of all these things to objectify women and break the law, but Marsan would try to impose his politics (being a Liberal) on his young employees. He would often give out copies of Atlas Shrugged, a book about the defence of capitalism to further his beliefs. Multiple reports from the “Brandy apartment” have also surfaced from where models or photographers would stay. However, this small getaway apartment in Soho soon crumpled down when an employee had to report a sexual assault. She was only 21-years-old.

The Brandy Melville image can never be completely ruined, as this documentary made that crystal clear. Even with all this still coming out, no one really cares. Everyone will still buy, everyone will still work there, some people may leave or not shop there anymore, but there will always be someone selling, and buying. 

With all that being said, I haven’t even made it onto the environmental issues yet! And this is fast fashion!!! Many anomalies come out of the fast fashion industry that some have just accepted because of how bad it has become, but this is an issue that desperately needs changing. Behind all the scandals of brands just like Brandy Melville and the dark secrets behind their ‘cute’ and ‘trendy’ clothes, fast fashion’s highest impact on our greater world and society is its effects of mass production of clothing on our environment. 

An estimated 80,000,000,000 pieces of clothing are manufactured every year contributing to 2 million tonnes of total waste. With all of that being said, around 92 million tonnes of clothing end up in landfills or our waterways like rivers or oceans. This non-recyclable and poor-quality clothing not only ends up where it shouldn’t be naturally, but marine life eats it, killing hundreds of animals as well as creating un-walkable or swimmable shorelines piled up with clothing. 

However, these beaches are not in America or Australia or anywhere in our ‘higher society’. But we dump all our trash and landfills into lower economic countries to get rid of our problem, making it theirs. There are millions of tonnes of clothing in countries that are running out of space because of this mass production of clothing with nowhere to put it. Even burning it will cause further damage because of the fossil fuel emissions. And yet, this is not even counting the 10% of the world's CO2 emissions being from the fashion industry. This makes the industry not only incredibly responsible for the global carbon footprint, but the second-biggest consumer of water - combined with the CO2 emissions, it is more than all international flights and maritime shipping combined.

Deforestation is one of the most significant factors that is connected to fast fashion as entire forests are cleared to be made into textiles for the booming industry. Roughly 200 million trees are cut down every year to make cellulose fabrics. EVERY YEAR!!! Even though there is an astonishing amount of trees estimated to be 3.041 trillion trees, at this rate of deforestation just from the fast fashion industry, entire ecosystems and environments after being destroyed, may never be able to grow back to how they were from millions of years of growth and nourishment. 

This is fast fashion at its finest. Sure, it has great jobs and, depending on the store, is a safe working environment. But this does not come anywhere near close to compensating for the sexism, racism, exploitation and environmental issues created by this industry. Brandy Melville is just one of many fashion brands whose hidden truths have been revealed to the world. 

Be careful when buying clothing. Think: who got it there, where it came from, and where it will end up next.



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