Fast fashion photo

University of Kansas junior Aileen Zitek poses with her favorite thrifted item.

As the popularity of participating in fashion trends continues to expand, it becomes difficult to avoid fast fashion, some University of Kansas students said.

KU junior Aileen Zitek said she has dealt with the struggles of deciding between fast fashion and sustainable fashion. 

“I would love to shop sustainably, but it is just so unrealistic when I don’t have a job and am in school,” Zitek, a business major from Omaha, said. 

With affordable and trendy clothing items continuing to flood TikTok’s “For You” pages, fast fashion has become a growing conversation. Johnson County Community College fashion and apparel professor Audrey Michaelis has watched the phenomenon become what it is today. 

“Within the last 15 years, our consumption of clothing has gone up 60%, so there’s been this increased consumer appetite for the latest, greatest thing,” Michaelis said.

Fast fashion is the mass production of low-cost items, allowing for a broader customer range that applies to many demographics. Due to its affordability, range of sizes and accessibility, fast fashion has created a niche that includes a wide variety of people, according to sustainable fashion blog The Good Trade

Brands like SHEIN, Missguided and ZARA have built loyalty among customers due to their capability to adapt to trends quickly, while also implementing size inclusivity at an inexpensive cost, according to The Good Trade

At its core, fast fashion was created to keep up with the constant shifting and evolving of trends. It culminated in a phenomenon with major economic consequences, including waste and unethical production, like sweatshops, according to Good on You - a website that allows consumers to evaluate brands that they are purchasing based on ethical practices.

The global fast fashion market is expected to grow from $25 billion in 2020 to over $30 billion in 2021, yet the workers who produce the clothing earn low wages and work in poor conditions, according to Business Wire.

Zitek said she feels the weight of shopping fast fashion, and she has been able to find a compromise. 

“Thrifting is my way of sustainable shopping,” Zitek said. “My favorite thing I have ever found while thrifting was a vintage Victoria’s Secret slip. I was able to hem it and get it tailored so that it fit the way I wanted, which makes me wear it more.”

Consumers should be aware of the ramifications of shopping fast fashion and what it means for the world, Michaelis said. 

“As someone who is passionate about fashion and worked in the fashion industry for many years for brands who had more-quality product and less-quality product, I think that it actually does a disservice to the real workmanship and art and design that goes into fashion,” Michaelis said. 

Sustainability is not a new idea in the fashion industry. Brands like Patagonia and People Tree have been implementing environmentally conscious and ethical practices for decades.

Patagonia practices sustainability by creating higher-quality products with the intention of increased durability. However, higher-quality production means higher-priced items. 

Zitek feels that the constant pull between shopping fast fashion and shopping sustainably is the impracticality of both for different people.

The question to ask is, in what ways can consumers shop more eco-friendly and ethically conscious without unattainable prices? 

Michaelis said she emphasizes the importance of knowing the basics, specifically what the clothes are made of, before consumers buy them. 

“We have no concept of what goes into [making clothing] and we’re not willing to pay for it,” Michaelis said. “That’s something that’s recent, and I think that it’s something we could educate consumers about buying higher quality clothes. Even if you still want to go out and buy something, maybe you buy something that’s going to last.” 

Local boutique KB & Co. has found a way to maintain customer loyalty with the mentality that higher price means higher quality, according to owner Claire Engelken.

Engelken said what sets stores like KB & Co. apart from online fast fashion retailers is not just their provided experience, but their accessibility. 

“Sometimes people order things online and their shipment is delayed, and they might need something for tonight or tomorrow, and we can always help with that,” Engelken said.

She believes the in-person experience customers receive when shopping is unmatched online. 

“A lot of it is just being in the store and giving our opinions and helping put outfits together,” Engelken said. “It’s more of a boutique feel, which is a little more personal than kind of the anonymity of shopping online.” 

KU medical student Emme Logan, a biology and strategic communications major from Overland Park, has worked to find stability between shopping fast fashion and shopping sustainably. 

“When I buy new pieces, I try to make sure they’re investments and staple pieces that I can see myself wearing for years to come,” Logan said.

And when she can, Logan said she makes an effort to shop at thrift stores and other resale retailers.

“I like thrifting because I really enjoy how unique each piece is,” she said. “I also really like reworking my clothes so they fit my body better, and it helps me save money to rework thrifted pieces like jeans instead of going out and buying a new expensive pair.”

While thrifting does not offer the accessibility that online retailers might, it helps eliminate waste. 

“I like knowing that thrifting helps keep clothes out of the landfill,” Logan said. “I try to donate clothes from my own closet when I thrift, to keep the cycle going.” 

Students like Zitek and Logan have found a practical way to implement sustainability into their lives without breaking the bank. 

“It’s super hard to shop perfectly, and I’d be lying if I said I never buy anything fast fashion, but I think it’s about balance,” Logan said. “Being thoughtful and aware of where clothes come from when you shop is an important part of the whole process.”