Performative activism can’t change the fast fashion industry

People like to feel like they are doing something noble for the greater good when in reality they are accomplishing the bare minimum. This usually goes through “performative activism”, the idea that it is better to pretend to do something than to do nothing.

Sustainable fashion has become a recent example of this trend. Savings has gone from an easy way to save money to a status symbol for activism. As more and more people learn how the production of harmful clothing can bethere were big misunderstandings about how to solve the problem.

Last October, a group of demonstrators disrupted a Louis Vuitton fashion show walking along the runway with the models, including a woman who jumped onto the runway holding a sign that read “OVERCONSUMPTION = EXTINCTION”. It’s fair to say that high-end fashion brands are contributing to a long-standing problem in classist consumption. They dictate fashion trends in all areas, but are not affordable for most. However, battling high-end fashion companies such as Chanel and Versace is not the answer to slowing fashion’s environmental impacts.

people have more luxury expectations brands only for fast fashion. Due to their public image and the higher standards their businesses are held to, luxury brands tend to be more aware of their impact on the environment, as well as on society.

However, fast fashion brands such as Zara and Forever 21, which use mass production to create products, are the companies that should be criticized for their environmental impact. E-commerce brands such as Shein and Fashion Nova are in the same boat and should also be considered when it comes to holding brands accountable for their production processes.

Fast fashion has gained popularity due to the cheap prices of their products and the wide range of options they offer. These companies also promote themselves heavily on social media platforms, which makes them even more visible and attractive. Their presence on social networks –– being the most talked about brands on TikTok and YouTube––drives consumers to these fast fashion retailersmaking them the the most visited fashion and apparel sites around the world, according to web analytics platform Similarweb.

When we call for sustainable fashion, we must take into account that it is the clothes we are most likely to consume that contribute significantly to the problem.

Reuters reported that Shein has yet to disclose information about the working conditions of its factory workers to the UK government, which the retailer is required to do under UK law. Shein also incorrectly said its factories were certified by international labor standards bodies, according to Reuters. However, because they have become such an influential company, it is easy for this to be swept under the rug.

Protesting against fast fashion means discussing layers of class and interdependence. After all, those who live on normal paychecks benefit from a clothing store with many different options every few weeks. This gives people the financial power to replace clothes as soon as they are purchased. Instead of waiting for a shirt to be too small or too old, stores like H&M make it easier to buy a new garment instead of replacing the old one.

If we want to create tangible change, we must do so in a way that benefits those who consume fast, cheap clothing. It starts mostly with brands aimed at women, like Shein, because more than 70% of the poorest people in the world are women.

The good news is that there is a growing general awareness that the fashion industry needs to change for the betterment of the environment and human rights. However, it is not enough to buy a second-hand item.

With the increase in savings, two problems arose. The first being that thrift stores such as Goodwill have increased their prices, making it harder for low-income people to buy clothes from stores they might rely on for cheap style options, which can lead to an increase in purchases from Shein or Fashion Nova as an alternative. Second, more people are donating their clothes, and often those clothes are not sold and are thrown away.

The real solution, and the far more inconvenient one, is to work with politicians to create laws that hold fashion companies accountable, but it is necessary. Focusing on corporate impacts on climate change as well as on humanitarian rights is one way to have a strong impact on the fashion industry.