OPINION: Out with Shein. In with sustainability.

A “Model Call: Fashion Show and Tell” event was hosted at the Marshall Student Center Amphitheater on Monday to celebrate body positivity. ORACLE PHOTO/DELANEY TORRES

Finding a shirt for $3 on Shein when you’re a broke college student feels like an impossible deal to pass up.

However, shopping from fast fashion brands has gotten out of hand, with over 200 billion units of clothes sold annually. 

These companies often negatively affect the environment and exploit human labor to produce low-quality clothing as a way to keep up with current fashion trends.

Related: Fashion Show and Tell at USF celebrates every body – The Oracle 

Students need to be more aware of the negative impacts of fast fashion. Instead of buying affordable trendy clothing items, students should purchase good quality, timeless pieces that will benefit the environment and themselves. 

Out of 44 USF students, 59.1% shop from fast fashion brands such as Shein, Forever 21, Temu and H&M, according to a survey conducted by The Oracle on Feb. 27.

One of the biggest problems with fast fashion is its negative environmental impacts. 

To produce large amounts of products ordered by fast fashion customers, energy from water and fossil fuels is consumed.

Christian Wells, a USF anthropology professor, said fast fashion is unsustainable due to the excessive amount of resources it uses in the production and shipping process. Wells’ research focuses on environmental justice and sustainable and equitable development.

“These clothes are often cheaply made and often head quickly to the landfill,” said Wells.

The products that are produced by these companies are often low quality and not long-lasting. This causes many consumers to throw away items, leading to a polluted environment.

“I don’t want to waste money on a product that will last two weeks and was made by children in a sweatshop,” said Cate Yakim, a junior biomedical science major in a survey with The Oracle. “I also don’t want to support pollution created from fast fashion.”

Over 20% of all microplastics in our oceans come from fast fashion industries which has contributed to a 76% decline in freshwater fish populations, according to Just One Ocean, an ocean conservation charity.

Apart from affecting the health of our oceans, the consumers’ health is also at risk when purchasing from these industries. Fast fashion clothing items can contain a variety of chemicals that affect respiratory and reproductive health or cause cancer.

The chemical-filled trendy products from Shein or H&M that hang in students’ closets are produced by workers who are constantly exposed to these chemicals.

The exploitation of human labor in fast fashion occurs through low pay and daily health hazards workers experience, a 2018 study by the Environmental Health journal. The U.S. Department of Labor found that some industries were paying their workers as little as $1.58 per hour in 2023. 

One of the main reasons why fast fashion is so popular among college students is that they are one of the lowest-earning age groups. By finding trendy items that are less than $10, college students can look stylish for cheap costs.

“It’s not that I want to shop from fast fashion brands, it’s just cheaper and harder to find non-fast fashion brands in general,” said Ella Janigian, a sophomore health sciences USF student, in a survey with The Oracle. 

Sonia Socorro, the president of the USF Thrift and Consignment Club, said it’s important for students to understand the bad side of fast fashion. Socorro said students should encourage each other to engage in sustainable fashion practices. 

“If the majority of people practiced mindfulness when spending, I think we would see a huge decline in fast fashion sales, and hopefully a change with companies,” Socorro said in a Monday interview with The Oracle.

Although it is difficult to purchase more expensive and good quality clothing, students should put more effort into finding ethical and sustainable brands. Brands such as Pact and Kotn will last a lot longer than those from fast fashion industries. 

Thrifting is also a great way to reduce fast fashion consumption and promote sustainable shopping practices.

“Instead of shopping at places like Shein and ASOS, shop at local resale stores like Uptown Cheapskate and Plato’s Closet,” Wells said.

The average college student has become a victim of the fast fashion industry but at a horrible cost. 

Stop buying cheap, poor-quality clothing. Prioritize your health and that of others by investing in good quality pieces that will last a lifetime.