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3 Hidden Costs of Fast Fashion Everyone Should Know

Everyone loves a good bargain, but those price tags don't come cheap. Choose wisely and avoid the three hidden costs behind fashion's biggest deals.

Written by
Savannah Allan

We've all been there—walking into a store looking for a quick and cheap fashion fix. Maybe that $30 pair of sandals you bought last year just broke and you need a replacement. Or your go-to white cami just ripped and now you’re hunting for a 3 for $10 special so you don’t have to come back to the dreaded mall ever again.

Fast fashion, defined as "inexpensive clothing produced rapidly by mass-market retailers in response to the latest trends," dominates today’s shopping experience. It's easy to see why: Who doesn’t love low costs and extreme convenience? But did you know that there are some significant hidden costs behind those cheap prices? Let's dig into the big three.

The 3 Hidden Costs of Fast Fashion

1. Time Cost

The fact is, the more stuff you have, the more time you spend taking care of it. When you pare down to the essentials and only have to take care of one pair of shoes instead of 15, it opens up a world of possibilities. You can finally spend time on the things that are truly important to you.

By choosing to spend more on high-quality items, you not only save money in the long run—you also save the time you’d otherwise spend shopping to replace those poor-quality items that fell apart quickly.

2. Environmental Cost

Our natural resources are finite, but we rarely take into account how seemingly small actions—like purchasing a shirt for $7.99 from a major retailer—impacts the environment. The truth is, a shirt should never cost $7.99, but it’s something we’ve come to expect.

When a garment is made quickly out of poor-quality materials and sold for cheap, it usually doesn’t last long. It's around for a season or two, then added to the 15 million tons of textile waste produced by the United States each year, 85 percent of which currently sit in landfills.

Living sustainably takes time and effort: You have to do your research and ask tough questions. It usually costs more money, too. But ultimately, this effort means you’ll select better products and end up buying less.

3. The Human Cost

Tons of big name brands utilize sweatshops that place children in unsafe conditions for minimal or no pay all to produce those $7.99 t-shirts. Items we use every day—like electronics, coffee, and chocolate—are often sourced from countries that rely on slave labor. Coffee plantations in Brazil often exploit their workers and illegal child labor is the backbone of cocoa farming in West Africa.

Much of what we purchase is based on convenience for ourselves rather than consideration for all the people behind the scenes. A bit of research and a few extra dollars can help ensure the purchases you make aren’t costing another human life.

When you factor in these hidden costs, spending $200 on a single pair of sustainable, high-quality shoes doesn’t sound so outrageous. So, the next time you’re looking to purchase something, do some research, weigh all of the costs, and buy from a company that values your time, the environment, and humans.