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For the past few years, celebrity collaborations with fast fashion brands have become a staple in the fashion market. While seemingly bringing celebrities’ favorite designs to the general public in an affordable way, these partnerships promote unethical clothing consumption, the abuse of garment workers, and dangerous environmental practices, all while making celebrities and their brand partners millions of dollars.
Fast fashion, while relatively new as a term, has existed in practice for decades. Producing more clothing more frequently led to it being made cheaply, cost-efficiently, and unsustainably. Because celebrities, along with their fashion, are so prevalent in mainstream media, the general public often draws inspiration from their faves and seeks to emulate their style. Brands capitalize on this: Celebrities wear expensive designer clothing, so the demand for cheaper alternatives has grown. The fashion industry’s goal for decades now has been to produce more clothes cheaper and faster, in part to keep up with the latest celeb fashion trends and demand for popular alternatives. That practice, arguably, played a big role in leading up to today’s popular fast fashion brands like Shein, Fashion Nova, Nasty Gal, and countless others. Quickening trend cycles throughout the decades — and especially over the course of the last five years — mean that designs seen on designer catwalks can be reproduced and ready to sell in as little as a week.
Recently, however, celebrities have become more than just inspirations for fast fashion. They’ve become promoters of it.
Cardi B’s collaboration with Fashion Nova in 2018 was one of the most successful partnerships between a brand and a celebrity, gaining a lot of recognition and making nearly $1 million in the first 24 hours of its launch. Cardi B’s history as a genuine consumer of the brand prior to gaining fame added an air of authenticity. The collection sought to show that Cardi B wouldn’t get on a high horse and promote expensive clothes to her fans because she identifies with the struggle of wanting to be fashionable on a budget.
By supporting Cardi B in this collaboration, though, consumers increased the profits of a company that underpays its workers and then feigns ignorance of their struggle. Garment workers in factories that produce clothes for Fashion Nova are paid per seam and often make the equivalent of $2-$5 an hour. Fashion Nova claims no responsibility for this, since they work with numerous manufacturers and assume the low prices they get are possible with workers being paid minimum wage.
Cara Delevingne’s 2019 collection with Nasty Gal was another example of the now-ubiquitous celebrity fast fashion partnership. Delevingne was also ostensibly a Nasty Gal consumer, wearing the brand’s pieces to music festivals before her collaboration. Yet Nasty Gal’s comfortable and trendy clothes wreak devastating environmental havoc, from the byproducts of factory production seeping into rivers, to microfibers from washing fast fashion clothing polluting oceans.
Though the brand has made promises to disclose their factory lists by 2021 and map out their supply chains by 2025, it doesn’t provide detailed information on its commitment to an ethical and sustainable supply chain as well as methods of enforcing the standards it claims to have. Nasty Gal pushes the more sustainable options of their organic cotton denim line and vintage clothing, yet doesn't mention expanding sustainability to the rest of their store. Perhaps most importantly, fast fashion’s quick turnaround of new designs promotes overconsumption and has damaging environmental impacts — often regardless of the materials used. Delevingne’s partnership, therefore, further amplified these harmful means of production.
Despite these harmful effects of fast fashion brand collaborations, they are still prevalent in today’s fashion world. Megan Fox launched her collaboration with Boohoo on Oct. 19, which gave her creative freedom to express her sense of style with an affordable price tag.
Fast fashion collaborations can have important social motivations, like Ashley Graham’s Pretty Little Thing collection, which purports to prioritize inclusivity at its core. The spring-themed collection focused on body-positivity and inclusive sizing. Making trendy clothing accessible to more people is certainly valuable. But doing so by working with a fast-fashion brand will only exacerbate the negative ethical and environmental impacts of celebrity-inspired consumption.
Celebrity collaborations promoting clothing lines with larger sizes but with more sustainable fashion brands, like Reformation or Everlane (both of which currently struggle with size inclusivity), can give consumers a choice between fast-fashion and sustainable fashion they didn’t have before — a partnership perhaps lower in profit for the celebrity, yet more beneficial for the consumer and the environment. Yet these seemingly sustainable alternative brands to fast fashion clothing still have issues: Any brand which promotes a constant trend cycle cannot be truly sustainable.
H&M, while advertising their Conscious brand focused on utilizing sustainable materials, still underpays their workers, and Everlane provides little evidence of their material commitment to sustainable initiatives. There are affordable alternatives to fast fashion as well, like thrifting and buying second hand clothing, saving it from landfills and incorporating vintage styles into your wardrobe.
Celebrity fast fashion collaborations are a natural next step in the fashion industry’s history and the incessant push for higher profits. Celebrities also hold an enormous amount of power over the general public, which makes them the perfect media marketing tool. As the negative ethical and environmental repercussions of fast fashion permeate mainstream media and buying $1,000 worth of clothes from Shein becomes less trendy, however, celebrities have fewer and fewer excuses for partnering with brands that exhibit questionable production practices.
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