Lily Fang ’18 Discusses Fast Fashion, Sustainable Alternatives

On Friday, April 8, Lily Fang ’18 spoke to Amherst students about fast fashion and sustainable alternatives. The event was hosted by the Class and Access Resource Center (CARC).

In her talk on Friday, April 8, Lily Fang ’18 spoke on the negative impacts of fast fashion, including excessive waste which is oftentimes discarded in the global South. Photo courtesy of Lily Fang.

On Friday, April 8, Lily Fang ’18 spoke to Amherst students over Zoom about fast fashion and sustainable alternatives. The event, which took place in Keefe Campus Center’s McCaffrey Room, was hosted by the Class and Access Resource Center (CARC) in hopes of addressing sustainable fashion as an accessible practice for low-income students.

Fang’s interest in sustainable fashion first developed in her teenage years, around the time when fast fashion brands like Zara and H&M gained massive traction. As a 13-year-old, Fang launched a blog called Imperfect Idealist, through which she quickly acquired a deep understanding of the ever-evolving world of the fashion industry. Soon, the concept of “fast fashion” led to Fang’s growing awareness about consumerism and sustainability.

In 2018, Fang received summa cum laude honors while graduating from Amherst with a double major in mathematics and French. She said college “was a time where she learned the most about sustainability.” The Phi Beta Kappa member is now a content manager at College Vine, where she utilizes her academic experiences to craft college admissions advice for high school students.

Fang began the presentation by asking everyone in the room what first came to their mind when they heard the phrase fast fashion.

One student said “SHEIN.” Another offered “Zara,” while others went with “Forever 21.” “New turnovers as a season of clothing,” a student added.

“They’re all correct,” said Fang. “Fast fashion is a term coined by NYT [New York Times] in the 1990s to describe how Zara could take garments from design to stores in less than 15 days … Nowadays, the phrase often refers to the mass production of cheap, trendy, and disposable clothing.”

Fang told the audience that she felt the need to emphasize the negative impact of fast fashion.

“Because of massive production and because of these trends’ cycles, we end up with 92 million tons of textile waste per year. A lot of the clothing that we think we’re donating to the stores actually ultimately ends up being dumped in the Global South. A couple of notorious spots are Chile’s Atacama Desert and Ghana’s Kantamanto Market,” she relayed. Fang displayed photos of these locations to emphasize her point.

Moving on, Fang presented the concept of  “sustainable fashion” as a long-term solution to alleviate the environmental impact of mass-produced garments. In her opinion, the phrase represents an attempt in not only recycling materials but also providing a safe working environment for garment workers.

Fang emphasized that buying less, regardless of what brand, is the best alternative to fast fashion. She acknowledged that “a lot of us in this room may find it difficult, since shopping is a major social activity and a lot of places are depending on it.” She advocated for a more DIY approach and encouraged students to experiment with mending their own clothes or seeing a tailor.

In addition, Fang suggested selling or swapping old clothing as the most sustainable means to getting rid of it. She described that students can use an Amherst-based local gift economy network on Facebook called Buy Nothing, in which members can either lend or donate their resources to those in need, to reduce textile waste.

Alongside low-cost methods, Fang thought it was helpful to demonstrate to listeners signs of sustainable brands. One of her top recommendations is Good On You, a web database that allows users to analyze the impact that a brand’s products have on people, the planet, and animals.

As a final point, Fang encouraged Amherst students to heavily consider issues of fast fashion in their community, using their power and knowledge as global thinkers and leaders in navigating the world in a better direction.

The event ended with a 10-minute Q&A from participating students.

“I think it’s very pertinent that she [Fang] pointed out the impacts many [people] do not realize about fast fashion,” said Weston Dripps ’92, Director of Center for Sustainability. He reiterated Fang’s point about its cyclical nature: “There used to be high heels and now they’re short heels. If I have high heels, then I have to get rid of those short heels.”

Reflecting on Fang’s idea of “perceived obsolescence,” which refers to “the peer pressure of trying to keep up with everybody else,” Dripps felt that, “there’s no reason why we have to fall victim to it.”

Ashanti Adams ’24 said, “My key takeaway [after the talk] is that, you can practice sustainability without trying to do every single thing and you can be from any background in practicing sustainable fashion. That's important.”