How fast fashion is destroying small businesses


Graphic by Matthew Adjodha

Despite the appeal of small business, cheap prices and mass production lure people towards large corporations.

Joelle Lee, Arts Writer

Black Friday: a day everyone goes straight to the malls for a shopping spree. There are sales around every corner, and shoppers are standing in long lines to check off items on their wishlists. But the next day? Small Business Saturday. An American holiday that was established to counter Black Friday in  support for all small business owners. One day is the nation’s biggest sales day across all brand names and fast fashion companies, but the very next celebrates small businesses. How is it that these two days are ironically right next to each other?

The controversies around fast fashion have been gaining more attention recently, as big companies such as Zara, GAP and most recently, SHEIN have been mentioned for how they have various negative impacts in the world, including environmental damage. Fast fashion describes a business model that makes high amounts of profit by exploiting various resources and mass producing designs, often copied from other designers. 

On Jul. 16, 2021, the designer of a Black-owned fashion brand named Elexiay tweeted about how SHEIN had stolen her original design for a handmade crocheted sweater. “[I] spent hours designing and brainstorming this design and it takes days to crochet each sweater. It’s quite disheartening to see my hard work reduced to a machine made copy,” said Elexiay’s designer. Her sweater, a hand-crocheted original design, cost $330 at the time she posted this tweet. However, SHEIN’s product of the copied design was being mass produced and marketed as $17. This is an example of how fast fashion companies make easy and big money by robbing small businesses of their original ideas and designs. Furthermore, these actions can cause even more harm because copies are often legal in the fashion industry, since the law does not allow copyright on any “useful things, at least not in their entirety,” stated Julie Zerbo, the lawyer and journalist behind “The Fashion Law” blog, told NPR

Many people around the world have become aware of the great damage that fast fashion creates. The hashtag “boycottShein” has been viewed and recognized on TikTok over 3 million times. Although this online awareness does discourage shoppers from purchasing products from these companies, many defenders of fast fashion point out that the average shopper cannot be put to blame for being expected to purchase a single clothing item for its original price of hundreds of dollars when these convenient fast fashion companies provide a much cheaper alternative. 

Especially due to the pandemic, small businesses have been losing their voices and acknowledgement. A sample from Harvard Business Review showed that “45 percent of small businesses were temporarily closed.” Since they are usually only known to a small group of local shoppers, they mainly depend on in-person shopping, which was not possible during the pandemic. 

These small businesses are far more easily affected by more factors, such as change in trends and climate change. Additionally, the fast fashion companies stealing designs from small businesses further hinders the original designers of those products from profiting at all from their own work. 

With this in mind, does it make sense to have Black Friday, a traditional day that significantly boosts the fast fashion industry, take its spot on the calendar right before Small Business Saturday, a holiday that spotlights lesser known businesses that are often robbed by the same companies that profit greatly from Black Friday?