Skip to Main Content

MONT 154N-S01: The Environment and Me (Hess)

Spring 2024

Fast Fashion

1. Brainstorm

As I start thinking about environmental ethics, I remember a TikTok I saw recently where the creator did a "fast fashion anti-haul" in a clothing store. She went through the store showing items people might be influenced to buy and talked about how most of them would only be worn once, showed that some were low quality and would fall apart quickly, and called out stores for using an "eco-conscious" label on items when their business model is not eco-friendly. Since then, I've started seeing similar videos and I'm curious to learn more about how these fast fashion clothing brands impact the environment. 

2. Background Information

Beyond the TikTok I saw, I want to get some more information about fast fashion. What is it exactly? Who is talking about it? Are there certain controversies or issues I should be aware of? I start with a simple Google Search for fast fashion. The first result is the Wikipedia article for fast fashion, which I look at to get familiar with the definition, history, and some of the concerns about it. There are also several news articles that come up and many of the headlines include the environment or problems with fast fashion. I see one news article from CNN, which I know is a fairly credible news source. I read through that article to learn about the popularity of fast fashion, the problems with it, and some of the proposed alternatives. I also find an article from Investopedia that explains some of the pros and cons of fast fashion and identifies specific brands that use this model. Looking at the source, I see Investopedia is a site focused on providing financial information to readers, so I can guess it's looking from a more economic model. 

3. Mind Map

Now that I have some background information, I decide to make a mind map to put down all of my ideas. I start by putting "Fast Fashion" in the middle of the page, then write down related terms and sub-topics that came up in my original brain storming. As I make the mind map, I start breaking down each topic into smaller sub-topics to get more detail. Once I have all the ideas down, I start drawing lines between ideas that I think are connected. This helps me to see the big picture of the topic and how different pieces relate while also showing me how I can get more specific by focusing on one section of the mind map.

A mind map with Fast Fashion in the center. Sub topics include environmental impact, trends, labor practices, mass production, cost of clothing, and what to do?

4. Narrow Down the Topic

Now that I've brainstormed, I need to narrow down the topic to something more manageable. My mind map and brainstorming showed me there are a lot of layers to the topic of fast fashion, and I probably can't cover them all in a ten page paper. I know I want to focus on the environmental impact, so I focus on that area of my mind map. Some of the sub-topics I identified there were waste, carbon emissions, water use, pollution, toxic materials, and harm to animals. I also found that many of these sub-topics were connected to one another. I also want to include the What To Do? subtopic. In my mind map, I connected awareness to environmental impact, but I also want to keep it open ended as I get into my research and think about how the environmental impact and the potential for action connect. 

From here, I can try asking myself the five W's: Who, What, When, Where, and Why.

  • Who is affected by this topic?
    • Really everyone, but I may find there are specific locations that see more of the environmental impacts, like places where the factories are located or places where waste is disposed. I may want to do more research to decide if I want or need to focus on a specific population. 
  • What are the main issues or problems in this topic?
    • Environmental concerns - pollution, waste, emissions.
    • Climate change - human impacts on the climate and what we can do to reduce the effects of it.
    • What are the alternatives to fast fashion? If we want to stop using this model of production, what other affordable and climate-friendly options are there? 
  • When was/is the topic relevant?
    • It is relevant now, though I may want to learn more about how long this model of production has existed to get an understanding of the long-term impacts.
  • Where is the topic relevant? Where do I want my research to focus (a specific region, country, etc.)?
    • Similar to my thoughts on who is affected, this may be more relevant in places where fast fashion has more visible impacts, like pollution from factories or waste disposal. However, I may also want to think about where consumption is happening - is it the same place as where the environmental impacts are felt? How does that connect to my ethical question?
  • Why is this topic important? Why am I interested in it? Why should other people be interested in it?
    • Fast fashion is a big trend right now and it's important for all of us to know how our consumption habits are tied to our environment and climate change. I know I have shopped at brands that are considered fast fashion so I'd like to know how I can change my approach to shopping to have an overall better environmental impact. Other people should be interested because we often don't think about where our clothes come from or how they impact people in different parts of the world. We should all do something about the state of our climate and this may be an area where people can take real action in their everyday lives to do better.

5. Develop a Research Question

I've thought about my topic from a few different angles and considered how different pieces of it connect. My next step is to form a research question that will help guide my research. This question can always change, but it can be a helpful resource to point me in a specific direction. 

When I did the five W's, the question about WHO is impacted really stood out to me. I have a theory that the people experiencing the negative environmental consequences of fast fashion are not the same people who are consuming fast fashion and driving the demand for its production. I'd like to learn more about this, and I think it will also connect to my ethical stance to think about what we should do about this.

Some possible research questions for my topic:

  • What are the environmental impacts of fast fashion in different parts of the world and how do consumption habits contribute to those impacts?
  • Should people stop buying fast fashion in order to reduce the negative environmental impacts of its production?
  • How does Western consumption of fast fashion impact pollution and carbon emissions on a global scale?

6. Research and Be Flexible!

Now that I have my topic, I can start with my more in depth research. However, I may find information that contradicts what I originally thought, makes me think in a different way, or takes me down another path. It's important to stay flexible and open to changing my topic and my thoughts on it as I research. Research is all about exploration and opening your eyes to new ideas or new ways of thinking - go with it and enjoy the process!


Do What Works For You!

This guide has provided some tips and tricks for getting started with a research project, but it is just that - a guide. You can do all of the thing suggested here, some of them, or none of them. As you do more research and start to get more comfortable with the process, you will find what works for you. Keep an open mind and give yourself time to work through the research process. Pay attention to what sparks your creativity and thoughts and what doesn't work as well for you.

Maybe a mind map is the perfect way for you to visualize your topic, but you struggle to put your topic into the form of a research question. Maybe you are great at thinking about the who, what, when, where, and why of your topic, but mind mapping is just not helpful for you. Don't feel pressured to do a technique just because it works for someone else. Hopefully this guide and the resources linked give you some helpful suggestions to start, but if you ever get stuck you can always ask your professor or a librarian for help.

Overall, remember that research is an opportunity for you to learn and broaden your horizons. Approach the process with curiosity and an open mind and hopefully you will learn something new. The more you practice, the easier it will get!