Cheap Thrills - An Argumentative Presentation


TEXT: Presentation title: ‘Cheap Thrills: The Price of Fast Fashion’ by Suzanne Roberts, Excelsior College.

Bargains are the norm! 

Parenting advice from Newsweek: “Steer your kids towards affordable stores like Old Navy and H&M, but don’t force them to buy knockoffs. These days, even preschoolers can spot a pair of fake Ugg boots… and may taunt classmates about them” (Springen, 2008, para. 1). 

American families are concerned about the cost of clothing and rely on discount stores and inexpensive brands to clothe their families.

So what’s the problem?

Cheap, disposable clothing (“fast fashion”) is perpetuating a corrupt labor system, unsustainable production practices, and a culture of mindless consumerism!

VISUAL: An image of a collapsed garment factory in Dhaka, Bangladesh in 2013.

TEXT: Is this a problem Western consumers have any control over? Can we help to fix the problem?

While American consumers may feel like there is nothing they can do to make a difference, we can take action! YES! We can help fix the problem. 

Consumers feel a moral twinge in connection to fashion but are also accustomed to unrestrained access to trendy, dirt cheap, essentially disposable clothes (Beard, 2008, p. 450).

The cheap thrill tends to win because a) everyone is doing it, b) it’s more fun, and c) it appears to be easier on the consumer’s budget. 

Owning fewer but better (i.e. longer-lasting and ethically made) items might be one step consumers can take away from irresponsible fashion. 

Behind the Scenes: Fast-Fashion Edition

“1/3 of a pound of pesticides… are used to make a simple cotton t-shirt” (Gershon, 2005, p. 56). Pesticides contain known carcinogens and also have nasty environmental consequences. 

Companies use terms like “ethical” and “fair trade” to mislead their consumers (Beard, 2008, p. 450). These same customers are all too willing to accept the deception, opting for immediate gratification and ease over the complicating reality of long-term impact. 

H&M: An Example

Fast-fashion brands, like H&M, design clothing meant to be worn for one season and then thrown away or donated. These practices put a strain on all stages of the production chain: farming, manufacturing, transportation, consumption, and disposal (Beard, 2008, p. 448). These brands claim to care about the ethics behind their clothes, but their efforts at change are typically limited to one stage of the supply chain and contain the kind of false advertising Beard (2008) references.

For example, H&M produced a collection in the spring of 2010 that merchandised as “eco,” but the collection contained GMO cotton (Dishman, 2013, para. 3). The collection did not address any other aspects of the supply chain, such as fair labor. Collections like this one are meant to be quick fixes to reassure consumers, but ultimately, they demonstrate that truly ethical clothing can’t be made at rock-bottom prices. 


If consumers support companies that produce clothing ethically, prices will eventually decrease as companies streamline practices (Gershon, 2005, p. 57). 

A culture that is too invested in possessing large quantities of cheap, disposable garments contributes to a system that exploits natural resources and human rights.