The Dark Side of Coachella

Coachella has been in the spotlight for years for its enthusiastic festival, but behind all the glamorous outfits lies the dilemma of fast fashion.

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By Yile Tong

Over $500 billion is lost every year due to clothing under-utilization and lack of recycling. The yearly Coachella music festival in Indio, California, only contributes to this massive environmental and economical issue of unsustainability. Coachella, the most famous music and arts festival in the world, displays numerous musical artists and allows for the growth of lesser-known artists. This April, the two-week gathering allowed influencers and celebrities from all over the globe to attend and display hefty hauls of clothing to their populous following, furthering the current fast fashion crisis.

The last Coachella festival was in 2019, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. That year, over 150 thousand people from across the globe attended, and in 2018, 43 million people watched the Coachella live stream. Coachella creates 106 tons of waste per day, and since the event spans six days per year, it generates 636 tons of waste in total. Popular fast fashion brands, such as PrettyLittleThing and H&M, sponsor influencers to attend Coachella and wear their brand’s clothing, which in turn contributes to the overwhelming amount of waste produced. These infamous brands are known for their cheap-quality clothing and low costs, compelling consumers to buy items in high bulk and quickly throw them away once the clothing fad is over.

As social media becomes the norm for advertising, modern editing software can deceive purchasers to accumulate undesired clothing. Viewers can be immersed in the experience of Coachella from their electronics. However, digital software such as Photoshop and Facetune can also allow content creators and companies to edit their products, causing apparel to appear better digitally than in person. This facade often leads unsuspecting viewers to purchase the apparel, which may have color-enhancing features on the website and hidden pins on the model to make the fit more appealing. Once the clothing is received, a variety of size and fit conflicts arise due to advertising lies. If individuals do take the more environmentally friendly option and return it rather than tossing it directly into the dumpster, returns can still be shipped to landfills. It is estimated that retailers throw away approximately 40 percent of their returns, creating roughly five billion pounds of landfill waste per year. The false advertising performed by companies in an attempt to increase their revenue leads to increased waste in landfills that will require money to manage. Being acquainted with these techniques and keeping them in mind when browsing catalogs can lead to more responsible purchasing. Observing the materials, reviews, and price of an item can prevent a regretful purchase in the future. Furthermore, since it is the company’s responsibility to accurately represent a product, calling for brands to follow the steadily rising campaign of lessening the retouching of photos can reduce the rate at which clothes are discarded. Hudson Jeans has already started a campaign, #ShushTheBrush, to move away from its excessive retouching, setting an example for other brands to follow.

One of Coachella’s most popular fads is sequins, which can be extremely difficult to decompose if discarded irresponsibly. Sequins contain toxic chemicals that can sit in landfills for thousands of years, eventually leaching microplastics into water systems. Other textile materials that tend to be thrown into waste are animal-based and plant-based fibers, such as silk and cotton. Thousands of these accessories and outfits will be dumped into the landfill annually and left to pollute the earth after the publicity from Coachella has passed. To combat these pollution concerns, eco-friendly garments, such as biodegradable sequins, can be bought instead. For example, designer Elissa Brunato invented Bio Iridescent Sequin, a sequin that is compostable and completely made of cellulose, which is natural plant matter. Eco-friendly accessories can add glamor and reduce pollution, and will hopefully become an essential in future Coachella events. The move toward environmental consciousness is developing. Fast fashion brand H&M, which already labels itself as an eco-friendly brand, has taken the initiative to become more environmentally friendly by aiming to produce all its products from recycled or sustainably sourced materials by 2030.

Though the music festival is a massive income generator for clothing brands, economic problems can arise as a consequence. When half a million people fly to California each year for Coachella, clothing brands’ sales prices often skyrocket. However, after Coachella’s popularity fades until its reappearance next year for the new festival, these purchases are forgotten about and discarded for the upcoming fashion fad. Modern culture is always evolving around the concept of boldness and newness, both of which influence people to constantly purchase new clothes for that feeling of excitement. On average, each attendee at Coachella will spend around $200 to $400 for each outfit. This toxic purchasing cycle leads to not only the environmental problems that were discussed previously, but also economic hardships that result from constant purchases. As noted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average person spends about $161 on clothes per month, and the average American family spends roughly $1,800 on clothes annually. The amount of money spent on clothing for one outfit during Coachella is more than the amount the average person spends on clothing each month, further displaying the unethical consumption that Coachella generates. The economic conflicts that arise directly correlate with the environmental conflicts, as when more money is spent on clothing for Coachella, more waste is yielded. Though recycling clothes is a considerably more eco-friendly option compared to not recycling at all, it is still an energy-intensive process that requires time and finances. Meanwhile, wearing a fashion item repeatedly until the end of its life not only saves energy, but also decreases waste. Rewearing fashion items can help people save money and assist in lowering the rapidly increasing greenhouse gas emissions.

Despite the overwhelming crises that seem to arise from the assemblage of this music extravaganza, action can be taken to minimize the consequences. Recycling, rewearing, and reducing clothing purchases are all methods that can be utilized not only during Coachella, but year-round to continue to have a proactive mindset regarding the planet. Coachella should be held accountable for promoting this information, as it is one of the major music festivals in the world and the consequences can impact everyone. If all attendees do their part, future fashion carnivals can continue to be glamorous and thrilling while also adding a new, vital element of environmentalism.