Guest Essay: The Color Wheel of Life

By Anushka Kalyan
High school student in Granite Bay, CA
March 25, 2023

It’s that time of the year again – the sun is setting later and the flowers are blooming. Now that we’ve all hopefully settled into 2023, let’s recognize the true meaning of this new year. Oh no, not fulfilling gym resolutions or going vegan, but rather shifting our focus onto something called “Viva Magenta,” this year’s “Color of the Year” as deemed by Pantone, the color system mogul.

In 2023, using this shade of dark pink is supposedly the key to success in marketing, fashion, social media, and industry. I mean, we already have sneakers, wallpaper, and even cell phones in the marketplace sporting this color. It’s all “Viva Magenta!” But what happens when this color becomes “so last year”?

The market cycle of rapid consumerist trends is known as “fast fashion.” By mass replicating high-fashion designs and quickly making them accessible to the public at a low price, retail companies make money and we consumers wear trendy products. “Viva Magenta” was announced as the “Color of the Year” in December of 2022, and just a month later, new pants in this color were on the racks because of rapid market response.

However, just because trendy products are available to us in a short period of time, that doesn’t mean it’s all good. According to the UN Environment Program, fast fashion production and shipping account for 20 percent of global wastewater and a significant amount of carbon emissions. They also highlight that fast fashion is responsible for more carbon emissions than all international flights and maritime shipping combined, worsened by the fact that this industry is responsible for massive human rights violations in outsourced production. Finally, according to, when a new Color of the Year is announced or big brand names release a new style, the average US citizen throws out 81.5 pounds of clothing each year, resulting in 92 million tons of landfill waste per year. That’s a lot of trash and many more years gone into breaking this waste down! This travesty can be avoided if consumers don’t give in to very fickle trends. As a society, we buy more and more, perpetuating a cycle of consumerist greed and massive production, to the detriment of humanity and our planet.

Ultimately, as a youth-written New York Times article so eloquently put it, it’s a privilege to fall into the trap of fast fashion. It’s a privilege to buy clothes for their aesthetics, rather than their utility. The fashion industry preys on this privilege, especially for members of my generation. We largely buy from the internet even in the post-pandemic period. This has led to the rise of hallmark fast fashion companies, such as SHEIN, H&M, and Forever 21, as they attempt to quickly please their consumers. My friends and I joke about the plastic, nylon, tacky quality of clothing at fast fashion stores, thinking who would ever wear lace-up metallic leggings, but the fact that these products exist serves as a reminder that companies are willing to compromise quality for mass production just to catch up with fickle trends.

There’s an interesting dichotomy presented by my generation’s actions. On one hand, we’re supposedly “the most environmentally woke generation,” using social media to our advantage to organize climate strikes and to advocate for… wooden toothbrushes…, but we can’t resist the urge to indulge in just a little more SHEIN, because what can I say, most of what they sell is cute! Clothing is almost exclusively the one thing uniquely defining ourselves and our lifestyles, and if a nice design presents itself at a relatively low price point, you bet we’re going to take it. Plus, yeah, yeah, human rights, but like, what’s the worst that can happen if I just get one dress. And oh my god, if I post a picture today wearing the same dress I wore in my last post, that’s Gen Z heresy! Ok, that seems like a lot of buying – let me try getting some “sustainable products” instead. Let me see what’s online… woah, I can’t buy this, it’s $50 for a regular cotton T-shirt!

This is an issue my generation contends with. I’ll leave it up to you to come to your own conclusion, but I don’t fully blame us. Adolescence is the time to figure out one’s identity — but when it meets fast fashion industry trends, it can be a dangerous bomb for the environment and human rights. Climate is different, meaning that responsibilities to address it typically fall upon the shoulders of older generations. Fast fashion however is an issue that my generation must fix, despite the fact that we have almost no control over it. To start, we can buy secondhand clothing from affordable small businesses and rent clothing to be worn once. These are modest steps, but they could lead to a world where Viva Magenta breaks away as a Color of the Year and joins the Colors of Time Immemorial. Until there’s a cooler name next business cycle. . .

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