By: Emilie Baliozian
Fast fashion is a business model focused on rapidly and massively producing clothing in response to the latest trends. The idea is to replicate catwalk trends and high-fashion designs quickly and cheaply using low-quality materials to bring inexpensive styles to the public. Companies that practice fast fashion include Zara, H&M, Uniqlo, Urban Outfitters, Forever 21, ASOS, and Topshop (source).
According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, the fashion industry is responsible for 10% of global annual CO2 emissions – more than all international flights and maritime shipping combined (source). Emissions come from factories, transportation to retail outlets and consumers, and landfills once consumers discard the product.
The fashion industry is the second most water-intensive world, all the while billions lack an adequate supply of drinking water. It takes 2,700 liters of water to make a cotton t-shirt: enough drinking water for one person for 900 days (source). Fast fashion also contributes to water pollution: clothes made out of synthetic fibers (polyester, rayon, spandex) contain microplastics, and when they get washed or dumped in landfills, they release plastic into our waterways and end up in the stomachs of marine animals, including some that we eat.
Another major problem with fast fashion is textile waste. In 1960, the average American adult bought fewer than 25 items of clothing each year – today, it’s about 70 (source). Because the clothes are so cheap, people are more inclined to throw them away. In the US, the equivalent of one garbage truck of clothes is dumped in landfills or burned every second (source).
Finally, fast fashion is also notorious for unsafe and unethical labor conditions. To quickly and massively produce cheap clothing, companies often use sweatshops where laborers work in hazardous conditions (exposure to chemicals, no ventilation, unsafe buildings, abuse) for extremely low wages and long hours (14 to 16 hours a day, 7 days a week). Because the fashion industry requires low-skilled labor, child labor is widespread too (source).
Only about 2% of clothes sold in the US are actually made in the country (source). So, in the end, consumers purchase cheap and trendy outfits for a fraction of what they’re worth in terms of human and environmental costs. Behind that price tag, many hardly realize that are impoverished workers in developing countries working in dangerous conditions for minimal pay.
What you can do:
- Buy/sell vintage! Second-hand clothing is unique, less expensive, and better for the environment.
- Make informed shopping choices: you can educate yourself on the environmental footprint of clothing brands using this guide called GoodOnYou, which rates hundreds of fashion brands.
- Or better yet – boycott fast fashion. It might be difficult at first, but if you buy less but better quality clothing, you’ll find yourself loving and caring for them more. You always have the choice to resell them when you’re done loving them and buy other second-hand clothing to change up your wardrobe.
- Donate what you no longer wear! Click the "Donate" button to use the location finder from the Council for Textile Recycling to find a donation/recycling center near you.