What is Fast Fashion? How is the fast fashion industry violating human rights and contributing to climate change and other environmental issues? What are some alternatives to shopping fast fashion? In this post, I attempt to answer all of these questions.
What is Fast Fashion?
Once upon a time, the fashion industry was centered around the four seasons of summer, fall, winter, and spring, and designers would create clothing lines for each season months in advance. However, this began to change around the mid-twentieth century, when the fashion industry began mass producing clothes and lowering costs in order to keep up with quickly changing, nonseasonal fashion trends. The term “Fast Fashion” refers to this new fashion culture of mass production of lower quality, inexpensive clothing to meet ever-changing trends and demands. While fast fashion may seem convenient and inexpensive, its impacts on the environment and human health and rights are much more costly.
Fast Fashion & Human Rights
In order to mass produce clothes for cheaper, many fashion companies have moved manufacturing abroad. In fact, while before the 1960’s about 90% of clothes purchased in the US were also made here, this number is only around 3% today. To cut expenses, companies usually underpay their foreign workers and force them to work long hours in unsafe and unsanitary conditions. These conditions can lead to long term health problems such as respiratory problems from breathing in toxins and eye damage from poor lighting. On occasion, these conditions have also resulted in tragedy like in 2013 when 1,129 garment workers were killed in the collapse of a building in Dhaka, Bangladesh. These workers had been forced to continue working even after evacuation orders for the building were issued, and nothing was ever done about the incident. Fast fashion also connects with gender equity as 85% of exploited garment workers are women, many of them single mothers with little education trying to support their families. Lack of rules and regulations in garment factories has allowed for the exploitation of these women in other ways as well including sexual harassment.
Fast Fashion’s impact on the environment
Because brands need to produce clothing incredibly quickly to keep up with ever-changing fashion trends and demands, they often end up throwing away massive amounts of clothing due to overproduction or production mistakes such as missing buttons or clothing tears. Additionally, because the clothing produced is usually very low quality, it is often thrown away after only a few short years of use. In the US alone, an estimated 11 million tons of clothing is thrown away each year; this is a massive amount of non-biodegradable waste ending up in landfills or waterways (if irresponsibly disposed of) each year.
Many clothing brands such as H&M and Forever21, use a number of toxic chemicals and dyes in their clothing. These toxins pollute waterways in the foreign countries where they are produced and when they are washed and continue to leach into the atmosphere for many years after they are thrown away. It is also estimated that washing clothes releases around 500,000 tons of microfibers, usually polyester fibers which are found in roughly 60% of garments, into the ocean each year. This is the equivalent to 50 billion plastic bottles!
The fashion industry is the second largest consumer of water. This immense amount of water consumption is largely because cotton, an extremely water-intensive plant, is used in the production of a majority of clothing items. The fashion industry is also responsible for 20% of all industrial water pollution worldwide. Aside from the previously-talked-about microplastics and other toxins that are released when garments are washed, much of this pollution comes from the dumping of leftover dyes containing a variety of chemicals and pollutants in streams, ditches, and other waterways.
The carbon footprint of the fast fashion industry from producing, transporting, and disposing of clothing, is massive. In fact, the fashion industry is responsible for 10% of global emissions, more than international flights and maritime shipping combined. If fashion trends do not change, this percentage could reach as high as 26% by 2050. If we hope to combat climate change by drastically reducing our carbon emissions, some serious changes will need to be made in the fashion industry.
Combating the Fast Fashion Crisis
Fast fashion is getting out of hand with clothing production roughly doubling since 2000 and people buying and disposing of more garments each year. So how can we combat this crisis? The biggest thing you can do is stop supporting fast fashion industries and instead support “slow fashion,” usually smaller brands that are mindful of labor rights, manufacturing, and their environmental impact, using natural materials and making durable, long-lasting garments. (See below for some good slow fashion brands.) Unfortunately, many slow fashion brands are more expensive because of their commitment to paying fair wages and creating high quality clothing, so two other, less expensive alternatives to fast fashion are thrift shopping and buying upcycled clothing (like from depop.)
A few other ways you can help? Don’t throw away old clothes! Repurpose them or donate them to a local thrift store instead. And lastly, spread the word about fast fashion! Many people (like myself up until a few years ago,) know very little about the environmental impacts of fast fashion. Getting the word out to everyone about this crisis will be essential if we hope to reform the fashion industry and curb global greenhouse gas emissions.
Some of the Worst Fast Fashion Brands To Avoid
~ Urban Outfitters
~ Pretty Little Thing
~ Victoria’s Secret
~ Romwe, Shein, & Wish
+ Many more! So make sure to do some of your own research before shopping :)
Some of the Best Slow Fashion Brands To Support
~ Hanky Panky (great Victoria’s Secret Alternative!)
~ People Tree
~ Amour Vert
~ Ref Jeans
~ Girlfriend Collective
~ Happy Earth
+ Lots More!
“The fashion industry emits more carbon than international flights and maritime shipping combined. Here are the biggest ways it impacts the planet.” Business Insider, Last modified October 21, 2019. https://www.businessinsider.com/fast-fashion-environmental-impact-pollution-emissions-waste-water-2019-10#fashion-causes-water-pollution-problems-too-textile-dyeing-is-the-worlds-second-largest-polluter-of-water-since-the-water-leftover-from-the-dyeing-process-is-often-dumped-into-ditches-streams-or-rivers-19
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