What are the Harmful Effects of Fast Fashion?


Summer 2024

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The term fast fashion is gaining increasing popularity now more than ever before. It refers to cheaply mass-produced garments that are quickly pumped into retail stores to make sales and maximize trends. 

It is called fast fashion because of the rapidity, production, and distribution of garments, which allows retailers to get more products and lower the prices. The term fast fashion was first coined by the New York Times when the Spanish multi-national clothing chain Zara opened its first store in the 1990s in New York.

The fast fashion trend is by no means disappearing. Consumers around the world are addicted to fast fashion. When shopping in stores like Zara, Topshop, H&M, Forever21, and Shein, many do not realize that they are supporting a system that enslaves people.

According to a study, over 75 million factory garment workers make less than 2 percent of a living wage, many of them working in unethical labour practices. When you buy fast fashion from an outlet, you essentially support and advocate for a system that does not raise people out of poverty and give them choices and opportunities they did not have in life.

With fast fashion garments produced on an unprecedented scale, you might wonder where do they all end up after they are used?

How is Fast Fashion Destroying Our Planet?

Fast fashion is not meant to last. Many seasonal run-of-the-mill styles are made of synthetics derived from fossil fuels. When they end up in landfills, they usually do not decompose easily, not even in the sea or freshwater oceans. 

According to an article by Business Insider, mass-produced garments contribute to 10 percent of the total global carbon emissions. When textiles are dumped, they dry up water sources, pollute rivers and streams, and release up to 500,000 tons of microfibers into the ocean each year.

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change estimates that emissions from textile manufacturing are projected to rise to 60 percent by 2030. It takes time for the garments to decompose, and that can significantly impact the quality of the ocean’s water, contributing to environmental degradation. 

The fast fashion industry is one of the largest consumers of water. An article by Business Insider stated that it takes over 700 gallons of water to produce one shirt and over 2,000 gallons to produce a pair of jeans. 

Additionally, fibres like nylon, polyester, and acrylic take hundreds of years to biodegrade. A report by the International Union for Conservation of Nature estimates that 35 percent of all microplastics in the ocean come from laundering of synthetic textiles. 

Moreover, the process of turning fibres into textiles consumes a lot of energy and uses large amounts of petroleum, which has a harmful effect on the environment. The pesticides used to control pests and diseases and promote the growth of cotton present health risks for both farmers and the environment. 

The Social Impact of Fast Fashion

Fast fashion poses risks not only for the environment but also for our society. A report by the US Department of Labour found evidence of child labour in the fashion industry in many countries. The growing demand for massive production and profit often surpasses the welfare of humans. 

For example, in 2013, an eight-floor factory building in Bangladesh collapsed, killing 1,100 and injuring another 2,500. Developing countries are breeding grounds for cheap labour. Many of these countries rarely follow governmental regulations, often forcing people to work in cramped conditions.

To counteract the effects of fast fashion, many designers are choosing to include more materials like leather in their collections. Nevertheless, consumers have an important role to play as well. 

What Can You Do?

The demand for more fast fashion has led to an instant gratification trend, with consumers buying anything and everything and retailers keeping up with the need to deliver. A customer can place an online order and almost before they hang up the phone, have the item at their door.

When it comes to fast fashion, the earth pays a heavy price in comparison to the consumer. Buying quality materials and clothing costs more and is a luxury for many. That’s because sustainably made products are pricey. So, what can a consumer who wants to act responsibly do? Here are a few ways to take action and protect the planet.

Shop for Sustainable Brands

Sustainable clothes are often made from eco-friendly materials, which are softer and more durable. Many sustainable clothing brands use recycled materials to source their products. They also heed environmental policies and regulations. 

Focus on Quality

Fast fashion retailers often churn styles from cheap materials that don’t hold up. To fight the fast fashion trend, choose quality materials that last; although they are expensive, they live longer. 

Donate/recycle used clothes

When you have outgrown your favourite outfit, donate it and give it a second life. This is much better than having it end up in landfills, contributing to an increase in carbon emissions. 

Fashion brands have to cater to customers on an unprecedented scale. The fast fashion trend is here to stay. Nevertheless, the onus is on us as consumers to make responsible choices that work for us and the environment! 

Aaron Levinson | Staff Writer

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