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Fast Fashion – The Current State of this Environmental Disaster [2020 Update]

Fast fashion, putting the word “fast” in front of any, day-to-day part of life, can never mean a good thing. 

This is no exception. The environmental and human costs to produce clothing are staggering and frightening.

A business model designed to produce clothes with the least short-term costs and cheap labor to maximize profits. It only works in the short term.

If we don’t plan for the long term, the already devastating effects will worsen. 

Table Of Contents

What Is Considered Fast Fashion?

‘Fast Fashion,’  is a term describing “cheap, low-quality garments companies churn out at breakneck speeds to keep up with changing trends.” 

Fashion used to be seasonal Spring/Summer and Fall/Winter. Fast Fashion retail giants like Forever 21, Zara, and H&M brought new stock into stores every week. 

It created a trend where people believed you couldn’t be seen in the same outfit twice. It’s ended up being the ‘normal’ in many fashion retailers to have 52 “micro seasons” in the year. 

That’s new stock every month! 

By cutting the costs, they produce clothing that lasts not very long, falls apart, and goes to waste. The ethical side of these choices is unfair labor. 

People in developing countries work in horrific conditions, for low wages. With little to no welfare or benefit programs. 

What Is The Problem With Fast Fashion?

The negative impact this industry has on people who are the workers and the environment is shocking. 

Here are the staggering statistics:

  • One such tragedy that can be linked back to “Fast Fashion” was the horrific Rana Plaza collapse in Bangladesh in 2013. Where 1,134 people died, and over 2,500 were injured. The building contained clothing factories that manufactured items for many well-known fashion brands. (1)
  • The clothing industry creates about 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions. It consumes more energy than aviation and shipping combined, according to the United Nations Environment Program. (2)
  • $500 billion of value is lost every year due to clothing underutilization and lack of recycling (3)
  • Every second, one trash truck’s worth of textiles is either burned or sent to a landfill (4)
  • Textile dyeing is the second largest polluter of clean water globally, after agriculture. (5)
  • Polyester, a widely used fabric, shed microfibres when washed. It can easily pass into our waterways and then to our oceans. (6) 
  • Polyester is not biodegradable. Small creatures such as plankton eat the microfibers. Eventually they make their way up the food chain to fish and shellfish eaten by humans. (7)
  • The use of organic cotton represents less than 1 percent of the world’s total annual cotton crop. (8)
  • Increasing disposable income levels over recent generations means there is less need to “make do and mend.” It’s often cheaper and more convenient to buy new than have an item repaired (9) 
  • 35% of all microplastics in the ocean come from Clothes and Textiles (10)
  • 1.7 Billion Tonnes of CO2 annually is emitted by the Clothes and Textiles industry (11)
  • It takes 2,700 liters of water to produce a single t-shirt – almost enough for one person to drink for 900 days. (12)
  • The annual environmental impact of a single household’s clothing is equal to the amount of water it takes to fill 1,000 bathtubs. Also the carbon emissions from driving a car for 6,000 miles (13) 
  • The documentary “True Cost” (14) investigated the impacts of fast fashion on people and the environment. Here are some of the alarming facts it highlighted.
  • The fashion industry is the world’s second-largest polluter. Right behind the oil industry!
  • The world now consumes a staggering 80 billion pieces of clothing each year. This is up 400% from two decades ago.
  • One-in-six people work in the global fashion industry. A majority of these workers are women earning less than $3 per day.
  • 250,000 Indian cotton farmers have killed themselves in the last 15 years. Partly as a result of going into debt to buy genetically modified cotton seeds. Courtesy of Monsanto.
  • Only 10% of the clothes people donate to charity or thrift stores get sold. The rest end up in landfills or flooding markets in developing countries like Haiti. Where they are bought by the box and kill the local industry.

Reasons You Should Quit Fast Fashion Now

Yes, there are so many bad effects of this business model there’s almost too many to list, but… There is a reason so many shops at these stores.

The clothes these companies produce are cheap and look nice, after all, that’s why people buy them.

Don’t worry, quitting fast fashion isn’t too hard, and here are a few of the reasons you should.

  • They may be cheap in the long run, but buying one pair of expensive but good quality jeans will last you years. As opposed to say, five pairs of cheaper jeans, and the price will end up being more expensive than the one pair!
  • You support charities, sustainable efforts and workers are paid ethical and reasonable ways
  • The alternatives to these fast fashion stores are everywhere. From thrifting, second-hand stores, slow fashion companies both online and in a brick and mortar store.
  • You can also swap, borrow and get hand-me-downs from friends and family
  • You’ll save yourself money, and time, by having quality clothes that will last.

What Can Consumers Do?

To help the environment considering the type of fabric your clothing is made from is important. Unfortunately, it is not a clear cut case of choosing organic cotton, and your job is done.

Organic cotton is better in regards to fewer chemicals and pesticides being used. Still, cotton requires high amounts of water to produce it.

The environmental impact of commercial-scale dyeing of cotton is higher than that of dyeing polyester.

To make any textile, there are processes such as spinning, knitting, weaving, dyeing, sewing, and finishing that need to be completed. Transportation is also a consideration, which has different environmental impacts.

So what are the best fabrics to look out for? Recycled content is a great option. Tt reduces the pressure on natural resources and helps to reduce the growing problem of waste management.

For example, the outdoor wear brand, Patagonia, started using recycled plastic bottles to make their garments back in 1993. Patagonia uses recycled plastic to create their fleeces, shorts, and jackets.

They also offer a recycling option for their garments that can’t be repaired. A consumer can drop it off at a store. Rather than go into landfills, the company recycles and reuses elements of that garment.

There are some wonderful sustainable brands dedicated to reducing waste, providing opportunities for the less fortunate, and creating good clothing.

What Companies Are Fast Fashion?

Here is a list of some of the companies that are fast fashion. (19)

  • H&M
  • Uniqlo
  • Zara
  • Boohoo
  • Victoria’s Secret
  • Topshop
  • Stradivarius
  • Forever 21
  • GUESS
  • Urban Outfitters
  • Mango
  • HOT TOPIC

Is Forever 21 fast fashion? Yes, it is.

What Are Major Fashion Brands Doing To Make A Difference?

It is encouraging to see that some fashion companies are making changes on waste. Luxury fashion company Burberry used to destroy its unsold merchandise.

Getting rid of $38 million worth during its financial year ending in March 2018.

Investors questioned the practice. Soon afterward, the company announced it would stop destroying products. Instead, it donates or recycles the items and tries harder to make only as much as people will buy. (15)

In July 2018, giant fashion retailer; Zara announced sustainability targets. By 2025 it will use only sustainable fabrics for its clothing.

Renewable sources will power 80% of the energy consumed by their distribution centers, offices, and stores.

They will plan to transition to zero landfill waste, cutting out single-use plastics from all customer sales by 2023. (16) It will be interesting to see if they come good on these promises.

Another well-known brand, Adidas, is producing shoes from recycled plastic waste. While Hugo Boss recently released a vegan sneaker collection made from Pinatex. A by-product of pineapple leaves. (17)

There is hope for some of the major brands to slow their effects. Still, there are plenty of making a difference right now by using socially and ethically conscious practices.

Though it’s disheartening to see the devastating effects this causes, educating yourself is a start, but it isn’t enough. As consumers, we influence the market and have more power over the system than you might think.

Learning to sew to repair clothing, borrowing from a friend, or thrifting instead of going to the mall makes a difference. 

No matter how little, we all have to start somewhere in changing our consumption habits for the better. A step forward is a step forward.

Sources

(1) ‘Rana Plaza and Fast Fashion — What is it and why did it happen?’. Chelsea Webster, April 27, 2019 <https://medium.com/@chelseawebster_2492/rana-plaza-and-fast-fashion-50ad86d2b699>, Accessed 16 June 2020

(2) Climate Change – UN, <https://www.un.org/en/sections/issues-depth/climate-change/>, Accessed 16 June 2020

(3) & (4) (10), (11) ‘Changing Fashion’ <https://www.wwf.ch/sites/default/files/doc-2017-09/2017-09-WWF-Report-Changing_fashion_2017_EN.pdf>, Accessed 17 June 2020

(5) & (13) ‘Mass Production in the Fashion Industry: How quantity outweighs quality and leads to waste and financial loss, 3D Insider <https://3dinsider.optitex.com/fashion-quantity-outweighs-quality/>, Accessed 17 June 2020

(6) & (7) ‘Our clothes shed microfibres – here’s what we can do’ , Sienna Summers, February 2020 < https://www.fashionrevolution.org/our-clothes-shed-microfibres-heres-what-we-can-do/>, Accessed 17 June 2020

(8) About Organic Cotton < http://aboutorganiccotton.org/stats/>, Accessed 18 June 2020

(9) ‘The Environmental Cost Of Fast Fashion’, Patsy Perry, 8 January 2018, <https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/fashion/environment-costs-fast-fashion-pollution-waste-sustainability-a8139386.html> Accessed 17 June 2020

(12) ‘The Impact of a Cotton T-Shirt’, 2013, <https://www.worldwildlife.org/stories/the-impact-of-a-cotton-t-shirt>, Accessed 17 June 2020

(14) True Cost Documentary <https://truecostmovie.com/> Accessed 17 June 2020

(15) Burberry stops burning unsold goods and using real fur, 2018, <https://www.bbc.com/news/business-45430683>, Accessed 16 June 2020

(16) ‘What Zara’s Sustainability Efforts Could Mean For The Fashion Industry’, 2019, <https://www.teenvogue.com/story/what-zaras-sustainability-efforts-could-mean-for-the-fashion-industry>, Accessed 17 June 2020

(17) Slow Fashion, The Ultimate Guide To Sustainable & Ethical Fashion, 2019, <https://sloactive.com/slow-fashion-guide/>, Accessed 18 June 2020

(18) ‘A Complete List of 25 Fast Fashion Brands to Avoid and Why’’, <https://www.minimalismmadesimple.com/home/-fast-fashion-brands>, Accessed 18 June 2020

(19) ‘The environment and economy are paying the price for fast fashion — but there’s hope’, Jasmin Malik Chua, 12 September 2019, <https://www.vox.com/2019/9/12/20860620/fast-fashion-zara-hm-forever-21-boohoo-environment-cost>, Accessed 18 June 2020

About Jodie Morgan

Hi. I’m Jodie Morgan, owner and creator of Knit Like Granny. (Yes, I’m a real person :) ) Thanks for being here.

I created Knit Like Granny to help show 1,000,000 people the benefits of knitting & highlight alternatives to fast fashion.

I love knitting and have met so many other fabulous knitters through this site. I enjoy learning and helping others discover the joys of working with yarn.

Please say hello!

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