Fashion shouldn’t cost us our Earth

Most of us are drawn towards nice clothes, good-looking shoes, and those perfectly-paired handbags that appear in stores almost every 2 weeks. And, sadly, most of us don’t understand the impact these are creating on our environment. So, let’s dig deeper today into what is the second-largest polluter in the world – the fast fashion industry. 

What is fast fashion?

Fast fashion is the mass production of cheap, low-quality clothing that is made to last only for 10-12 washes before it is thrown away. 

In the past couple of decades, the fashion industry has been producing 80 billion pieces of clothing every year. This has created a huge burden on the entire ecosystem. With the “trends” changing every couple of weeks, consumers feel obligated to buy new clothes while the workers have to produce more at a lower wage to keep the prices ridiculously low. And, to top it all, the production process pollutes our waterways and the clothes discarded are creating mountains of waste that are not biodegradable anytime soon.

Fast-changing trends

At its heart, the fast fashion business model relies on consumers endlessly buying more clothes. Brands tempt consumers by offering really low-priced garments and an ever-changing variety. 

New styles and low prices are not new techniques to attract customers. However, earlier brands would plan new styles many months, even years, in advance. Today, the fast fashion industry churns out an entirely new range every 2 weeks. 

Fast fashion brands often target young people who have been brought up in social media and influencer culture. Of course, fast fashion brands are not simply reacting to consumer demand, they are also creating it. 

Fast in, fast out

​​It’s estimated that the average item of clothing is worn just 14 times, and in 2019 The Guardian reported that one in three young women considered an item worn just once or twice to be old.

Moreover, most of the fast-fashion clothing is purposely not made to last. Due to demands for quick production and low prices, the quality of garments is so low that most of them fall apart after only being worn a handful of times.

As the consumers know the next trend is right around the corner and their clothes will soon fall out of fashion, they tend to lack the incentive to take care of their clothes. What’s also wrong here is that the majority of discarded items are neither recycled nor donated – they end up in a landfill.

Fast environmental impact

If it wasn’t evident till now, let’s make it abundantly clear that all of this comes with a huge environmental and societal cost. 

Let’s start with water. A byproduct from textile factories in countries that produce fast fashion items is untreated toxic wastewater. This textile waste contains substances like lead, mercury, and arsenic that are extremely harmful to aquatic and human life. In Bangladesh alone, 22,000 tons of toxic waste from tanneries goes straight into the waterways every year. Moreover, in our world where fresh water is already scarce, it can take up to 200 tons of fresh water to dye and finish just one ton of fabric. 

Next comes the materials used in the fast fashion industry. Microfibres are a key part of what’s wrong with the fashion industry. Microfibres are microplastics that come away from synthetic fabrics like polyester and nylon every time you wash your clothes. These are consumed by aquatic organisms, which are eaten by fish, which are eaten by us! Our clothes can take as long as 200 years to decompose, so our planet is getting polluted by more and more synthetic materials all the time.

Then, there are copious amounts of energy consumption. Producing, manufacturing, and transporting the millions of garments produced each year uses a lot of energy. The synthetic fibers that most of our clothes are made of are generated from fossil fuels.

Yet another thing that’s wrong with the fast fashion industry, is that it hurts our entire ecosystems. Chemicals used in the production of fabrics like cotton degrade the soil while wood-based fibers, like rayon and viscose, cause mass deforestation. This is displacing indigenous communities as well as harming the Earth. 

Human rights

This brings us to another extremely detrimental impact of the fast fashion industry. The working conditions of people in the fast fashion industry are inhumane.

From long working hours, and extremely low pay that is well below the living wage, to hazardous working conditions, workers in garment factories face a tough life. While consumers enjoy the accessibility and affordability of fast fashion, less than 2% of people who make clothes earn a living wage.

If you want to read more about the unethical humanitarian issues in this industry, Sustain Your Style has some really disturbing information from the use of child labour to the inability to form unions. 

How to stop supporting fast fashion

The first step in tackling this challenge is awareness – share this article with others in your life who are fashion-forward so that they can make informed choices. 

There are local brands that you can support instead of fast fashion brands. We do have our favorites on HappyLyfe. If you are more mindful of where your money is going, other brands will start paying attention too.

Once you buy a high-quality clothing item, take good care of it to help to reduce throwaway culture. When you can, buy second-hand or participate in local clothing swaps. It’s important to think about the circular economy when thinking of what you can change. 

While you think of not supporting fast fashion brands, also hold your favorite influencers accountable. Fast fashion relies on Instagram posts, with OOTDs, clothes hauls, and style challenges to promote its new lines. Many influencers create beautiful outfits from second-hand clothing or help you create a capsule wardrobe.

When you are going to buy your next item of clothing, just ask yourself who is paying the price for it – is it the workers? is it the environment? or, is it you!