By Chloe Zastrow
Fast fashion is everywhere. Fast fashion companies are the low-cost clothing companies that mimic luxury brands and current fashion trends. These brands include but are not limited to: H&M, Topshop, Uniqlo, Forever 21, Urban Outfitters, Fashion Nova, Gap, etc. While these brands are everywhere, extremely convenient, and cheap, there is much bigger price you pay than the one that comes up at checkout. Fast fashion is responsible for environmental degradation and humanitarian crises, and they should not be supported until significant changes have been made.
An Environmental Nightmare
Fast Fashion is one of the main industries contributing to carbon emissions, which causes global warming. According to the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), the fast fashion industry accounts for about one-fifth of wastewater, and approximately 10% of global gas emissions – and this doesn’t include shipping across the world1. This translates to about 15 million tons of carbon emissions annually2. Fast fashion also encourages consumers to follow trends, which means disposing of clothing seasonally. While many consumers donate their clothing or send it to recycle, 85% of textile is not recycled and textile is about 5% of all landfill space, according to the Council for Textile Recycling3. Due to most fast fashion clothing being made of non-biodegradable materials, these clothes do not break down and instead produce harmful carbon emissions. Fast fashion is also an extremely water-intensive product, and it takes about 2,700 liters of water to produce one cotton t-shirt, according to WWF4.
A Humanity Issue
Fast fashion is also causing a humanitarian crisis in countries that produce their products. Fast fashion companies use sweatshops to make their clothing cheap, which keeps the price the consumer pays cheap. Sweatshops are warehouses where the workers work for extremely low wages, and the workplace poses health and safety risks and even child labor5. In the United States, a sweatshop is any company that violates 2 or more labor laws5. These sweatshops are usually in Bangladesh, Cambodia, South Asia, and Southeast Asia. A study found that if companies paid their production workers living wages, the consumer would only pay about 1.8% more, where consumers are willing to spend 15% more on sustainable brands5. Due to a drop in sales due to COVID-19, many fast fashion companies are not paying their workers their already extremely low wages6. In Bangladesh, more than 2 million workers were furloughed without pay, and many other countries are feeling similar affects6. This makes these workers more susceptible to starvation, homelessness, and disease.
As a consumer, it is hard to fathom what you can do to affect this billion-dollar industry. Mainly as a consumer you have the choice of who you support with your money. There are many options for you, whether you have the money to spend on other brands, or you have little to no money. First, you can financially support sustainable brands including Able, Everlane, Pact, Tradlands, Kotn, Amour Vert, Alternative Apparel, Rei, Boden, Girlfriend Collective, Vivo Barefoot, Thought, People Tree, Outdoor Voices, Taylor Stitch, Reformation, and Conscious step7. These brands cover a wide price range, most of which being generally affordable. Another option is to thrift, whether that is from your local thrift store, or on Depop. If you cannot use those options for whatever reasons, you can also contact your representatives to make action towards these or organize marches or protests against the industry. Some demands you could make is to have fast fashion companies to adopt more eco-friendly design strategies, such as zero-waste pattern cutting, minimal seam construction, craft preservation, creating multifunctional patterns, etc8. You can also protest companies for not paying their workers a living wage, or to provide better conditions, or to stop child labor. Finally, the last way you can help is to simply reduce how much you consume by repairing clothes with minor wear and tear instead of throwing them away, and up cycling old t-shirts into rags for cleaning or even towels for your hair.
1. UN Alliance aims to put fashion on path to sustainability. (n.d.). Retrieved August 22, 2020, from https://www.unece.org/info/media/presscurrent-press-h/forestry-and-timber/2018/un-alliance-aims-to-put-fashion-on-path-to-sustainability/doc.html
2. Constable, H. (2019, February 15). Your brand new returns end up in landfill. Retrieved August 22, 2020, from https://www.bbcearth.com/blog/?article=your-brand-new-returns-end-up-in-landfill%2F
3. Council for Textile Recycling. (n.d.). Retrieved August 22, 2020, from http://www.weardonaterecycle.org/
4. The Impact of a Cotton T-Shirt. (2013, January 16). Retrieved August 22, 2020, from https://www.worldwildlife.org/stories/the-impact-of-a-cotton-t-shirt
5. 11 Facts About Sweatshops. (n.d.). Retrieved August 22, 2020, from https://www.dosomething.org/us/facts/11-facts-about-sweatshops
6. 'Millions of garment workers face destitution as fashion brands. (n.d.). Retrieved August 22, 2020, from https://www.ethicalcorp.com/millions-garment-workers-face-destitution-fashion-brands-cancel-order
7. 17 Gorgeous & Affordable Eco-Friendly Clothing Brands. (2020, August 04). Retrieved August 22, 2020, from https://paulinaontheroad.com/affordable-eco-friendly-clothing-brands/
8. FutureLearn. (n.d.). Sustainable design techniques. Retrieved August 22, 2020, from https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/sustainable-fashion/0/steps/13558