What Can You Do?: Part 2 Fast Fashion

In our final blog post we are going to take some time to discuss a topic that might not seem obviously connected to waste issues, but is actually a major problem, and that is Fast Fashion. Fast fashion is a term used to describe the quick production and turnover of new fashion styles and trends, often at the expense of quality, sustainability, and ethics. This model of fast fashion has become increasingly popular in recent years, with many clothing companies releasing new styles on a weekly to even sometimes daily basis in order to keep up with the latest trends and consumer demand. These quickly changing trends, poor quality, and often dirt cheap prices encourage people to buy ever increasing amounts of clothing. In the past, people often had only a handful of outfits, and even as recently as the 90s people bought on average 20 garments a year. In 2021 that number was up to 68. This number doesn’t include all the returned or unsold stock that companies purposefully destroy rather than donate, which is estimated to be in the tens of billions of dollars each year. All that clothing has a real impact on the environment, and on people.

  • Water pollution: The production of clothing requires large amounts of water, and the toxic chemicals used in the production process often end up contaminating local water supplies.
  • Chemical pollution: The production of clothing involves the use of numerous chemicals, including dyes, pesticides, and other toxic substances. These chemicals can harm local ecosystems and wildlife, and also contribute to air and water pollution.
  • Waste and Landfill: Fast fashion encourages consumers to purchase clothing that is worn only a few times before being thrown away. The culture of free returns online are also a contributor. While you might think returned clothes are re-sold they are often just destroyed due to damage, being out of season, or simply pose a logistical problem. Similarly unsold stock, which is up to 30% of clothing produced, is destroyed and disposed of, all leading to a significant increase in textile waste. This waste often ends up in landfills, where it can release harmful chemicals into the environment. Many fabrics made today are plastic, or plastic blends which will last indefinitely in the environment, and shed microplastic fibers.a You may also think donating unwanted clothing solves this problem, but the vast majority of donated items are not sold and are landfilled or turned into rags. Much is also shipped overseas as aid, but there is so much excess clothing that even in these poverty stricken areas it is burned to make space. It is so bad some countries are looking to ban used clothing imports.
  • Energy consumption: The production of clothing requires a great deal of energy, including energy for growing the crops used to make fabric, energy for manufacturing, and energy for transportation. This energy consumption contributes to greenhouse gas emissions and climate change.
  • Deforestation: The production of crops like cotton and the harvesting of materials like leather also contribute to deforestation and the loss of wildlife habitat.
  • Human Rights: All clothing is made by people. Many people imagine that their clothes are manufactured by machines, but in reality all clothes are made at least in part by a person. Fast fashion can only maintain its cheap prices by abusing their workers. Workers in garment factories are most often severely underpaid, overworked, and are in extremely dangerous working conditions. Many are also children.

Choosing to buy fewer, higher quality items from ethical and sustainable retailers can go a long way to helping both people and planet.