Cheap clothes create an environmental mess.
Fast fashion has dominated the fashion industry for the last two decades, driving clothing to become ever cheaper and speeding up trend cycles- what was 'in' last week is 'out' the next. A business model that relies on cheap materials and unethical labour to carelessly turn out clothing collections overnight.
This has led to a change in consumer behaviour, shopping more frequently to stay 'on trend' and replace poor quality fast fashion that is made to look good right now but not to last.
Before we realised it fast fashion took over the fashion industry and has taken its toll on people and the planet ever since. However, its impact on and connection to climate change isn't always obvious, and It's easy to be distracted by the glamour of influencer hauls and celebrity endorsements. If you haven't thought much about fast fashion's impact learning more about the industry and its practices is the best way to become a more considered buyer.
Fast Fashion has long-term issues.
Oil is the most polluting industry on Earth. Fashion is the second.
Unsustainable fashion has become quicker and slashed production time by wilfully ignoring the environment for profit. Cheap and often toxic textile dyes used in clothing production bleed into waterways, disrupting ecosystems and polluting water.
Disposable clothes are tossed away at a disturbing rate creating massive amounts of textile waste -little of which is recycled. Beyond damaging our planet, the people who make fast fashion are rarely paid a fair wage and often work under unsafe conditions. Such conditions cost the lives of over 1000 workers in 2013 when Rana Plaza in Bangladesh collapsed.
5 Ongoing problems with fast fashion:
1. Air pollution makes it difficult to suspire, or breath easily.
The Fashion industry is responsible for up to 8% of global carbon emissions as a by-product of textile production, manufacturing, transporting and disposal. Synthetic fibre textiles like polyester require significantly more energy, often derived from coal and fossil fuels, to produce than most natural fibres like organic cotton. Worse yet many factories that produce these textiles are often situated in the heart of cities where smoke from burning coal and fossil fuel rapidly spreads throughout cities, seriously reducing air quality.
Even transporting materials, cloth and apparel around the world worsens fast fashion's impact. There is also growing concern about the environmental damage of return policies and trend driven marketing that promotes frequent ordering. Worryingly, if nothing is changed, fashion industry carbon emissions will surge more than 50 % by 2030.
2. Profit before people.
There is a very real human cost for cheap clothing, one that many fast fashion brands would rather obscure. Many brands aren't transparent about the working conditions, wages or welfare of their millions of garment workers worldwide. Despite the fashion industry employing roughly 1 in 6 people worldwide, fewer than 3% are paid a living wage.
Proportionally many of these workers are vulnerable women and young girls desperately trying to support their families so the consequences of these women being underpaid ripple across their families and communities on an unimaginable scale, perpetuating community-wide suffering and poverty.
It's also rare for brands to inspect the safety of factories, leading to harrowing tragedies like the Rana Plaza factory collapse in 2013, and they generally have no requirements for welfare contributing to high rates of physical, verbally and sexually abuse against women workers.
Cheap and disposable fashion demands that the people making these clothes are treated similarly and not as humans worthy of respect, kindness, and a living wage.
3. Landfills are overflowing with last year's trends.
Fast fashion encourages us to throw out clothes as soon as the next trend arrives, and as many of these garments are neither recyclable nor biodegradable, so they end up in our overspilling landfills. Millions of tonnes of plastic-filled clothes are added to landfills each year, Hong Kong alone sends 253 tonnes of textiles to landfills every day, forming towering monuments to waste. As the plastic in these clothes decomposes, colossal amounts of methane emissions release into the atmosphere hastening global warming.
The chemical by-products of this decomposition process even seep into the soil surrounding landfills, poisoning groundwater and reducing soil fertility. Over time this results in forest damage and ultimately deforestation. Worsening the cumulative impact of landfills on global warming as trees assist in clearing air pollutants, absorb CO2 and produce oxygen. The more plastic-based clothes we add to landfills, the closer we are to a global climate disaster
4. Clothing production pollutes waterways at every step.
Fast fashion impacts our waterways, from local rivers to vast oceans, on many levels. Natural fibres produced for fast fashion (including poorly regulated non-organic cotton) need to grow incredibly quickly, leading farmers to use pesticides and harsh agricultural chemicals to keep pace with demand. Such chemicals run off of fields contaminating soil and drinking water for surrounding local communities.
Additionally, the cheap and often harmful dyes used for trend-driven apparel spill over from factories, leaving colourful trails visible in local rivers and water sources. Often resulting in adverse health outcomes for people who live near factories and even alongside affected rivers.
These textiles and apparel are transported in oil-powered cargo ships, which create as many cancer-causing and asthma-triggering pollutants as over 50 million cars a year. Worst of all, mass-produced garments are amongst leading sources of microplastics in our ocean. Over 50,000 tonnes of microplastics each year end up in our oceans simply from washing polyester and acrylic clothing!
5. Cheap and disposable.
The inevitable result of rapid trend-driven consumption is clothes that feel more disposable and are thrown out and replaced more 'on trend' pieces rather than cherishing and repairing old favourites. Why take a cheap dress to a sewist to repair when it wouldn't cost much more to buy another? So instead of making fewer well-considered purchases that we'd love for many years, we make multiple 'good enough' ones.
This normalisation of cheap clothing prices has warped our perception of pricing, leading to many viewing alternatives like conscious clothing made of sustainable materials and by workers treated ethically and fairly, as too expensive.
For the sake of people and our planet, we need to re-evaluate how we buy clothes and their real value.
Learn about how you can become a more considered buyer so we can work together to make more sustainable decisions and reduce fast fashion's devastating impact.