If you walk into H&M, Zara, or Forever 21, you’re going to immediately get a pretty good idea of the fast fashion industry. The industry is one of companies and retailers that pump out on-trend clothes at ridiculously quick rates for ridiculously cheap prices.
These fast fashion clothes are able to be produced quickly and cheaply because of the sacrifices the companies make. Instead of making high-quality clothes that will last you years, they make poor quality clothes that will barely last you months (so you’ll have to come back to them and buy more). Instead of paying their workers a living wage, they make them work long hours and pay them next to nothing. Instead of being mindful of their environmental practices, they pollute, release CO2, and create monumental amounts of waste to no end.
The fast fashion industry has created a vicious clothing cycle that consumers buy into. Instead of buying a few high-quality, timeless pieces that will last them for years, consumers opt to buy a ton of low-quality, on-trend pieces that will only last a few months- either because the fabric gave out or because it’s no longer “in style”.
The cheap price point of fast fashion clothing is enabling this overconsumption of textiles. Most consumers no longer have to be mindful about their clothing purchases, because they can go to H&M and buy a dress for the price of a latte. We buy twice as much clothing as we did just 15 years ago, and this gap is only growing.
Between the growing demand of consumers for cheap, on-trend clothes and the irresponsible production practices of fast fashion companies, the industry has positioned itself as one of the largest polluting industries in the world- second only to oil and gas- and as an industry responsible for 5% of global carbon emissions, over 90 million tons of waste, and .6-1.7 million tons of ocean microplastic pollution.
The negative impacts of the industry don’t stop at its unprecedented environmental impact- the industry barely pays its workers. They exploit their labor force, which is 85% women, and force them to work long hours for below a living wage. These workers are often in unsafe working conditions- some have to deal with the health impacts of handling chemicals all day, and some of them have to work in buildings that are on the verge of collapse. A perfect example of this worker mistreatment was the Rana Plaza collapse in Bangladesh in 2013. Over 1800 garment factory workers were killed because management didn’t take workers’ fear of the building collapsing seriously- they were too focused on turning a profit.
As you can see, the magnitude of the impacts of the fast fashion industry is huge. The industry employs 40 million people, turns a profit of around $3 trillion, and is still growing. However, there is a lot of room for consumers to take charge and demand change.
For one, we can boycott fast fashion altogether. While the industry can increase workers’ wages, decrease chemical use and create textile recycling programs to lessen their social and environmental impact, the reality is that this model of unprecedented fast production and consumption of textiles is inherently unsustainable. The sustainable model of textiles is built off of producing and consuming less, and this is a model that will never work for the fast fashion industry. So, as consumers, we need to shift away from fast fashion and support companies that produce timeless pieces that won’t go out of style within a month (and that also utilize ethical, sustainable practices), or shift towards buying second hand if the pricepoint of the ethical and sustainable brands is too fiscally unattainable.
Consumers can also start valuing the clothing they have and be chronic outfit repeaters (a great label in my book). If we start loving and living with what we already have and stop our urge to revamp our wardrobe every couple of months, we can make a huge dent in the demand for fast fashion and clothing in general. However, in order for most people to start truly loving and valuing their clothes, there would have to be some major shifts within society. People will need to stop feeling as if their self worth comes from their appearance, and brands will need to stop marketing towards vulnerable young women in a way that makes them feel insecure if they don’t adopt the latest trends.
If you’re interested in learning more about the fast fashion industry, we recommend watching the documentary “The True Cost”.
is in charge of maintaining the Zero Waste Club community through regular video content. A keen videographer, she wants to spread the message of sustainability to the masses. She currently is living and working in London, and enjoys yoga and art in her free time.
is the blog manager for Zero Waste Club, combining her love for writing with her passion for all things environmental sustainability. She is currently a student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill where she is studying journalism, environmental studies, and food studies in hopes of building a career in environmental activism. You can find her on Instagram as @kaylaguilliams.