Fast fashion is a term used to describe clothing that is typically trendy or knock-off, cheaply made, and quickly manufactured. The term “fast” comes from the speed at which the clothing goes from design to product, typically much faster than normal fashion brands so that the company can keep up with current trends.
Fast fashion is unique for a few reasons. Firstly, fast fashion is usually extremely cheap. Manufactures often cut corners by using cheap labor, bad materials, and stealing designs from other companies so they don’t have to pay designers. Secondly, due to the extreme cheapness and quick manufacturing deadlines, fast fashion is usually not very high quality, and is only designed to be usable for a few wears. Third, fast fashion follows current trends rather than focusing on long-term wearability, so clothes may come in and out of stock extremely quickly, encouraging more consumption.
Firstly, fast fashion is extremely damaging to the environment. Fashion production produces as much carbon emissions every year as the entirety of the European Union, approximately 10% of total global emissions. These emissions come from the processes used to dye the fabric, as well as yarn production, and fiber production needed to sustain material (Impakter). In addition to carbon emissions, fashion is the second largest consumer industry of water, requiring thousands of gallons in order to produce the fabric, dye it, wash it, and prepare it. In fact, one pair of jeans uses over 2,000 gallons of water to produce. Leftover water from the dying process is also often dumped into rivers and lakes, leading to an increased pollution of local freshwater (Impakter). Fast fashion also utilizes typically cheaper, synthetic materials like polyester that don’t degrade and increase microplastics in the water system. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, over 35% of microplastics in the water system come from synthetic fabrics.
Secondly, fast fashion also contributes to many societal issues. Globally, over 15% of people work in the fashion industry, while only 2% of those earn a living wage (BWSS). Fast fashion is so cheap because the labor of this work is often outsourced to countries with little worker protection. In addition, the vast majority of this labor is done by young women and children, who work long hours and hard shifts to earn well below the minimum wage.
These problems are not solely unique to fast fashion, but they are greatly exacerbated by it. Fast fashion encourages increased consumption, which means the average person will wear clothes less before tossing them. Right now, the average garment is only worn 7 times before it is tossed, a huge decrease from 30 years ago (BWSS). Fast fashion’s cheap clothes, trendy cycles, and bad materials encourage people to buy more than they need, exponentially increasing the amount of fashion produced, and the amount of labor needed to produce it.
Culturally, the need for fast fashion is driven by forces that pressure people to keep up with current trends or fear being left behind. One large (albeit slow) method to counteract fast fashion is to go against this trend. Don’t judge people for wearing the same clothes twice, or not following current trends. Prioritize long-wear pieces rather than trendy outfits that you can only wear a few times. Encourage friends and family to shop at sustainable or second hand clothing shops, and don’t stigmatize those who do.
Individually, however, there are also a large number of steps we can take. Firstly, the best idea is to not buy anything new at all. There are a multitude of sewing tutorials online that will help you revamp your wardrobe or fix pieces that have holes in them so you don’t have to throw them out. If you do have a piece that’s beyond fixing, however, consider cutting it up and turning it into towels, or using it as stuffing for a pillowcase. Although donating used clothes is a good idea, it should be a last resort as of the 16 million tons of clothes Americans donate each year, over 10 million of those ends up in landfills (Green America).
However, we all need new clothes eventually, so how can we sustainably buy? Firstly, a good option is to go to local thrift stores and shop there for used clothes you can find. Oftentimes it might take longer, but thrift stores will have the exact clothes you need. If you have no thrift stores near you, another good option is to try to shop online for used clothes. Thredup, Poshmark, Depop, Etsy, and Ebay all offer used clothing at various price points. If you can’t find what you need second hand, however, another good option is to shop for sustainable brands. These brands are often more expensive than other clothes because they are focused on paying employees a living wage and contracting sustainable materials, but per wear they can often be much cheaper than fast fashion brands because they sell materials that are much more durable. Do your research before buying from sustainable brands, however, as most brands often “greenwash” their clothes in order to appear environmentally friendly, while doing little to actually help the environment.
Fast Fashion’s Detrimental Effect on the Environment
“Fast Fashion’S Detrimental Effect On The Environment”. Impakter, 2020, https://impakter.com/fast-fashion-effect-on-the-environment/#:~:text=Among%20the%20environmental%20impacts%20of,amounts%20of%20water%20and%20energy. Accessed 18 Apr 2021.
The Problem with Fast Fashion | BWSS
“The Problem With Fast Fashion | BWSS”. BWSS, 2019, https://www.bwss.org/fastfashion/. Accessed 18 Apr 2021.
What Really Happens to Unwanted Clothes?
“What Really Happens To Unwanted Clothes?”. Green America, 2021, https://www.greenamerica.org/unraveling-fashion-industry/what-really-happens-unwanted-clothes. Accessed 18 Apr 2021.