How can we encourage sustainability in fashion?

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What is fast fashion? 

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.

How is fast fashion different from other manufacturing? 

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. 

What is the problem with fast fashion?

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.

What can we do?

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. 


Works Cited

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.

8 Comments

8 comments

  1. Hi Mira,
    Do you have any favorite companies that use sustainable fashion in their business?

  2. Hi Mira!

    I really enjoyed reading about your project!

    The topic of fast fashion has gained a lot of awareness in recent years, yet I still don’t think we have seen a super big shift away from it. In fact, I feel like society is still pressuring people towards more trendy clothes. I personally am at fault here in addition to a lot of people, and I like to consider myself someone who likes the environment and wishes to protect it, yet I find it hard to totally ditch trendy clothes or simply not buy new clothes. I think that fast fashion stems from the social pressure of our modern-day life, a problem much bigger to fix. I definitely have been trying to shop at less fast fashion business or at least try my best to get every last wear out of my clothes, trying hard to not over-buy as well. I don’t think people think as much about the environment when it comes to fast fashion. Chea labor is clearly a big humanitarian issue when it comes to this topic, but I feel like I don’t hear as much about the natural resources that fast fashion businesses use.

    I am really glad I clicked on your page! I am going to be more aware of what is in my closet and truly make a conscious effort to do better!

  3. Hi Mira, I was very interested in your topic. I agree, I think that fast fashion is a very pressing issue. I like how detailed you were and the facts/statistics that you gave. I had no idea before how many gallons are used to produce jeans, “one pair of jeans uses over 2,000 gallons of water to produce”. That is insane! There are so many fashion stores now that use fast fashion and that contribute to global emissions like Brandy Melville, Forever 21, H&M, and Zara. I think the reason why so many teens, including myself, buy from these stores is that the clothing is inexpensive and looks nice. I think we need to educate ourselves on how these clothes are being manufactured and support small businesses instead of these corporations.

  4. Hi! I agree, fast fashion is a huge problem and people often buy fast fashion clothes without thinking twice about it. I’m guilty of buying into it too, but I’m not going to buy any fast fashion clothes again. It’s definitely hard as a teen with not a lot of money for clothes, but it’s important not to support this industry. I also want to thank you for educating me about what happens to donated clothes. I’ve never thought about the fact that the clothes I donate are probably going to become garbage, and I need to be more aware of that when decide to get rid of clothes. I can’t imagine putting clothing directly in the garbage bin, and the disconnect between donation centers and the landfill has led me to be ignorant about the waste I’m producing. I’m definitely going to try to thrift most of my clothing (I already do some), as well as try to repurpose some of the clothes I plan on donating.

  5. Hi Mira! I really enjoyed reading about your project. Especially the way you structured your website, giving us information about the meaning of fast fashion and leading that with giving us some options that could replace our fast fashion purchasing. With that, while reading your site I was thinking about how a lot of the issues with fast fashion and why it is so used is because of standards society place upon us. Sometimes it is said that reusing clothes is considered tacky or embarrassing, when actually, clothes are specifically made to be reused! Great job on your project and I will definitely be looking out to make more sustainable purchases while shopping.

  6. Hey Mira! I feel strongly about this topic so thank you for talking about it and bringing awareness to the subject! I’ve been taught that fast fashion negatively impacted the environment and their workers, but I didn’t know to what extent. It’s crazy to think that 35% of all micro plastics come from synthetic fabrics, and that 98% of workers are paid less than minimum wage. I try to shop second hand, and I always had the idea that it was the perfect solution, but now that I know how many millions of clothes are thrown away each year, it encourages me to hand make clothes. There are both environmental and global inequality factors and you picked a perfect topic that goes into both these categories.

  7. Hi Mira! I thought you did a really good job on your project! This problem is so relevant right now and I really like how you organized your project in explaining your topic and giving background, then explaining why this is an issue, and finally adding a call to action and what we can do to help. Great job!

  8. Hey Mira! This is really cool and intriguing. This problem is so important in order to be a better society. You do well explaining everything and present well. Well done!

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