Fast fashion has been growing massively over the past 20 years. It's now a global phenomenon. Fast fashion stores can be found everywhere in the world. And consumers' demand for new trendy and affordable clothing keeps rising.
Fast fashion is a bad thing because it has a disastrous social and environmental impact. It creates massive amounts of pollution, waste, and greenhouse gases. It consumes lots of natural resources, water, and energy. And it's responsible for the exploitation and death of people and animals.
Fast fashion encourages consumers to buy more clothes and view them as disposable commodities. Consumers wear fast fashion items only a few times before replacing them with new trends almost immediately.
Traditionally, fashion used to be slower and expensive. Most fashion houses made created new collections 2 to 4 times per year. Today's fast fashion brands and retailers design, produce and sell new styles every week.
The overproduction and overconsumption of cheaply made clothing make the fashion industry the second-largest polluter globally. It's now time for consumers to rethink their fashion addiction and for brands to take massive action toward sustainability.
Here is why fast fashion is a bad thing.
Fast fashion and textile waste
Fashion is one of the biggest industries in the world. It's very hard to imagine a world without any textile.
Fast fashion was created to answer consumers' demand for new stylish clothes inspired by runway shows available at an affordable price every week. It offers many advantages for consumers such as accessibility, low prices, and a large variety of styles.
Read up my article on the top 10 reasons why fast fashion is so popular to understand the industry's massive growth.
The textile and apparel industry is generating USD 2.5 trillion in global annual revenues. Clothing production has grown two times larger to meet consumers' demand over the last 15 years.
Fast fashion companies like Zara make more than 1 million garments every day. They often produce more clothes than they can sell. This causes textile waste to pile up at an alarming rate.
In the United States, Americans alone create 16.9 million tons of textile waste each year, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). That number is 10 times bigger than in 1960 and has doubled over the last 20 years.
Clothes and other textiles end up in landfills to decompose or be incinerated. Less than 1% of all textile waste is recycled to make new clothing, as reported by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation.
Waste releases toxic gases and carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. It contributes to global warming, air, land, and water pollution.
"Urgent action is needed to ensure that current material needs do not lead to the over-extraction of resources or the degradation of environmental resources, and should include policies that improve resource efficiency, reduce waste and mainstream sustainability practices across all sectors of the economy."
- United Nations Economic and Social Council, Progress Towards The Sustainable Development Goals (2019)
Pollution and water consumption
Apparel and textile products require a total of 100 billion cubic meters of water annually for farming and manufacturing processes such as bleaching and dyeing, as reported by the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE).
The fashion industry accounts for 20% of the world's wastewater, according to the World Bank. It's the second-largest polluter of clean water after agriculture globally.
Fast fashion has disastrous consequences for the planet, the people, and animals living on it. It isn't environmentally friendly. It's responsible for massive amounts of pollution and the destruction of ecosystems.
The mass production of conventional cotton is very wasteful and toxic. 30.3 million tons of cotton are produced each year globally, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).
Cotton farming consumes 4% of worldwide of nitrogen and phosphorous fertilizers, 16% of all insecticides, and 7% of all herbicides, as reported by the Global Fashion Agenda.
An alternative is to choose organic cotton. Read up my article on the case for organic cotton to find out about the dangers of regular cotton.
Fast fashion and global warming
The fashion industry accounts for 8% of all greenhouse gas emissions worldwide, as reported by the Fashion Transparency Index.
It releases 1.7 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere each year. That number is expected to increase by 50% by 2030 if the trend continues.
Climate change has already cost the United States more than USD 350 billion. If we don't act now and drive change, that number will be USD 35 billion a year by 2050.
Read up my article on the fashion industry's catastrophic contribution to climate change to learn more about how it affects the planet.
Fast fashion has a huge economic impact and is the major contributor to growth in the fashion industry. It has changed the way we produce and consume clothes forever.
But fast fashion is a bad thing. It's very damaging to the environment. McKinsey estimated in 2016 that carbon emissions will rise by 77%, and water consumption by 20% from 2015 to 2025.
The fast fashion industry promotes and profits from pollution, exploitation, and inequalities. The overproduction and overconsumption of cheaply made clothing are major issues.
We have to rethink the whole system of fashion, the way we produce and consume our clothes. It's now more important than ever to lower its impact on the planet, the people, and the animals living on it.
Fast fashion ethical issues
The textile and apparel industry employs 300 million people around the world, many of them in low-income countries.
Fast fashion offers jobs to underserved populations but exploits and abuses them to keep production costs low. Low wages, long working hours, unsafe conditions, and physical assaults are very common in the industry.
Many fast fashion brands and retailers use child labor and modern slavery in their cotton farms and garment factories, particularly in Asian developing countries such as Bangladesh, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, and The Philippines.
Inhumane manufacturing practices and human rights violations are being abolished but many sweatshops manage to run illegally. Manufacturers force employees to do crazy amounts of work and drive them to suicide.
To learn more about how farmers and workers are poorly treated, check out my list of fashion brands that still use sweatshops.
The massive use of hazardous chemicals in farming and clothing manufacturing endangers human health and ecosystems. The processing, dyeing, treatment, and finishing of garments are very chemically intensive and dirty.
People exposed to toxic chemicals are subject to life-threatening health problems. Pesticide poisoning results in an excess of 250,000 deaths each year, as estimated by the World Health Organization (WHO).
If you want to avoid supporting companies that use unethical practices to make clothing, follow my guide on how to check if a fashion brand is ethical.
Fast fashion is also a bad thing because it kills wildlife and puts endangered species at risk. It causes the mass trapping, farming, and skinning of billions of animals every year.
Animals such as sheep, cows, goats, minks, pigs, birds, rabbits, cats, and dogs suffer immense pain and are often skinned alive to make wool, leather, fur, silk, and down. They live in poor conditions and often die prematurely from exhaustion, diseases, starvation, dehydration, or injury.
Read up my article on how fast fashion affects animals to understand the cruelty of using animal products for fashion.
Fast fashion isn't sustainable
Fast fashion isn't ethical or sustainable. It has a catastrophic social and environmental impact. It's responsible for massive amounts of waste, greenhouse gas emissions, air, land, and water pollution.
Luckily, consumers have the power to drive change by making better purchasing decisions. We choose the clothes we buy and who we support with our money.
There are now many alternatives to fast fashion to be more sustainable with clothes. Read up my article on should we boycott fast fashion if you aren't convinced yet.
The green movement is booming as more consumers demand environmentally friendly products. But many fast fashion brands and retailers don't have the willingness or capacity to be more sustainable. Some companies are even greenwashing to appeal to conscious consumers.
To be more responsible with our clothing choices, we must change our shopping habits, boycott unethical brands, and switch to eco-friendly fashion.
Follow my complete guides on how to know if a store is a fast fashion one and how do I stop wearing fast fashion to transition to sustainable fashion.
About the Author: Alex Assoune
Alex Assoune (MS) is a global health and environmental advocate. He founded Panaprium to inspire others with conscious living, ethical, and sustainable fashion. Alex has worked in many countries to address social and environmental issues. He speaks three languages and holds two Master of Science degrees in Engineering from SIGMA and IFPEN schools.