Fast fashion is a global phenomenon that has been rapidly growing over the past 20 years. It has disastrous economic, social, and environmental impacts that the industry doesn't want you to know.
Many facts about fast fashion are very shocking, and only a few people are aware of how awful this business model is. Our fast fashion addiction is very damaging to people, ecosystems, and the environment.
Fast fashion allows consumers to purchase new, cheap, and fashionable clothes in high-street stores every week. It answers consumers' rising demand for trendy and affordable clothes.
But the rise of fast fashion made consumers consider clothing as a disposable commodity. About 52 micro-seasons have replaced the traditional 2 to 4 seasons for new collections.
The overconsumption of cheap clothing is responsible for enormous amounts of textile waste, pollution, deforestation, and greenhouse gas emissions.
Thankfully, you have the power to drive change in the fast fashion industry. You vote with your money and by changing your shopping habits, boycotting unethical fashion brands, and switching to conscious clothing.
To help you make mindful purchasing decisions as an informed consumer, here are ugly facts that the fast fashion industry doesn't want you to know.
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1. Fast fashion chains make 1 million garments daily.
Fast-fashion giants push disposable and cheap trendy clothing to high-street stores every week. Huge clothing companies create more than 1 million garments every day, according to Greenpeace.
"Zara alone churns out 850 million clothing items a year. You can imagine the size of the toxic footprint it has left on this planet, particularly in developing countries like China where many of its products are made."
- Li Yifang, Greenpeace Activist
2. Online retailers list 600 new styles weekly.
The rise of influencer marketing, social media, and eCommerce allowed online retailers to grow massively. Fashion Nova is one of the most iconic examples of online retail success.
It's CEO, Richard Saghian, leveraged the popularity of visual platforms like Instagram to develop relationships and turn fast fashion into ultra-fast fashion, producing 600 new styles every week, according to WWD.
3. Clothes are 7 times cheaper than 70 years ago.
Fast fashion made new garments more affordable than ever. It's undeniable that clothing has become cheaper.
Consumers can now buy the latest trends displayed at events like the Fashion Week in Paris, London, Milan, and New York for a fraction of the price.
A woman would spend $9 ($72 in today’s dollars) in the mid-1900s to order a ready-made dress from Sears. Today, that same dress costs only $12, as reported by Vox.
4. The industry employs 300 million people.
The apparel and footwear industry employs more than 300 million farmers and garment factory workers around the world, most of them in low-income countries, where labor is shockingly cheap, as reported by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation.
Unfortunately, sweatshop-like working conditions still exist in many textile and garment manufactures. Fast fashion chains produce many of their clothes in East Asian countries where human rights and labor laws violations happen every day.
Governments in many developing countries such as Bangladesh, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, and The Philippines have been trying to abolish human rights violations, but some sweatshops manage to run illegally.
5. Labor rights violations still occur every day in the US.
It's hard to believe, but many garment factories run with sweatshop-like working conditions, even in the United States. The Labor Department investigates new allegations of wage violations at sewing contractors in Los Angeles every year.
Labor rights violations are still occurring every day in the United States. Garments workers don't receive fair wages as often as they should in Los Angeles, as seen in Remake's film "Made in America".
6. 85% of factories violate labor laws in LA.
The U.S. Department of Labor reports that in Los Angeles, more than 50,000 mostly immigrant women work in clothing production. And 85% of factories violate labor laws, federal wage, and hour laws.
"Brands that proclaim their produces are 'Made in America' may present the idea of ethically-made clothing, but the truth is that garments factories in Los Angeles can still be equated to sweatshop-like environments, with products being made for less than minimum wage under dangerous working conditions."
- Alison Morse, award-winning author, and top industry thought leader
7. The world consumes over 80 billion garments annually.
The fast fashion industry has a massive impact on people, animals, and the planet. It's one of the largest polluters globally and produces enormous amounts of textile waste.
As exposed in The True Cost documentary film, the world now consumes about 80 billion new pieces of clothing every year. It represents 400% more than the amount we consumed just two decades ago.
8. Forced overtime frequently arises in garment manufactures.
Workers hardly receive protection in the fashion world. Research in numerous factories reveals many cases of verbal misconduct, forced overtime, dirty drinking water, and pressure not to use the bathroom.
The Human Rights Watch (HRW) 2015 report exposes consistent social and labor issues in East Asian countries like Bangladesh. There, clothing manufacturing conditions are typically terrible.
Workers sometimes don't even receive their wages after working for more than 100 hours every week, according to the global labor and social organization Asia Floor Wage Alliance.
9. Cotton farming uses 16% of all insecticides.
Cotton is the most used natural fiber in the global fast fashion industry. But cotton farming requires tons of chemicals that pollute nearby environments.
It utilizes 4% of worldwide of nitrogen and phosphorous fertilizers, 16% of all insecticides, and 7% of all herbicides, as reported by the Global Fashion Agenda.
10. 1 kg of cotton requires 3 kg of chemicals.
The massive use of hazardous chemicals for fast fashion endangers human health and ecosystems.
Unfortunately, up to 3 kilograms of chemicals are required to produce 1 kilogram of raw cotton fibers, as reported by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation.
11. Fast fashion uses 8,000 synthetic chemicals.
Textile and apparel manufacturing involves chemical-intensive processes such as farming, washing, bleaching, dying, and treatment. And the fast fashion industry uses about 8,000 synthetic chemicals, as reported by The Guardian.
"An estimated 8,000 synthetic chemicals are used throughout the world to turn raw materials into textiles, many of which will be released into freshwater sources. Worse: the industry is rampant with players that don't respect the citizen's right to safe water."
- Pamela Ravasio, Corporate Responsibility Executive and Shirahime Founder
12. 60% of today's clothing contains polyester.
The fast fashion industry widely uses polyester to produce cheap clothes. About 60% of today's clothing contains polyester, as reported by Greenpeace.
Unfortunately, polyester contributes to plastic waste and microfiber pollution. It has a disastrous impact not only on the environment but also on people and animals.
13. 8 million tons of plastic land in the ocean annually.
Global plastic production exceeds 300 million tons every year, as reported by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
And 8 million tons of plastic are dumped into the ocean. Only less than 10% of all plastic is recycled.
14. 0.5 million tons of microfibers harm marine wildlife every year.
Half a million tons of plastic microfibers are dumped into the ocean every year, the equivalent of 50 billion plastic bottles. Plastic waste is deceptive for wildlife, who mistake it for food.
The equivalent of one garbage truck of plastic is leaking into our oceans every minute of every day of the year, according to the report The New Plastic Economy by World Economic Forum, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, and McKinsey and Company.
People working in garment factories in the fast fashion industry are particularly exposed to harmful pollutants contained in plastic microfibers by drinking polluted water or eating contaminated seafood.
15. Fast fashion generates 10% of all carbon emissions.
The global fast fashion industry is responsible for 10% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, according to the United Nations.
It adds massively to the amount of carbon dioxide and methane present in the atmosphere that accelerates global warming. Fast fashion has a catastrophic contribution to climate change.
16. Fast fashion generates USD 2.5 trillion.
The global fast fashion industry is one of the biggest industries in the world. It's generating USD 2.5 trillion in global annual revenues, as reported by McKinsey.
Fashion is a rapidly growing industry, and fast fashion is the major contributor to its growth. Buying clothing has become easy, cheaper, and quicker.
17. Clothing production has doubled in 15 years.
Apparel production has doubled globally to meet consumers' demand over the last 15 years, as reported by Fee.
The apparel market is growing faster than the global economy. And fast fashion has changed the industry and the economy.
18. Fast fashion emits 1.2 billion tons of CO2 annually.
The global apparel and footwear industry emit greenhouse gas emissions almost as much as the total for the whole of Europe, as reported by the 2019 Fashion Transparency Index.
The Ellen MacArthur Foundation estimated in 2017 that the global fashion industry emits 1.2 billion tons of greenhouse gases each year, which is more than all international flights and maritime shipping combined.
19. Fast fashion emissions will grow by 50% by 2030.
The fast fashion industry’s greenhouse gas emissions will grow more than 50% by 2030 if the trend continues, increasing the contribution to climate change massively, as reported by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation.
20. The annual production of polyester exceeds 55 million tons.
Polyester is the most used fabric in the fast fashion industry. Global polyester fiber production reached 55 million tons in 2018, as reported by Oerlikon.
Polyester represents 52% of global fiber production. But synthetic materials like polyester harm the environment.
21. Cotton global production reached 30.3 million tons.
The mass production of conventional cotton is very wasteful and toxic. And 30.3 million tons of cotton are produced each year globally, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).
22. Americans throw away 70 pounds of clothing every year.
The overproduction and overconsumption of cheaply made clothing cause a lot of harm to the planet, people, and animals living on it.
And the average American throws away 70 pounds of clothing every year, according to Euromonitor. It's time to rethink how we produce and consume clothes.
23. The US creates 16.9 million tons of textile waste annually.
The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reveals that more than 16.9 million tons of used textile wastes are generated every year in the United States.
That number is ten times bigger than in 1960 and has doubled over the last 20 years. Unfortunately, only 15.2% of all textiles were recycled in the U.S. in 2017.
And it would be possible to recycle up to 95% of all textiles that end up in landfills every year, according to the Secondary Materials and Recycled Textiles (SMART) Association.
24. Less than 1% of all textile waste is recycled.
Most clothes and other textiles end up in landfills to decompose or be incinerated globally. Less than 1% of all textile waste is recycled to make new clothing, as reported by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation.
Textile waste generated by fast fashion releases toxic gases and carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. It contributes to global warming, air, land, and water pollution.
25. Fast fashion accounts for 20% of the world's wastewater.
According to the World Bank, fast fashion is the second-largest polluter of clean water after agriculture globally. The fashion industry accounts for 17-20% of the world's wastewater.
And the United Nations reports that only 20% of globally produced wastewater receives proper treatment.
26. Clothes require 100 billion cubic meters of water annually.
Apparel and textile products require a total of 100 billion cubic meters of water annually for farming and manufacturing processes, as reported by the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE).
Industrial water pollution mainly comes from fabric manufacturing processes such as washing, bleaching, dyeing, and treatment.
27. Fast fashion water consumption will increase by 20% by 2025.
Fast fashion contributes to the industry's growth but is 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.
28. 1 kg of cotton requires 20,000 liters of water.
According to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), 20,000 liters of water are needed to produce one kilogram of cotton, the equivalent of one T-shirt and one pair of jeans.
29. The throwaway culture costs USD 500 billion annually.
The Ellen MacArthur Foundation estimated in 2017 that USD 500 billion is lost each year due to fast fashion, overconsumption habits, and throwaway culture.
30. Fast fashion exploits billions of animals every year.
Intensive animal farming exploits billions of animals every year to make animal-derived products used for fast fashion, such as wool, leather, fur, silk, and down feathers.
The global textile and apparel industry is cruel and unethical. The mass-farming of animals to create clothes is unnecessary. Animal cruelty has no place in modern society.
31. Methane warms the planet 80 times more than CO2.
Intensive animal farming for leather, fur, and wool creates lots of methane, a very potent greenhouse gas, and by-products of animals' digestion.
Over 20 years, one kilogram of methane warms the planet as much as 80 times more than one kilogram of carbon dioxide, according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
32. Agricultural production accounts for 80% of deforestation.
80% of global deforestation is a result of agricultural production, as reported by Greenpeace.
Animal agriculture, livestock, and animal feed are a significant driver of deforestation and are also responsible for approximately 60% of direct global greenhouse gas emissions.
33. 80% of all clothes end up in landfills.
More than 80% of all clothing produced ends up in landfills to decompose or be incinerated globally, as reported by the Global Fashion Agenda.
During decomposition or when burning, clothing emits large quantities of carbon and toxic gases into the Earth's atmosphere, contributing massively to pollution and global warming.
34. 88% of Americans prefer shopping for fast fashion.
The 2019 study from Economic University in Bratislava reveals that in the United-States, 88% of consumers prefer shopping for fast fashion, followed by consumers in Europe (46%), India (25%), and China (21%).
Fast fashion offers numerous advantages to brands, retailers, and consumers. The most popular fast-fashion retailers in the world are Uniqlo (21%), H&M (18%), and Zara (18%).
35. Slow fashion will only reach USD 8.25 billion by 2023.
Sustainability is now more crucial than ever before for fashion, especially after the COVID-19 crisis. Consumers have taken the time to carefully rethink how they spend their money and plan for the future.
However, the slow fashion movement is only in its infancy. Change needs to happen much faster. Consumers' awareness of the industry's disastrous impacts isn't widespread yet.
The global ethical and conscious fashion market is expected to reach USD 8.25 billion by 2023 at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 10.33%, according to The Business Research Company.
36. Fast fashion creates 20% of all waste.
Clothing is piling up in landfills at an alarming rate. The fast fashion industry is responsible for tons of textile waste, land, air, water pollution, and greenhouse gas emissions.
20% of global waste production comes from the textile and apparel sectors, as reported by Close the Loop.
37. Consumers wear high-street garments 7 times only.
Consumers in our modern society don't keep clothes for long. They wear a high-street garment on average 7 times only, as reported by Barnado's survey of about 2,000 women in the United Kingdom.
33% of women who responded to the survey consider clothes become old after wearing them fewer than three times. The main reason to never wear an item again is a weight change (49%).
Under normal wear and tear, the average life expectancy of clothing would be more than 2 years.
"We're all guilty of wearing an outfit a few times and then forgetting about it, but we were surprised to find the average woman's wardrobe has at least 10 items that will never be worn again."
- Zoe Abrams, Executive Director of Communications & Advocacy, British Red Cross
38. Americans wear clothes 4 times less than the global average.
Clothing utilization is the average number of times a garment is worn before it ceases to be used.
Understandably, low-income countries have a relatively high rate of clothing utilization. Whereas more developed countries have much lower rates on average.
In the United States, clothes are only worn for around a quarter of the global average, as reported by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation based on the data of Euromonitor.
The number of times the average piece of clothing is worn happens to be about 120 times globally. But that number has been decreasing drastically over the last 15 years.
39. Textile waste fills 6.3% of US landfill space.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that textile waste occupies 6.3% of all landfill space.
The estimation takes into account clothing and footwear were based in part on sales data from the American Apparel and Footwear Association.
40. Less than 10% of donated clothes are reused.
As reported by ABC News and according to various estimates, less than 10% of clothing donations are kept by charitable institutions and sold in their thrift shops to other consumers.
Textile recycling firms buy the remaining 90%. That how a majority of charities and non-profit organizations make money to support their causes.
"Our industry buys from charitable institutions, hundreds of millions of dollars worth of clothing every year. This clothing is processed, sorted, and distributed around the world to developing countries."
- Bernie Brill, previously SMART Executive Director
25% of clothing purchased by recyclers are sold to international traders for Africa and other developing regions. The issue is that it disturbs the local market for textile products.
"Many of these countries in Africa used to have a fairly well-developed indigenous market for textiles and clothing and particularly for hand-crafted or hand-tailored clothes. And we've seen those markets virtually disappear over the last decade or two. There is no question that the secondhand clothing market has had a significant impact on domestic African clothing production. The tailors, the small producers have been put out of business. Those were good jobs for Africans and no jobs are taking their place. This is a trade that feeds on the poor rather than benefits the poor."
- Bama Athreya, previously International Labor Rights Forum Executive Director
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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.