Buying fast fashion has become a very popular event in the last 20 years. It allowed retailers to grow rapidly and become large corporations such as H&M, Zara, C&A, Primark, Forever 21.
Fast fashion makes trendy clothes inspired by runway shows quickly available to consumers on a daily or weekly basis at an affordable price. Fast fashion garments are cheap and disposable, made to be replaced with new clothing items rapidly.
It is not okay to buy fast fashion and you should quit. Fast fashion is unethical and hard on the environment. It is responsible for huge textile waste, water, air and soil pollution, and greenhouse gas emissions. It isn't sustainable and has to stop.
Fast fashion exists to meet the ever-increasing consumers' demand for new trendy clothes at lower prices. Fortunately, an alternative to fast fashion is gaining popularity: slow fashion or ethical fashion.
Read up my other article on the alternative slow fashion vs fast fashion.
More and more people are questioning the impact of the fashion industry on the environment. The number of Eco-conscious consumers is rising as people learn the human and environmental toll of fast fashion.
Why is fast fashion bad?
One could argue that fast fashion is good for the economy and our modern society. It is fun to shop for the latest trends for just a few dollars. And fast fashion creates jobs and drives economic growth. However, at what price?
You can read about the positive impact of fast fashion in the article I wrote here.
Keeping up with trends and dressing like celebrities for a fraction of the budget has an enormous cost.
During the last 15 years, apparel production has doubled globally to meet consumers' demand.
The fashion industry is the world’s second-largest polluter. Toxic chemicals, dyes, fertilizers, and pesticides pollute the air land and oceans. They are also highly damaging to your skin, to the health of the farmers and workers in the garment-producing factories.
Fast fashion contributes to the throwaway culture. Textile wastes end up in landfills without being recycled, taking years to decompose. Some will be incinerated and produce hazardous gases when burned.
Clothing has become a commodity, encouraged by fast fashion. The items are so cheap that they become single-use purchases.
The Ellen MacArthur Foundation explained in the 2017 report “A new textiles economy: Redesigning fashion’s future” that every year, less than 1% of all materials used to make clothes are recycled into new clothing.
Cheap synthetic fabrics like polyester add to plastics pollution. Micro-plastics pollute the air and waterways. They endanger aquatic ecosystems.
Fast fashion contributes to high water and energy consumption, massive soil degradation, deforestation and carbon emissions.
All textile production including cotton farming consumes annually 93 billion cubic meters of water. It produced 1.2 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent in 2015. This contributes more to climate change than air and sea travel combined.
The 2019 fashion transparency index indicates that if the global apparel and footwear industry accounts for 8% of the world's greenhouse gas emissions. This is almost as much as the whole of Europe.
Workers and farmers from the poorest countries are making garments for the fast fashion business model.
They make clothing under unethical working conditions, with low wages, poor healthcare, little free time or vacation.
The demand for quickly and cheaply produced clothing caused the catastrophic Dhaka fire in 2012 and the 2013 Rana Plaza building collapse in Bangladesh. Combined, these events killed over 1,200 factory workers and injured over 2,700.
Consumers are still more interested in the price and style of their clothes than how they were made. That change is coming but not fast enough.
Dhaka, the capital city of Bangladesh.
Why should you quit fast fashion?
By using cheap materials and cheap labor, fast fashion creates new trendy clothing at affordable prices rapidly.
Fast fashion makes clothing disposable. Old items are quickly replaced by new collections to keep up with trends and consumers' demand.
The human abuse and disastrous impact on the environment aren't visible at first sight. But they cannot stay overlooked anymore.
Fortunately, an alternative to fast fashion exists. It is now possible to find affordable and stylish options outside of fast fashion.
You can already find ethical clothing online if you know where to look.
Since 2015, I quit my fast fashion addiction. I stopped going to H&M and Zara. I try to look for sustainable materials for the clothes I buy.
I feel so much better about my purchase decisions and feel I am making an impact.
I don't think I will ever be going back to fast fashion.
We now have more and more options for sustainable clothing. Eco-friendly doesn't mean expensive. There are affordable basics for small budgets as well.
I have tried a more minimalist approach to fashion. This style suits me best. I have more space and more time for what matters to me the most.
I wear the pieces I love more often when I only keep the essentials. And I need less time to get dressed in the morning.
There is always the option of buying second-hand clothing or renting clothes. And the trend for recycled materials is emerging.
This is important when shopping for underwear, swimwear, and activewear. You don't want to wear anything someone already sweats in.
You also have the possibility to learn to sew and up-cycle. Recycling clothing is now a necessity when you cannot reuse or re-purpose into bags or cleaning rags.
When you quit fast fashion, you have to learn to take better care of your clothes. Investing in high-quality durable pieces is common practice. Go for a timeless and chic look, classics that you can combine easily.
This allows you to live an intentional life, and shop with more purpose. Learn yourself more and be more confident in your choices.
Now it the time to stop contributing to pollution, climate change, workers exploitation, resource extraction, and overproduction.
Is fast fashion sustainable?
Fast fashion uses the same supply chain as traditional types of fashion. It causes the same human and environmental problems. However fast fashion drives more consumption and the same issues happen at a faster rate.
Fast fashion creates higher rates of material, water, energy consumption, resource extraction, waste production, pollution and carbon emissions. Fast fashion has a higher impact than traditional fashion and isn't sustainable.
Large brands and retailers have yet to make the necessary changes to minimize the impact of the fashion industry.
Overall, we have to move away from the linear business model take-make-waste to a more regenerative circular industry.
Value generation in local communities and environmental stewardship should be as much encouraged as fulfilling every desire of the end consumers.
Shopping fast fashion isn't the most responsible. The sustainable approach to fashion is to make more conscious choices when buying clothing.
The issue is that it is still a not so easy task to find the right size, fit and style, especially if you are new to the ethical fashion world.
Start with just a few changes. You don't have to follow an all or nothing approach. Every small step counts.
Focus on what you really need and be grateful for what you already have. Shopping for clothing shouldn't be a daily event.
Instead go shopping with more purpose, having a general idea of what you are looking for.
You have the power to make a change. You can vote with your money.
Follow my tips in this next article if you want to stop wearing fast fashion.
What about second-hand fast fashion?
Buying second-hand fast fashion is a great idea. It reduces the environmental and human costs of clothing production. It does a lot for your wallet and the planet. Plus, you may even find pieces that nobody is wearing currently and create a stylish personal look.
It is best to find a similar piece online or from thrift stores than buying from fast fashion companies. If you can't find anything that looks like what you need, you have to be patient. Something new might come up in the next few months.
Do you best to find pieces that are ethically made or second hand? But don't put unrealistic expectations on yourself either. Sometimes there is no other solution.
Of course, no solution is perfect. So don't aim for perfection. It is okay to make mistakes as well. Don't look for the best way to buy clothing. Instead, do what is right for you.
Take into consideration your budget, your style, your lifestyle before you decide if you should buy new or second hand.
In an ideal world, you would buy every piece second hand, made ethically from recycled materials and keep it forever. This way, you would reduce your carbon footprint drastically.
But it is not always possible and unrealistic. Aim for doing the best you can. In any case, use what you already have until you need something new.
If you are new to ethical fashion, buying second-hand clothing is a good way to start and make a positive impact. Especially, when you don't know yet how to separate brands and retailers that are ethical from those that aren't.
Do you want to learn why buying second-hand clothes is the better option, read my article here.
The second-hand market and the more traditional one are two completely different markets. They don't affect each other that much, even if thrifting has been rising in popularity recently.
Not knowing who you should be giving your money to prevent harming the planet, buying second hand is a good option. You will often have great stylish options to choose from, which is also affordable with a much lower impact.
Second-hand clothing is more sustainable than buying new clothes. It also allows you to find past trends that may be coming back and wear something unique that fits your personality.
You are doing good by not consuming extra water, energy, and resources. You also prevent a garment from heading directly to the landfills.
Make sure to purchase pieces that are high quality, durable, that will last you a long time. Keep in mind how you are going to wear an item and on which occasion before investing in it.
Keeping fewer pieces that you absolutely love and wear many times is already a great step toward sustainable living.
The minimalist fashion style explores this idea. Read about it in my other article.
It is amazing if you can make a conscious effort to take time before every purchase to reflect on the consequences of your actions.
How to reduce the impact of fast fashion?
If you want to reduce the impact of fashion, there are a few easy things you can do. As consumers, we have the power to initiate change.
You can influence what the future will look like simply by choosing what clothes to buy. There are now lots of environmentally friendly alternatives to fast-fashion.
Here is what you can do to reduce the impact of fast fashion:
- Buy sustainable and ethical fashion
- Investigate the brands before buying from them
- Learn the materials and certifications to look for
- Buy the essentials for your wardrobe
- Buy fewer clothes overall
- Buy what you really need and not trends
- Buy clothes that fit your lifestyle
- Buy durable and high-quality pieces
- Donate, sell, recycle or up-cycle what you don't wear
- Take better care of the clothes in your closet
- Repair as much as you can
- Buy from second-hand shops
- Subscribe to a clothing rental
Read my article here on how to quit fast fashion for more information on this subject.
Fast fashion brands to avoid
Fast fashion brands don't follow the traditional seasonal calendar of delivering new collections to the stores 2 to 4 times per year. New pieces inspired by the latest trends coming to high street stores daily or weekly is very common in the fast-fashion world.
In addition, they don't meet the sustainability and ethical standards that should protect human rights and the planet:
- No toxic chemicals
- No animal cruelty
- No slavery or forced labor
- No child labor
- Safe factories
- Fair living wages and benefits
- Good working conditions
- Sustainable and eco-friendly materials
Unfortunately, there are too many fast fashion brands to list all of them. Here is our list of the most well-known fast fashion brands to avoid, due to their disastrous ethical and environmental impact including:
- & Other Stories
- Abercrombie & Fitch
- Ally Fashion
- Ben Sherman
- Camilla and Marc
- Charlotte Russe
- Cheap Monday
- Cooper St
- Cotton On
- Darn Tough
- Diana Ferrari
- Fashion Nova
- FIVE FOXes
- Forever 21
- Free People
- Fruit of the Loom
- Hot Topic
- J. Crew
- Jasmine & Will
- Little Trelise
- Massimo Dutti
- Miss Selfridge
- Nasty Gal
- New Look
- Noni B
- Old Navy
- PE Nation
- Pretty Little Thing
- Pull & Bear
- Rainbow Shops
- Rip Curl
- River Island
- s. Oliver
- Trelise Cooper
- United Colors of Benetton
- Urban Outfitters
- Victoria's Secret
I know it hurts seeing a brand that you used to wear and love on this list. But this is the truthful information gathered from what many have reported before me.
Of course, some of the listed brands and retailers are better than others. Some are actively making efforts as well.
I encourage you to contact each brand and ask them what actions they are currently taking to better their reputation and the damage already done.
You can investigate their website, start a conversation on social media or send them an email.
Above all and most importantly, we have to show that we care about where and how the products we use are being manufactured.
Do you know of any names that should be added?
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.