Many years ago, clothes shopping was an occasional outing for special events and season changes. Clothes were made to be durable, long-lasting, and kept for more than a few wears. Times have obviously changed, and fad trends have been hitting the fashion community like never before. People no longer desire durable clothing, as it is far more expensive than ordering from a fast fashion brand. Cheap and trendy clothing has been more desired than ever, and more companies are wanting customers money.

What exactly is fast fashion?

Fast fashion is the production of cheap and trendy clothes, made at an accelerated rate with the cheapest materials possible. Clothes are produced as quickly as possible in order to keep up with the latest fashion trends, considering the clothes considered “trendy” are always changing.

The idea of fast fashion revolves around the fact that people always want the newest items on the market. Companies want to get their items onto the market as fast as possible, so customers can wear their desired item before the trend passes on. After customers wear the item a few times, the item is usually thrown away and replaced with the next fashion trends. The item is not meant to be durable, causing a pattern of buying, discarding, then ordering.

Fast fashion is like fast food. After the sugar rush, it just leaves a bad taste in your mouth.

-Livia Firth, founder of sustainable fashion consultancy Eco-Age

When did fast fashion start?

One of the first fast fashion brands was H&M, opening as “Hennes” in Sweden in 1947, expanding in countries around the world, reaching the United States in 2000. Zara was also one of the first fast fashion brands, opening a store in Spain in 1975.

Two of the main fast fashion brands that have been increasing in popularity are Shein and Romwe. Among many, other fast fashion brands are Urban Outfitters, Victoria Secret, Forever 21, Gap, and Adidas.

Fast fashion was created in order to keep up with customers demand for cheap, trendy clothes. When companies like H&M and Zara were generating so much profit, other companies jumped on the bandwagon. Consumers wanted the trendiest clothing as quickly as possible, causing the appetite for fast fashion to grow rapidly. Younger generations such as Gen Z are primarily responsible for wanting the instant gratification that fast fashion offers.

What is the impact of fast fashion?

On the planet

Because of the rapid-ness making fast fashion fast, clothing is made with no considering of how production, materials, and carbon monoxide are hurting the environment. Fast fashion has a negative affect on just about every single part of the planet.

The air is polluted, excess energy is produced, the water is contaminated, and landfills are overflowing. The water supply is getting contaminated with textiles, microfibers, and excess materials. Because fast fashion brands want to produce as many products as quickly as possible, extreme amounts of energy is used to actually make these garments, releasing large amounts of carbon monoxide fumes into our breathing air.

  • Fashion production comprises 10% of total global carbon emissions. S1
  • Washing clothes releases 500,000 tons of microfibers into the ocean each year, which equals 50 billion plastic water bottles. S2
  • Many of the fibers are polyester which is a plastic found in 60% of garments. Producing polyester releases 2 to 3 times more carbon emissions than cotton. Polyester does not break down in the ocean. S3
  • The equivalent of one garbage truck full of clothes is burned or dumped in a landfill every second. S4
  • 85% of textiles go into landfills each year. S5
  • Overall, micro plastics are estimated to compose up to 31% of plastic pollution in the ocean. S6

On animals

Because of fast fashion brands, animals are slaughtered to produce clothing made from different materials such as wool, cashmere, silk, and leather. Not only does this end the lives of thousands of animals every day, but it’s also very unethical and inhumane. Many people who work in the fashion industry will stop at no length to make a profit.

Many sea animals are often left with materials floating throughout the oceans. Their ocean water is becoming contaminated, and is filling with products that are not supposed to be there. Another byproduct from fast fashion is toxic wastewater. Toxic wastewater contains substances like mercury, lead and arsenic that are extremely harmful to human life and ocean life. Not only are humans having to suffer the consequences, but innocent animals are too.

On the workers

Overseas, many fast fashion workers are mistreated and abused daily, working rigorous hours with little to no pay. Women and young children work on textile production sites, and face verbal and physical abuse. The production sites are not safe as explosions, fires, and diseases are very common.

According to Unicef, 168 million children are forced into child labor. Considering the fast fashion industry does not require high skilled laborers, child labor is extremely common. S7

On the retail industry

There is a main theme regarding why fast fashion works for consumers and producers. New items constantly being introduced keep customers coming back, generating more money for fast fashion business. Instead of the businesses replenishing the items, they replace them with completely new ones. This keeps the retailers happy as they always have customers, and it keeps customers happy as they have a location to buy the newest, trendiest, items.

Fast fashion has had a negative affect on smaller, independent businesses. These smaller businesses sell durable clothing items for higher prices, which is not appealing to people who are use to shopping from fast fashion brands. While the prices from small businesses are generally not extremely high, people are not willing to sacrifice their 5 dollar tee-shirt from Forever 21. Small business suffer in generating loyal customers, as they have to compete with the enormous industry of fast fashion.

What Needs to be Done?

In order for our planet to stop decreasing at a rapid pace, major change needs to be done by everyone who shops fast fashion.

  • Start doing research on the businesses you support.
  • Start shopping from sustainable brands.
  • Look into shopping second hand.
  • Swap, borrow, and exchange clothes with friends.
  • Be cautious of how you are washing your clothes, in order to keep them in the best shape.