What is Fast Fashion?
Fast fashion is a manufacturing approach that emphasises making clothes quickly and cheaply, usually in response to the latest popular fashion trend. Fast fashion is known for being cheap, trendy, and is commonly sold in stores online. Companies tend to move manufacturing overseas to poorer countries because they can pay them less to make the clothing, in awful conditions.
Some larger brands associated with fast fashion include H&M, Zara, and PrettyLittleThing. However, there are also other smaller fast fashion retailers in the industry, like Fashion Nova.
Why You Should Care About The Fast Fashion Industry
Those who aren’t aware of the fast fashion industry may wonder why it matters when it comes to environmental awareness. After all, the most popular topics that come up regarding the environment are things like carbon footprint and ocean pollution. How does fast fashion factor into that?
Fast fashion plays into environmental pollution in many ways. The first and most concerning is the sheer size of the industry.
Part of this growth is due to the greater availability of cheap, trendy clothing in the fast fashion industry. These garments are bought, worn only a few times, and then just thrown out after their trend has died down.
Picture all that clothing being produced and shipped all over the world, the practices used to make these products, and the waste made when they are thrown into landfills after their fashion fad ends; these are all harmful to the environment.
How Does Fast Fashion Impact the Environment? (Fast Fashion’s Environmental Impact)
Since 2000, clothing production has more than doubled, and it doesn’t show signs of slowing down. With the increase comes more impacts on the environment than ever before. Fashion is the second largest polluter, behind oil.
On top of the industry’s CO2 emissions, it also affects water consumption and air and ocean pollution. It’s the second-largest consumer of water. And many of the clothes and particles end up in landfills and oceans.
The microplastics in clothes are non-biodegradable and pollute the water. And the production of the clothing uses a significant amount of energy resources and gives off carbon emissions.
Greenhouse Gases Emissions
One way the fast fashion industry pollutes the environment is through the greenhouse gases it emits. These gases come from the production and transportation of the billions of pieces of clothing bought each year.
In fact, the fashion industry contributes to about 10% of the world’s global greenhouse gas emissions. That’s equivalent to the amount of greenhouse gases emitted by the entire worldwide aviation industry, or the entire country of Russia!
Another contributor to greenhouse gas emissions in the fashion industry is the production of synthetic polymers.
Synthetic polymers are lightweight and durable, and they make clothes last longer. However, they aren’t found naturally in the world, so they have to be synthetically produced (manufactured).
During this manufacturing process, greenhouse gases like nitrous oxide are released into the atmosphere. Nitrous oxide (N2O) is a type of greenhouse gas that is 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide.
These potent greenhouse gases, being produced on a scale to create over 80 billion articles of clothing each year, is part of what makes the fast fashion industry the second biggest polluter in the world.
It Uses Non-Renewable Resources
In addition to emitting harmful greenhouse gases, the fast fashion industry also uses nonrenewable resources (fossil fuels).
For example, synthetic polymers are not renewable, and can actually be classified as a type of plastic. They can release microplastics into the water system when they’re put through the washing machine, which pollutes the environment.
Making matters worse, the mining of fossil fuels contributes to air pollution and climate change. Plus, as we all know, fossil fuels are not a sustainable resource (hence why they are non-renewable).
Depletes and Pollutes Water Resources
The fashion industry is a huge water consumer. Did you know that it takes 2700 litres of water to make a single cotton t-shirt?
Cotton, which is a common material in clothing, needs a lot of water to grow. It’s usually grown in hot regions where water scarcity is already an issue, and cotton farming just compounds the issue.
To make matters worse, most clothing manufacturing is done in developing countries, where environmental laws may not be so strict. This means that many times, untreated wastewater from factories is dumped directly into rivers or lakes.
The wastewater from these factories can be extremely toxic, containing pollutants like lead, mercury and arsenic, just to name a few. Once in the water, these substances can kill aquatic life, not to mention also pollute the drinking water of local inhabitants.
Textile Waste Accumulates in Landfills
About 84% of all clothes in the USA ends up in a landfill each year (Source). Nearly all of that clothing could have been recycled, repurposed, or donated instead.
When clothes are tossed aside for a new trend, they sit in garbage dumps for decades, and possibly even centuries.
Polyester takes 200 years to decompose. Nylon is not much better either, requiring a minimum of 30-40 years. While these materials are decomposing, they’re also releasing microplastics into the soil which can pollute the nearby area.
People can’t see microplastics, so it’s easy to pretend they aren’t there. The same goes for landfills, which most people don’t see often, or ever. That’s why resources must be available for people to learn about the harm of this kind of pollution.
I’m sure most people are aware of the 99% sale PrettyLittleThing did on black Friday. This will have a huge impact on waste in landfills as people will have brought an insane amount of clothing that they will probably never wear and will throw away. Not only that, they sold items for 5p meaning they are either making a huge loss because they have produced a stupid amount of clothing and need to get rid or if they were to make a profit which I highly doubt, they are probably paying their workers very little.
These trends need to stop, it is not sustainable and companies need to be held accountable but we can only do that if everyone comes together and realises the real impact of fast fashion.
If you would like to see blog posts on how we, as people can help stop fast fashion, let me know in the comments. Additionally, I can also do posts on the impact of individual materials on the planet.
What we can do now
Boycott these companies that are producing fast-fashion, and any influencers that are promoting those companies, we should unfollow and not purchase through their commission links. Instead, support those that promote eco-friendly brands and promote small businesses, they’re the ones leading change and need our support.
Were you aware of the impacts of fast-fashion? Are you someone that buys from fast-fashion brands? Now is the time to stop and buy sustainably.
Thank you for reading! Feel free to share and comment to spread the message!