Fast Fashion & the Consequences of Trendiness
Quickly-Changing Styles are Harming our World
The fashion industry is a $2.5 trillion sector. It is massive, and anything so huge will have huge influence. From water usage, climate change and excessive waste to oppressive labor and gender dynamics, the fashion industry definitely touches many key issues. This is particularly true for the world of fast fashion.
Fast fashion is kind of like fast food. Cheap. Quick. Unhealthy for our bodies. Unhealthy for the planet.
But what is fast fashion exactly?
Fast fashion is a business model that takes ideas from high-end designers and celebrity culture, and then cranks out inexpensive replicated styles at a rapid pace using cheap materials and exploitative labor practices. In the world of fast fashion, a copy of something spotted on the runway can appear in certain stores with a turnaround of just a few days.
New styles used to be released in seasons, two to four times per year. Now, however, with this model of mass production and rapidly changing trends, consumers expect new styles every week. The model of fast, mass production of inexpensive, low-quality garments mirrors consumer psychology and marketing strategies. Trends change so quickly that consumers only want to wear an article of clothing a couple times. These garments are made to last for only a few wears, too.
Where do these new styles come from? How do they arrive so quickly? And at what cost?
Fair Labor & Fast Fashion
A huge amount of people in the world work in some aspect of the fashion world. While many people work in garment factories, fashion-related jobs encompass more than fabrication. In order to supply the world with clothing, people must work jobs like growing cotton, processing and dying materials, and retail. Taking all this into consideration, it is estimated that 1 in 8 people in the world work in a job related to fashion (around 430 million). Among those 430 million, there is a great disparity of wealth and labor practices.
The CEO of H&M earns around $23 million annually. A garment worker in Bangladesh earns $68 per month. A cotton picker in India earns around $2 per day, and a spinning mill worker earns $35-40 per month.
Around 60 million of the total estimated number of people working in fashion work directly in the garment industry, and around 80% of them are women. Only 2% are paid a living wage.
Given these statistics, it is fair to say that the majority of workers who make clothing are women who are oppressed. Millions of women are being exploited across the world to keep up with the need for quickly changing styles.
In order to keep new trends hitting the shelves constantly, fast fashion executives must find the most inexpensive materials and the cheapest labor. As a result, the earth and the most vulnerable humans upon it pay the ultimate price.
Environmental Impacts: Production & Waste
The fashion industry is the second-most-polluting industry on Earth, right behind oil. It takes a lot of coal power to produce 150 billion pieces of clothing per year. Polyester and other synthetic fibers are popular clothing materials. Oil-based polyester, which has now replaced cotton as the number-one fiber in our clothing, is derived from fossil fuels. As a result, the fashion industry produces 10% of global emissions.
Cotton is a more natural product, but harmful in other ways. The global cotton industry uses more pesticides than any other crop in the world, and production is incredibly water intensive. It takes 700 gallons of water to make one cotton shirt, creating huge amounts of stress on water basins, as well as competition for resources between companies and local communities.
The processing and production is hard on the environment, and then once garments are finished, they must be shipped and distributed worldwide. Materials and labor are sourced from different locations, meaning it takes a lot of oil and energy to ship clothing around the globe.
The environmental impact doesn’t end there. Every time we wash an article of clothing, particularly those made with synthetic materials, microfibers are released into our waterways—and from there into our rivers, lakes, and oceans. In addition to polluting our waters, the fibers are particularly dangerous because they have the potential to poison the food chain, as they are readily consumed by fish and other wildlife. These plastic fibers have the potential to bioaccumulate, concentrating toxins in the bodies of larger animals higher up the food chain, right on up to us, the ones who originally created, purchased, and wore those garments once or twice.
Production to Landfill Pipeline
The rate and style of mass production needed to keep up with trends and the desires of the fast fashion world has resulted in literal tons of excess clothing. In Australia alone, more than 500 million kilos of unwanted clothing ends up in landfill every year. Garments degrade after just a few wears and washes and are tossed, making their way to landfills where on average it takes 80 years for clothes to break down.
But at least these clothes have been worn. There are also tons of garments that never even get sold. They are produced, shipped, folded, stocked, and displayed, and when styles change and they remain unpurchased, they are discarded. An incredible amount of energy is used all to produce waste.
When we take all these factors of fast fashion into consideration, it paints a pretty dire picture.
So what do we do?
We can start by understanding and seeking transparency within the supply chain. Fortunately, there are some companies that do value transparency in their work.
Yes And is one such company working to transform the fashion industry. Yes And is addressing each of the issues mentioned above and doing their best to use healthier methods at every step of the production process.
Consume intentionally. Find out more about fashion supply chains, buy from brands like Yes And , shop secondhand, support women and minority-led businesses and initiatives, and in general, purchase less clothing.