The Impact of Fast Fashion | Aerin Flaharty
Fast fashion. Your favorite Urban Outfitters sweatshirt, your most beloved pair of jeans from Topshop, and maybe even that shirt you just couldn’t live without from Zara are all products of one of the most wasteful and dangerous working environments, the fashion industry.
Fast Fashion is when companies mass produce inventory inexpensively in order to profit loads of money by using their most efficient production strategies. These fashion brands are known for consistently releasing large amounts of merchandise, but there is much more behind the process than simply just putting out more inventory.
The fashion industry produces over 92 million tons of waste each year, adding up to 4% of our entire planet’s trash. Creating clothes takes more than just sewing a few pieces of fabric together. There is a reason why this industry is responsible for producing 10% of the world’s entire carbon emissions. Manufacturing clothes uses over 79 million cubic meters of water, and involves over 8,000 types of chemicals. Not only that, but 85% of textiles used for garments end up in landfills. To cover up their abundance of leftover products, companies such as Burberry, H&M, Nike, etc. have all been caught destroying unsold merchandise and materials. These companies argue that they want to maintain their “exclusive image,” but what they are not telling consumers is that by burning their unsold/unused products, 2998 pounds of co2 per megawatt hour is released into the atmosphere. Incinerating leftover goods only adds to the list of toxins this industry is in charge of.
Clothing companies, like any other, love to mass produce and promote their items, only, without telling buyers the exposition of their true origin and more importantly who made their products. By now, many have heard the horror stories of children being forced to work in factories to help support their families in impoverished areas of the world. Child labor is most common in India, China, Bangladesh, Africa, and a number of other countries. Working conditions are unsanitary and dangerous for small children to be around. Children are called to dye clothing and sew using fast moving machines. On average, there are about 200,000 injuries per year involving children working in these dangerous factories. In Bangladesh, children as young as 6 are employed and paid less than 2 dollars a day, resulting in an average of 64 hours of labor provided per week. Prominent clothing companies such as GAP, H&M, Nike, ZARA, Urban Outfitters, Adidas, Victoria’s Secret, Forever 21, and Shein have all exploited child labor, commonly providing unsafe working conditions.
Despite the outrageous number of cons that arise from the fashion supply chain, there are also a handful of good components. As the awareness of fast fashion continues to spread, many people have found better alternatives to find clothes they like for a good price, without supporting pollution or child labor. Selling and purchasing clothing off of second hand apps such as Depop, Mercari, and Poshmark have shown major success in recycling clothing. Patagonia, Urban Renewal (a branch of UO that uses scraps and recycled clothing), Re/Done are all brands that recycle fabrics and pre-made clothing for more sustainable attire. Thrifting clothes is another good alternative for those looking to make more eco-friendly purchases. However, it is important to be mindful when buying from low-income communities. Donating unworn clothing back to thrift stores is a major component of paying it forward to these stores. Sewing has gained major popularity in 2020, and is also an eco-friendly option for those who know how to construct their own garments. You can also support brands who produce little to no waste, use sustainable fabrics, and provide safe working environments for their employees. Reformation, Levi’s, Eileen Fisher, Athleta, Thredup, REI, and RentTheRunway all express their expectations when it comes to ethics and sustainability.
At the end of the day, no one is completely perfect when it comes to the decisions we make in the fashion world. Sometimes that shirt is just too stylish to pass up. As long as we do our part to decrease our consumption in fast fashion clothing, spread awareness about the ethics of the industry, and participate in eco-friendly solutions, we can continue to enjoy a fun and revolving climate while taking care of the planet.