What Is Fast Fashion and how does it Impacts the Planet?

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Fast fashion is an industry that produces fashionable clothing at low prices. Learn about the fashion industry's impact on workers and the environment, as well as what you can do to break free from the fashion cycle.


What Exactly Is Fast Fashion?

Fast fashion is a business model in the fashion industry that involves mass-producing trendy clothing at a low cost. Fast fashion retailers purposefully produce low-quality clothing that consumers discard quickly before purchasing new products.


A Brief History of Fast Fashion

Buying clothing before the Industrial Revolution meant buying a few items and making them last because sourcing materials for clothing was expensive and time-consuming. Here's how things have changed since then:

Industrial Revolution: New industrial inventions such as the power loom and the sewing machine paved the way for sweatshops and garment factories, which used low-cost labor to speed up textile production, revolutionizing the fashion industry.

Outsourcing: In the 1970s, manufacturers began outsourcing clothing production to cheaper countries with less stringent labor practices, resulting in the rise of fast fashion. The fashion industry mass-produced garments and sold them at low prices to consumers. Customers responded by spending more money on new clothes and learning to anticipate new styles in stores on a regular basis.

Fast fashion takes over: The fast fashion industry reached its peak in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Fast fashion companies that offered low-cost clothing and a constant supply of new items became the norm, while the true cost of these fashion trends went largely unnoticed.


Is Fast Fashion Bad?

Fast fashion does have some advantages, such as making trendy styles affordable to everyone and generating a high profit for clothing brands. However, the industry has an impact on the environment, animals, and humans. Consider the disadvantages:

Impact on the environment: Synthetic fabrics derived from fossil fuels are used in fast fashion, contributing to increased carbon emissions and global warming. Land clearing for the massive amounts of cotton needed to support the industry increases the risk of drought, reduces soil quality, and reduces animal biodiversity. Dyeing chemicals leach into wastewater, and landfills are overflowing with textile waste.

Exploitative labor practices: Fast fashion contributes to human rights violations by paying garment workers less than the minimum wage to work long hours in deplorable working conditions in order to meet consumer demand. Garment factories will occasionally hire underage workers for low pay with no guarantee of their safety.

Negative consumer impact: The fast fashion clothing industry encourages consumers to believe they must keep up with trends, resulting in a never-ending cycle of buying and discarding clothing. The fashion cycle entails coaxing you to buy, forcing you to recognize quickly that trends have changed, causing you to become dissatisfied with your current clothing, which encourages you to buy more.


Impact of Fast Fashion on the Environment

Fast fashion has several environmental consequences, including:

Animal harm: Marine life consumes dyes, toxic chemicals, and microfibers released into waterways and the ocean by the production of fast fashion clothing, affecting the food chain.

Land degradation: Cotton production requires a lot of resources. It necessitates a large amount of water, and synthetic fertilizer degrades the soil.

Greenhouse gas emissions: The fashion industry has a significant carbon footprint. The extended supply chain of manufacturing and shipping required to produce a garment contributes 10% of global carbon emissions.

Toxic chemical pollution: Poor-quality textiles used by fast fashion companies pollute landfills with lead, pesticides, and other poisonous chemicals, and they do not biodegrade due to their synthetic composition. The textile industry accounts for about 5% of all landfill space.

Water pollution: This occurs when chemicals used to dye textiles pollute waterways used by humans and animals. According to the United Nations Commission for Europe, the fashion industry accounts for 20% of all wastewater. The denim industry is the world's second-largest polluter of fresh water, harming the ecology of local communities and impeding sustainability. Microfibers shed by polyester end up in the water system, contributing to ocean plastic pollution.


How to Identify Fast Fashion Brands

Fast fashion brands share some universal characteristics that you can quickly identify in-store or online by reading the garment details. Typical elements include:

Cheap materials: Low-quality synthetic fabrics such as acrylic, polyester, nylon, and spandex are the most commonly used materials. These fabrics contain plastic, and when washed, they release microplastics into the environment. Furthermore, the production of plastic is heavily reliant on fossil fuels.

Manufactured outside of the country: The clothing labels reveal that the garment was made in another country where labor is cheap and oversight is minimal.

Low prices: Fast fashion companies want to sell, and they make money by selling a large number of garments at a low price.

Many styles: Hundreds of clothing items of various styles are available in the store, all of which adhere to current fashion trends promoted by designers and influencers.

Rapid production: The clothing company releases new styles on a weekly basis.


7 Alternatives to Fast Fashion

Changing your purchasing habits and seeking alternatives to fast fashion benefits the environment while also extending the life of your clothing. To change your fast fashion habits, follow these guidelines:

1. Purchase fewer items. Buying less allows you to spend more money on items that will last longer from environmentally friendly companies with fair labor practices.

2. Embrace used items.  Purchasing used clothing extends the life of an item and keeps it out of a landfill. Visit thrift and vintage stores for one-of-a-kind finds at low prices.

3. Care for your clothes. Reduce the frequency with which you wash your clothes by using gentle detergents, delicates bags, and cold water. To help your clothes last longer, air-dry them instead of using the dryer. Stains should be treated as soon as possible to prevent them from setting.

4. Adopt slow fashion. This philosophy emphasizes the importance of choosing high-quality, simple, timeless pieces that can be worn with a variety of outfits. You buy fewer clothes that are more durable. Choose eco-friendly materials such as organic cotton, hemp, and recycled clothing.

5. Mend any damaged clothing. Instead of discarding damaged clothing, repair rips and snags. Bring the item to a tailor or shoe repair shop if the repairs are too complicated to do yourself. Dyeing faded or stained items a new color can give them new life.

6. Rent special-occasion items. Instead of purchasing an outfit that you will only wear once, borrow one from a friend or an online clothing rental service.

7. Do your homework before you buy. Some fast fashion companies engage in greenwashing, claiming to produce sustainable fashion while actually producing the opposite. Before purchasing anything, do your homework on the company's claims.

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