By Zayna Kutty
Forever 21, H&M, Shein, Zara, Mango, ASOS, Fashion Nova, NastyGal; these are all brands where people shop on a daily basis, the go-to stores for trendy outfits. In recent years, these brands have gained increasing popularity from consumers seeking cheap and chic clothing. Though these may seem like the best brands due to their low prices and amazing looks, they have detrimental impacts both socially and environmentally.
Fast fashion is exactly as it sounds: making fashion, fast. Quickly producing clothes causes products to become cheaper and trend cycles to speed up, therefore, shopping becomes a daily event for many people. The term “trend cycles” refers to the lifespan of a trend. Basically, this means that trending items go through cycles where they are trending, and since more clothes are being produced, clothes are “trendy” for a shorter amount of time. However, quickly producing clothes results in many negative environmental impacts.
Fashion is the second most polluting industry on Earth, second only to oil. Fast fashion generally uses cheap but toxic dyes, making fashion the second largest polluter of water, this time behind agriculture. Additionally, because clothes are produced so quickly, consumers are able to buy more clothes, along with getting rid of more clothes. This causes waste buildup. In North America, around 9.5 million tons of clothing end up in landfills each year, most of which could be reused.
To quickly produce clothes, brands use cheap materials to make trendy clothing at a rapid pace. Dana Thomas, a fashion and culture journalist, says in her article in the New York Times that over 60% of fabric fibers are derived from fossil fuels and are synthetic. Therefore, if clothing does end up in landfills, it is literally impossible to decay. Additionally, fibers of clothing can be carried by wind or other sources, eventually landing in the ocean. These fibers are made of synthetic materials, namely plastic. When plastic particles get into the ocean, marine life unknowingly consumes them. This also affects humans because the particles are so tiny that they cannot be filtered or drained. Therefore, fast fashion leads to water contamination which is harmful to both marine life and humans.
Fast fashion not only negatively affects our environment, but our society as well. Historically, child labor and worker’s rights have been a major issue. Though many believe these issues have been solved after the industrial revolution, they still exist, in part thanks to fast fashion. Machinery and equipment are used to produce clothes quickly, but these machines have to be run by people. Dana Thomas reports that there are immigrants working in Los Angeles, Bangladesh, China, Vietnam, and so many other countries that face working conditions that are inhumane. She says that fashion has always been an industry dependent on the use of the voiceless and powerless, and that the industry ensures that they are kept that way.
However, there is good news. There are many different, easy ways to shop sustainably. Currently, thrift shopping is trending, and a great way to save the environment. With thrifting, clothes can be reused and given to someone else for a second life, eliminating the option of it ending up in landfills. Additionally, there are many clothing reselling apps, such as Poshmark and Depop. These apps are very popular, with many people being able to make money off of reselling clothes so that they don’t end up in landfills. And finally, many sustainable shoe brands are popping up all over the globe, such as Allbirds and Rothy’s. This is extremely beneficial, as the standard sneaker emits 12.5 kilograms of CO2 per sneaker. Allbirds, for example, only emits around 7.6 kilograms of CO2 per sneaker, which yields a 32% decrease in total emissions.
There are many ways that you personally can help fast fashion come to a close. First and foremost, shop less. There is no need to buy excessive things when we are lucky to have so much already. Not supporting and purchasing from Zara, H&M, and Mango could save you a great deal of money and closet space all while lessening the harm done to the environment. It is unrealistic to say that you should not buy any clothing items. Of course, clothes are a necessity. However when you do buy clothes, you can purchase from sustainable brands, such as Allbirds, Patagonia, Amour Vert, Mara Hoffman, and Athleta. These brands are not 100% sustainable, but they are significantly better for the environment. Additionally, before getting rid of clothes, you can come up with better solutions. For example, if there is a rip in an item, you can try sewing it or paying someone to do so. You can upcycle the article by giving it to a sibling, or using it for a craft project. There are so many viable and creative alternatives to getting rid of clothes. When you do find the need to get rid of a clothing item, try to reuse it first. Give it to a family member, donate it to a charity organization, or drop it off at your local thrift store so that someone else can get some good use out of it. Additionally, apps like Poshmark and Depop allow you to make a little bit of cash by selling clothes. Throwing out clothes should be the last option, and would generally be unnecessary if the alternatives are taken into consideration.
With the looming environmental threats, fast fashion has faced growing backlash as shoppers begin to realize the significant impact it has on emissions and trash output. Ultimately, change must occur to the massive industry as climate change becomes a more important issue than ever. Though we are not able to control how large companies that take part in the fast fashion industry function, we can make small changes in our lifestyle that make a difference.