Did you know that the fashion industry is responsible for 10% of all annual global carbon emissions? That is more than all international flights and maritime shipping combined! (World Bank Group, 2019)
What is fast fashion?
So, perhaps you’ve heard of the phrase ‘fast fashion’ before, but what does it actually mean? Fast fashion is used to describe cheap clothing produced by mass-market retailers in response to the latest trends. Some well-known brands include the likes of H&M, Zara and Uniqlo.
Fashion retailers intentionally create new items of clothing and trends every few weeks, in hopes to persuade customers that they must ‘stay on trend’ by regularly purchasing new items of clothing. Since the clothing is usually of low quality and relatively inexpensive, customers will often find that they will return to stores to buy new items of clothing as it is cheaper than repairing old garments.
The effects of fast fashion
Many of us may believe that shopping for clothes (especially cheap and on trend clothes!) is harmless and maybe even fun, but what are effects of fast fashion on the environment? How it is possible for retailers to sell stock so cheaply whilst still making a profit?
In reality, many toxic chemicals are used to create the vibrant colours, prints and patterns that appear on fast fashion garments. These chemicals are often dumped into nearby rivers and streams by unregulated factories, polluting the water and air as well as harming the health of the workers that produce the garments.
In addition to this, polyester garments contain microfibres that are unable to biodegrade. This means that when they are washed in domestic washing machines, the microfibres shed and pass through our waterways which eventually lead to our oceans. This adds to the increasing levels of plastic in our oceans and present a large threat to aquatic life.
Furthermore, the low quality of fast fashion garments along with the fast trends, mean that clothes are being thrown away at an unprecedented rate. In Britain, more than 300,000 tons of clothes end up in a landfill. Landfill sites produce greenhouse gases that harm the environment and contribute to global warming.
In order to promote such low prices, cheap labour is often sourced from sweatshops. These are factories that employ workers for extremely low wages for long hours, often in poor conditions. For example, in Bangladesh, the majority of garment workers earn little more than the minimum wage and far below what is considered a living wage. Many are also forced to work 14-16 hour days, 7 days a week in hazardous conditions. Since 1990, more than 400 workers have died and several thousand more have been wounded in 50 major factory fires. Sexual harassment and discrimination are also widespread and many female workers have reported that the right to maternity leave is not upheld by employers.
What can we do to help?
If you would like to reduce your fast fashion consumption, here are some top tips on how to get started:
- Buy from ethical and sustainable brands.
- Consume secondhand clothing from thrift stores such as thrift stores in Lebanon, TN or online marketplaces (such as Depop). You can even swap clothes with friends and family!
- DIY or upcycle old clothes. You can get creative with this by cutting, sewing, and even knitting fabrics!