The Environmental Cost of Fast Fashion? Like What Is It Anyway?

by Daiya Lambert

Impact of Fast Fashion Industry

The modern-day phenomenon of fast fashion takes and makes trendy clothing sampling ideas from the runway and celebrity culture turning them into garments of poorer quality for cheap and of course at lightning speed. The planetary impact of fast fashion is huge. To sustain this level of production and consumerism, natural resources are used in excess and put to pressure resulting in outstanding levels of pollution. Some of that includes the use of toxic chemicals, toxic dyes, the release of carbon dioxide, and the bleeding of synthetic fibers into our water supply and into the oceans. 

Quick Facts

  • Cheap fabrics like polyester, one of the most popular used in fast fashion, are derived from fossil fuels, thus contributing to global warming. 
  • Cheap fabrics shed microfibers with every wash adding to the increasing levels of plastic in our oceans. 
  • Be mindful when choosing 'natural fabrics'. Natural fabrics like cotton require vast quantities of water and pesticides to grow and harvest. This results in risks of drought and competition for resources between companies and local communities. 
  • More production = MORE WASTE! The speed at which garments are produced also means that there is an increase in the disposing of clothes by consumers as they try to keep up with the latest trends.
  • Between 2000 and 2014, clothing production doubled with the average consumer buying 60 percent more pieces of garment compared to 15 years ago. Yet, each clothing item is now kept half as long.
  • Oh! & the human cost ... Fast Fashion impacts garment workers, who have been found to work in dangerous environments, for low wages, and without basic human rights. Further down the supply chain, there are the farmers who may work with toxic chemicals that can have devastating impacts on their physical and mental health.

“Cheap fashion is really far from that, it may be cheap in terms of financial costs, but very expensive when it comes to the environment and the cost of human life”

Sass Brown, fashion educator and author (from her book ‘ECO Fashion‘)

So how can we turn the wheels?

The simple and least complex answer is to first begin with reduction. Reducing our consumer habits and amounts of waste is a good first step. We have to fall back in love with the clothes we already own and prioritize quality over quantity when buying new. Here's how you can start working at reducing your fashion footprint. 

When buying, we should ask ourselves "who made my clothes?". Asking yourself this not only means that you are questioning the quality of the goods bought but it also is a demonstration of your concern for the ethical implications of the fast fashion industry. 

“When an industry doesn't care about how people are treated, no consideration of sustainability is possible. You can't just care about the environment and forget about the fair and ethical treatment of people.”

—Simone Cipriani, founder of the International Trade Centre’s Ethical Fashion Initiative