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Fast Fashion: How Bad is It Really?

shirts on clothing hangers
“Fast fashion is inexpensive clothing produced rapidly by mass-market retailers in response to the latest trends.” – Oxford Languages.

Everything in our world is getting faster: travelling, food, Wi-Fi connection (more or less) – and fashion. Clothes shopping used to require people to physically go outside, into a shop and buy the item. Of course, nothing about this aspect has changed but what has changed is the fact that we can also buy whatever we want right from our smartphones. How many times have we scrolled through apps or browsed websites and impulsively ordered something? Did we really need this new shirt? Probably not but it looked so cute, right? We’re piling up our clothes at home yet it never feels like it’s enough. One trend follows the other, follows the other, follows the other. Oh, and then there’s the shirt we bought two weeks ago that already has a hole in it, so we have to throw it away. If we throw it away that means we can treat ourselves to a new one, right? The cycle continues.

Slow Fashion vs. Fast Fashion

The great benefit of slow fashion is that the items are made to last long which means they are more durable and of better quality. Eco-friendly materials are being used and some crafts are preserved. Sometimes, slow fashion involves local designers and artists too. The unfortunate part is that pricing for the items is higher and sometimes out of our budget.

Fast Fashion aims to replicate recent catwalk trends or even online trends and designs and then mass-produce them at a low cost to sell them while demand is at its highest. Fast fashion is usually a great alternative for people who don’t have the means to spend large sums of money on a shirt. As a student myself, I have often bought fast fashion simply because my bank account wouldn’t allow it otherwise.

The Impact of Fast Fashion on Our Environment

Some of the high-street shops have new clothes on display every week and some online retailers offer new sets every other day. If these clothes don’t sell by the time there needs to be space for the next batch, the items go to landfills. Consumerism has born a throwaway culture.

The use of toxic dyes makes the fast fashion industry the second largest polluter of clean water globally. The water that is used to dye fabrics contains residual dye, chemicals, and micro-fibres that all end up in water streams. Most of the time this cannot be traced back to the source which means these companies can get away with this without ever having to face the consequences.

BBC Earth also mentions the fashion industry as one of the worst polluters. Especially, the fabrics beings used to create our favourite pieces can have dire consequences for wildlife specifically. People like to talk about the terrible impact plastic has on the environment but oftentimes don’t realise that it’s not only the solid pieces of plastic that make it into our forests and waters, it’s also the microplastic that sheds from clothing. So might the microplastic from your fleece jumper travel through your washing machine and end up being consumed by crabs, penguins, turtles, or seals? Or how about polyester? This fabric is derived from fossil fuels which contribute to carbon emissions, global warming, and more microplastic.

How much water does it take to make a cotton shirt? Approximately 2,700 litres. Let that sink in. That is enough to drink for 900 days.

And how about the people who make the clothes? A survey by Fashion Checker states that 93% or surveyed brands don’t pay their workers a living wage. This means they don’t earn enough to meet basic needs. About 80% of the workers are women and the U.S. Department of Labor found evidence of child labor in the fashion industry as well.

What Can You Do?

The urge to immediately get into action and implement positive environmental change in your life can be overwhelming. Eco-Anxiety and Eco-Guilt are real things and I have once driven myself crazy with it too. You want to do everything at once – a radical change. Maybe you want to immediately throw away all your clothes that contain microplastics. That might not be the best way to go about this. What is important is to be patient with yourself. Do what you can. Every small bit helps.

Buy quality items (if you can) - Try to find out more about the company or brand you want to shop clothes from. This should be fairly easy especially when you shop online. Where are the clothes being manufactured? What fabrics do they use? Have they taken any actual action towards being a more sustainable brand?

Beware of Greenwashing - With the rise of interest in the environment and sustainability, a lot of companies seem to pledge to become more eco-friendly too. A lot of these companies, however, spend more time trying to advertise themselves as eco-friendly than actually doing something for the environment. Sometimes these companies do this to distract from their environmentally damaging actions.

Swap clothes with friends or family - I’ve been able to get some iconic things that way, thank you, mum.

Go charity shopping - We are very fortunate to have so many fantastic charity shops around the UK. Why not make the most of it?

Repair clothes instead of throwing them away - Do you have a small hole somewhere? Try sewing it. You can’t sew? Great opportunity to learn a new skill!

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