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How Fast Fashion Affects our Climate

What does fast fashion look like?

Over the past few decades, the fashion industry has evolved, and fashion as we used to know it has changed forever. Fast fashion rapidly came into use when retailers created apparel through great flexibility and rapid responses to fashion shows and runways. This competitive market created by the constantly changing trends meant that retailers had no choice but to reduce the time frame that existed between design and consumption.

Fast fashion has seized the market and has sales and profits expanding by over 20%, as well as their profit margins being higher than their specialty-apparel retail competitors. The increased profits highlight how it has dominated the fashion industry, and how it is efficient and convenient for people to shop with these brands.

We can recognise fast fashion in brands we know and love such as SHIEN, Zara, H&M, Primark, and New Look, as their ability to produce garments at a speed that allows them to take advantage and stay ahead of ever-changing fashion trends. These brands have developed their production lines to create the most 'efficient' and labour-intensive environments in order to fill their stores with 'trendy' apparel.

This desire from individuals to always have the 'trendiest' and most 'fashionable' items of clothing, encourages these brands to create adequate quality clothing for affordable prices, creating a competitive and accessible market for those who want to express their individuality through mass-produced fashion.

SHEIN is the ultimate fast fashion brand; SHEIN took the industry by storm in 2012 when its focus changed from wedding dresses to general women's fashion and has become the world's largest fashion retailer as of 2022. Their ability to produce clothing costing just half of the Zara equivalent, as well as upload hundreds of new products weekly, highlights how their production is able to maintain and even set the bar for other fast fashion brands, proving that they are the best in the game at staying ahead of trends. However, their domination is not without fault; their constant production of poor-quality clothing results in carbon pollution due to the industry's emissions and the frequent purchase and discarding of people's clothes.

The effect of fast fashion

There are substantial global health costs associated with the mass production of cheap apparel; approximately 3.8 billion pounds of American consumed clothing is sent to landfill as solid waste, coming to around 80 pounds per American per year. A landfill like this can be created by the 'throw away culture' that surrounds our shopping habits, with many individuals choosing to consistently purchase new clothing and throw away old rather than re-wear, donate, or sell clothing they no longer deem 'fashionable'.

The global throw-away culture has created a disrespect for material goods, turning the Earth's natural resources into waste after just one use. This inconsiderate disposal of single-use material has led to the harmful pollution of many of the natural living environments that were once considered safe. The 'throw-away' culture that describes the social and economic structure of our society, is evidence that fast fashion and its constant turnover of clothes, leading to unimaginable waste, is a major cause of the plastic pollution within our oceans.

Fast fashion and throw-away culture are destroying all types of ecosystems due to the need for Earth's natural resources. For example, industries are robbing these natural resources from already impoverished communities, and as a result of our throw-away culture and the improper disposal of plastic debris, the environment falls victim to the toxins and pollution of micro-plastics due to the extended time it takes for the micro-plastics to decompose. Therefore, these impoverished communities are suffering due to the cyclical issue of plastic pollution; the removal of their resources and the subsequent toxins that are released into their soil and water sources means that the effects of fast fashion are causing critical damage to the environment and preventing communities from thriving.

What can we do to help?

If we want to minimise the negative effects we leave on this Earth, we need to reconsider how we are consuming and disposing of fashion.

With regards to how we dispose of our clothing, our ecosystems would benefit if 'throw-away' culture became a past notion. The re-wearing and repetition of clothing items could lead to a large reduction of the amount of apparel that ends up in landfill, reducing the number of micro-plastics and toxins released by the textiles and therefore hopefully reducing the 268,940 tonnes of plastic debris that exists within our oceans.

Another alternative, if you're not an outfit repeater, would be to sell or donate items of clothing, or buy clothing second-hand. Websites such as Depop, Vinted, and Ebay are useful places to sell items you no longer love. This sustainable way to clear out your wardrobe is one that the Earth will thank you for; by being able to give clothes a second chance at being 'fashionable', you are preventing the harsh toxins and plastics from entering the oceans, sitting in a landfill and destroying Earth's natural resources.

Another way to help prevent climate change through fashion, is to buy from sustainable and eco-friendly clothing brands. Eco-friendly brands such as Patagonia, Tentree and Eileen Fisher are all great examples of brands that use recycled materials and eco-friendly products to provide trendy and fashionable pieces without causing harm to our environment.

Not everyone can afford or has access to sustainable clothing, and that is absolutely fine, you don't need to buy these items to reduce the effect on the world. Even just reducing waste, limiting your spending on fast fashion brands, and ensuring the correct disposal of your last season jacket can make a difference to the climate crisis we are facing.


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