The Human and Environmental Cost of Fast Fashion



Globalisation is an economic and social process, which means that people and businesses across borders interact more easily. Globalisation has been increasing since the 19th century and in terms of fashion, this means that new styles, materials, and methods of production are more readily available to people around the world.


Globalisation provides low-cost labour since richer nations are able to buy materials or goods from low-wage developing countries. This low-cost labour and international market paved the way for the global assembly line, in which companies do product research in rich countries but assemble products in poorer countries to reduce the cost of production.


As a result of this global assembly line, we have fast fashion which means that new trends are cheaper and more easily available to the general public. However, the negatives of fast fashion far outweigh the positives. Yet, globalisation and fast fashion continues increasing rapidly, with technology and online shopping making it easier to order and ship products worldwide.



Why is fast fashion bad?


Many shops on our high streets are guilty of fast fashion including Primark, H&M and Topshop. However, recently we have seen a boom in online brands who are just as guilty including Pretty Little Thing, Boohoo, and Shein. These shops exploit workers in third world countries who earn extraordinarily little compared to the retail price of the items they make. It is common for these workers to be women and children, who work long hours in inhumane working practices who have little or no choice but to work under such conditions. Recently it was reported that Bangladeshi workers that make clothes for Shein feel they must work double shifts to make large quantities, since larger numbers of product mean lower sale prices and a higher chance of being chosen by vendors.


Not only does fast fashion exploit people in poor countries it's global operations result in devastating environmental pollution. Annually, the fashion industry uses 1.5 trillion litres of water and produces high levels of CO2 emissions and chemical pollution. Not to mention the 92 million tonnes of waste each year.

Vendors like Shein are criticised for making clothes using synthetic fabrics which are detrimental to the environment because microplastics that contaminate the water ways.



What can I do?


Being a more conscious fashion consumer does not mean you have to be less fashionable. Although, coming from a low-income family I understand that being able to shop ethically is a privilege that many cannot afford. However, there are other options than fast fashion for low-income families. The best thing that you can do is... whatever you can. Even small changes make the difference.


What you can do is never throw away your old clothes - you can sell them on sites like Depop or Facebook Marketplace or just donate them to charity. Buying second hand should always be our first option, this is both more sustainable and often cheaper while raising money for charity. I've found some real bargains in the charity shop, once finding a brand new RRP £320 Ted Baker suit for just £35.


Also, online sites like Depop allows you to search for second-hand items making it easier to find the right deal for you. If you do need to buy new clothes, as a community we should also make an effort to choose slow fashion and shop locally. This will encourage the fashion industry to focus more on the quality and sustainability of items.


When shopping, it is also important to consider the materials used to make those items of clothing in terms of sustainability, and avoiding animal products like wool and leather, as well as synthetic materials containing plastics such as PVC and polyester - often used in fast fashion. To avoid fast fashion, ethical shoppers should also check where companies have made their clothing and whether they have certifications of sustainable materials and ethical supply.


However, you do not always need to buy new or second-hand clothes, you could set up a clothing swap in your local area or just amongst friends. This would allow you to switch up your fashion choices without the economic or environmental price tag.

Consumers play a crucial role when it comes to the fashion industry, and we must change consumption habits considering the current climate crisis. However, we should not feel pressured to do so if we cannot afford to, but feel empowered knowing that we are doing our best. Being aware of fast fashion and doing what we can to avoid being a part of it will make a difference to the future of our planet and the people on it.