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The Sad Effects of Fast Fashion

March 16, 2021

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Fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent once said, “fashion fades, style is eternal.” Many agree with his statement, but when it comes to “fast fashion,” that may not be true anymore. The fast fashion industry is so-called because it is based on the concept of clothes designed to be cheap but not long-lasting, forcing the wearer to update their looks continuously.

Fast fashion describes fashion trends that move quickly from runway shows to stores. It is a strategic design, manufacturing, and marketing method used to produce high volumes of clothing in low quality materials at minimal costs to replicate trends on the runway. It is an increasingly common trend because cheaper clothing is appealing to the general public and promotes an increase of appetite for affordable, fashionable clothing.

But there is a hidden cost. Fast fashion is the second leading cause of water and air pollution, and might become a significant part of the fossil fuel record. The reason fast fashion is damaging the environment and polluting the air is because of the use of cheap, toxic, textile dyes and materials, and sometimes even child labor. With more than 60 percent of fabric fibers now being synthetics derived from fossil fuels, these clothes that end up being dumped in a landfill tend to be non-decayable, and about 85 percent of textile waste in the United States goes to landfills or is incinerated).

According to Business Insider, fast fashion production takes up 10% of total global carbon emissions, as much as the entire carbon output of the European Union. It dries up water sources and pollutes rivers and streams, while 85% of all textiles go to dumps each year. Even washing clothes releases 500,000 tons of microfibers into the ocean each year, the equivalent of 50 billion plastic bottles.

The use of child labor is also no secret in the industry. With fashion consumer demands continuously growing, it seems impossible for child labor to not appear in the low-paying industry. Children continue to work in factories all over the world, like in India, China, Egypt, Pakistan, Thailand, and Uzbekistan.

In addition to unfair wages, most children have to work in hazardous working environments from a very young age in the textile and garment industry. Children suffer from exposure to harsh chemicals, inhaling fiber dust and dyes. Children continue to work in underpaying factories because they believe it is the only option to support themselves and their families. As a result of this strange and harmful circular trap, the industry can keep production costs low and wages even lower.

More and more unsustainable brands are using fast fashion in an attempt to meet trends. Brands to watch out for are Topshop, GAP, Primark, and Pacsun. However, while these brands once seemed to be radically cheap distributers, there are now even cheaper, faster, and more environmentally-harmful brands like Missguided, Forever 21, Zara, H&M, Boohoo, and the newest, SHEIN. SHEIN is one of the fastest growing online retailers and has historically used unethical practices such as child labor and sweatshops.

As complicated as it can seem, there are still many ways to shop sustainably and ethically to reduce your carbon footprint. There are now many sustainable, online fashion boutiques out like Reformation, Pact, and Patagonia. It’s also important to look out for fabrics like polyester (which is made from oil) and any synthetic fabrics (which shed microfibers into waterways). It is hard to avoid polyester altogether, but you can look for polyester that is made of recycled water bottles at sites like unifi.

It is also important to seek out brands that pay their workers in livable wages like lemlem, Uniform, and Reformation. Buying second-hand clothing is also a great way to shop sustainably, either at thrift stores or online consignment stores. Finally, make sure to donate whatever clothes you can instead of dumping them in the trash…which merely sends them to landfills

Next time you shop, strive to build a sustainable wardrobe that feels right for your lifestyle, budget, and style, while doing your part to help the environment.

About the Writer
Photo of Rand Al-Safi
Rand Al-Safi, FCHS Journalist

Rand is a sophomore in her first year of journalism. She competes in track and field, can speak Arabic fluently, and likes to run, read, and paint.

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The Sad Effects of Fast Fashion