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Fast Fashion -- The Unseen Killer

By: Mason Capone

Have you or a friend ever bought from SHEIN, H&M, or Zara? Probably! The prices are so cheap for the cutest and most fashionable items for every season. These brands are some of the many fast fashion brands in the world. Fast fashion refers to the mass production of trendy and inexpensive clothing by big brands- and it is killing our planet. While being the second largest industry contributing to CO2 emissions, this process directly leads to global warming. Everyone wants a cheaper price for their clothes, but to what extent is this okay? The purchasing of clothing items such as shirts for prices as low as $6.00 is contributing heavily to the environmental crisis which is growing exponentially each year. What can you do to help stop this industry? “After learning about the concept, I quickly began to realize the gravity of the issue globally as it is a practice that has detrimental environmental and humane impacts” (Anna Cestone). Read on to learn more.


“It is estimated that around the world, about 107 billion units of apparel and 14.5 billion pairs of shoes were purchased in 2016” (Common Objective, 2018).


That is a huge amount of clothing items bought in only one year. How can this be true? What is the reason for the mass amount of fashion items being bought each and every year? The reason is fast fashion - this might sound like a good thing at first glance, but in essence, it is the exact opposite. Fast fashion is one of the horrific practices that is majorly contributing to the depletion of the Earth’s resources. What is fast fashion, and why is it so bad for the environment? 


What is fast fashion?


Fast fashion refers to the mass production of trendy and inexpensive clothing by big brands. The brand Zara started the idea, instead of having the normal 4 seasons relating to fashion trends (winter, spring, summer, and fall) they began to have 52 mini-seasons, a new fashion “collection” a week. This way big brands always have in-style clothes ready to sell.


“It’s been customary for stores to have a towering supply of stock at all times, so brands don’t have to worry about running out of clothes” (Audrey Stanton, The Good Trade).


Unsustainable Clothes


Most of the time these mass-produced clothes are made with low-quality materials and more often than not the extras which are not sold and are no longer considered “trendy,” get thrown away. 85% of the material ends up in landfills each year. But, consumers usually end up throwing these fast fashion items away after only a few wears anyway, because why not, it was very cheap. 



(The thousands of fast fashion items lined up ready to be sold)


Ever heard of SHEIN?


Most people think that buying a few cute tops from SHEIN won’t make any big difference and this is the mindset that leads to the 1 million daily active users on their website. Fulfilling about 10,000 orders every day is what makes SHEIN so successful with yearly revenue of about $36.3 million. It may be hard to say no to these cheap and trendy outfits, but the harm these purchases inflict on the environment may make a difference to people’s perceptions. 


“Although cheap clothing is tempting, especially on a college budget, I try to steer away from or limit my spending at stores that are led by fast fashion principles as I don’t want to support the cycle of cheap labor and environmental waste, simply to save a few bucks” (Anna Cestone).


Negative Impact on Water


The creation of fast fashion clothes contributes to major amounts of water pollution. To get the soft, clean, and colorful clothing everyone wants in their wardrobe, hundreds of toxic chemicals are used and then dumped into the environment. The dyes, solvents, and washing fluids contribute to “one-fifth of industrial water pollution” (McKinsey, 2020). This amount is second only to the water pollution committed by the oil industry. Textile dye waste is usually dumped into streams and rivers without any regulation, destroying local environments and habitats for living plants and animals. This polluted water can also harm people: “[t]he dyeing chemicals also have significant human health impacts and have been linked to forms of cancer, gastrointestinal problems, and skin irritation.” 


Not only does the making of these trendy items add chemicals to natural water sources, but also requires immense amounts of freshwater. Cotton needs a large amount of water to be made into clothing. For one pair of jeans to be made 2,000 gallons of water is needed, “[t]hat’s more than enough for one person to drink eight cups per day for 10 years” (World Economic Forum). Imagine a fast fashion brand selling hundreds of pairs of jeans a day, and how much water could be preserved if people didn’t buy from fast fashion brands like these. 











(The textile dyes that are dumped into the environment, destroying ecosystems)


Carbon Emissions and Fast Fashion


Not only is water pollution an issue that has arisen from the popular shopping habit of fast fashion, but also the harmful practice of contributing heavy carbon emissions. Carbon emissions are the main reason for global warming; the trapping of these greenhouse gases in the atmosphere doesn’t allow for heat to escape which consequently warms the planet and contributes to climate change over time. “The global apparel and footwear industry produced more greenhouse gases than France, Germany and the UK combined in 2018, totaling 2.1 billion tonnes of CO2 emissions” (Vogue Business). Almost 10% of global carbon emissions come from the fashion industry. Cutting down on fast fashion would greatly reduce this percentage.

What can YOU do to help?


“Although you spend more today, these pieces of clothing will last [decreasing your fashion waste footprint and helping slow the vicious cycle of fast fashion].” This cycle will only exacerbate, the more consumers fuel it. Hence, it’s so important that we seek alternatives and support good brands!” (Anna Cestone)


Doing small things to boycott fast fashion may seem minimal and insufficient to some. But, if even a few people who have previously bought from fast fashion brands stopped doing so and began thinking more about being “sustainably fashionable” then the environment would become a cleaner place.


You should spend more money now on clothes that will last longer and do not have a carbon footprint. This choice of yours will drastically help save the planet and contribute to the fight against climate change. 


You should try...

  • Thrifting in-store/online (goodwill, salvation army, Poshmark, Depop, etc)

  • Repair and mend clothing, don’t throw things out too quickly

  • Trade with friends

  • Hand-me downs

  • DONATE old clothes! 

  • If you need to buy new clothing, spend more money on a quality and long-lasting item


You should avoid brands like...


  • H&M

  • Zara

  • Forever 21

  • Victoria's Secret 


You should buy from brands like...

Image Citations

1. The Sustainable Fashion Collective

2. One Green Planet

Research citations:

  • The Good Trade

  • PBS

  • GrowJo

  • Goodonyou

  • The Pretty Planeteer

  • Levie

  • Pact

  • Patagonia

  • Backbeat

  • Vogue Buisness

  • The Fashion Law

  • The We Forum

  • Wear Zeigiest 

  • Summer Salt

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