The Impact Of Fast Fashion On The Enviroment

The Ellen MacArthur Foundation Global states that clothing production has doubled in the past 15 years, with garments on average being worn much less and discarded quicker than ever before. The production of polyester textiles alone emits about 706 million tons of greenhouse gases a year, and hundreds of gallons of water go into making a cotton garment. The booming fast fashion industry is more prevalent than ever. Thousands of brands and companies rush to get the latest trends to the shelves regardless of moral or ethical reasons. Just a few big brands including Urban Outfitters, Forever 21, and H&M participate in fast fashion. These popular brands which we all see on a daily basis sell fast fashion. Most people strive for ethical consumption of clothes because of the effects that fast fashion has on the environment and labor exploitation. A lot of the conversation about the state of fashion and its environmental impact seems to always stem back to individual choice. While that’s true to a point, it does not include those who can only afford the cheap clothes from fast fashion brands. 

The clothing industry is depleting non-renewable resources, releasing huge quantities of greenhouse gases and using large quantities of energy, chemicals and water.  The demand for ever changing trends has added to irreversible effects to our environment. Major fast fashion retailers are competing for consumers by pushing down their prices more and more. For that, they have to find ways to cut their expenses which mean cheaper materials and sweatshops. Around 260 million children are employed around the world, according to the International Labor Organization. Cheap labor is widely available in many of the countries where textile and garment production takes place. The fast fashion industry chooses the cheap route regardless of morals. Child labor is a particularly an issue because many supply chain require low skilled labor. Employers manage to get away with hiring children because the supply chains are hugely complex and it is hard for companies to control every stage of production. That makes it very possible to hire children without the brands and consumers from ever finding out. There are no two ways about it: fashion is one of the biggest polluters in the world.

Over the past decade or so, there has been a lot of discussion about how the fashion industry could be more sustainable and different ways to remedy the effects fast fashion has had on the earth. As a population we all could be making better choices with our shopping habits for the sake of the planet but the onus should not be on consumers alone. And yet, a lot of the conversation about the state of fashion and its environmental impact seems to always stem back to individual choice. If only people would quit fast fashion altogether, then the earth would be a more liveable place, at least, so the argument goes. While that’s true to a certain extent, it excludes those who can only afford clothes from fast fashion brands. It’s not that some people are being frugal or cheap by only shopping at H&M or Forever 21 sometimes, that’s all their budget will allow for. This raises the question: Is hating fast fashion a privilege? Some individuals don’t have the luxury to pay the high prices of ethically produced clothing. Is purchasing sustainable clothing privilege for the wealthy? Should people with limited disposable income really be expected to pay more for clothes just to avoid buying cheap stuff that’s bad for the planet? And after all of these questions, are we left with one unavoidable one: is fast fashion a class issue? Buying a sustainable pricey piece of clothing is great, sure. But if a struggling mother of four had to choose between that and buying the same things for a third of the price at Forever 21, could you judge her for opting for the latter? With the rise of the ethical fashion movement, an unfortunate culture of shaming those who engage in fast fashion has followed. This is perpetuated by those who are unaware of the privilege they hold in being able to be selective in consumer decisions. But our clothes, and where we buy them, have always been a class issue. They’re a symbol of wealth and status.  A century ago, you couldn’t afford to wear the same clothes as the wealthy, successful people you admired in magazines or on the street. 50 years later, we have the internet: the design process of fashion is faster than ever, thanks to the way we share information. Now, thousands of companies around the world are making millions from allowing us to buy into anyone’s lifestyle at a fraction of the cost. 

Fast fashion has had colossal, irreversible damages on the environment. The average educated person would stay clear of supporting these unethical brands but that doesn’t account for those who cannot afford expensive options. A culture of shaming those who support fast fashion has arised within the last few years and yes, it’s very important to spread awareness of the astronomical effects fast fashion has, but it’s also necessary to acknowledge the privilege it requires to have that mindset.


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