“Fast fashion” items refer to cheaply-made clothing sold at low prices to maximize profit for fashion companies. Instead of helping to reverse the sustainability issues in our environment, these companies are adding to the problem and are mistreating their garment workers. These clothes often coincide with global fashion trends, allowing brands to capitalize on the influx of consumers wanting to copy trendy styles. Among these brands are Forever 21, Missguided, and Fashion Nova. Fast fashion has been deemed “one of the biggest polluters in the world” because of its negative impacts on humans and the environment. These are the most prominent reasons why sustainable, ethical fashion is necessary today:
- Women and minorities are affected by exploitative labor in the garment industry. Workers are confined to poor working conditions, earn extremely low wages, and are exposed to harmful chemicals like pesticide residue in non-organic cotton and silicone wax in other fabrics.
- Along with workers, people who live near fast fashion factories are also exposed to dangerous chemicals in dyes and fabrics. Chemicals can often find their way into community water resources from mass production sites.
- Fabrics most commonly used to make fast fashion items, such as polyester, spandex, and nylon can take up to a thousand years to biodegrade. This drastically contributes to the overall total waste sitting in landfills across the globe.
- Polyester washed in standard washing machines sheds microfibers that contribute to water pollution. The microfibers contain non-biodegradable plastics that threaten the health of aquatic animals and sea life. Small animals like fish consume the microfibers and risk spreading it to other organisms higher up on the food chain, including humans.
- A single cotton t-shirt uses up to 2,700 liters of water to produce. That amount approximately meets the average person’s water consumption needs for two and a half years. This excessive water use has caused water shortages in main cotton-producing countries like India and China.
- Evidence discovered by the U.S. Department of Labor shows that the fashion industry practices forced and child labor in various countries across South America, Asia, and the Middle East.
More and more fashion companies are making efforts to sell sustainable clothing while keeping consumers satisfied with price and style. H&M, a brand once put under fire for burning usable clothes, has recently been rebranding itself as a sustainable clothing company. Websites like Poshmark and thredUP encourage the re-selling of clothes as to not produce more textile waste.
Efforts to reduce the negative impacts of fast fashion can also be individual. By simply recycling or donating old clothes instead of throwing them out, or investing in eco-friendly garments, people can make a small yet substantial impact in reversing the harmful trajectory that the fashion industry has created.