It was in the late 90s and early 2000s when fast fashion really came into fruition with retail giants like H&M, Zara, and Topshop taking over the high street, mass producing the latest catwalk trends and bringing them to market at accessible prices. And today it has reached fever pitch.
That sounds good though, right? It means you can get trending styles on demand, at a low price.
So, why is fast fashion disastrously bad?
Imagine a few billion people regularly racing out to buy the latest on-trend items only to wear them once and throw them out. Or worse still never wearing them at all. With increasing consumer demand for the latest fashion trends comes higher volumes and a more competitive marketplace, ultimately leading to even lower prices… leading to greater consumption… and an ever-expanding problem.
Nearly every single element of fashion’s environmental impact increases with greater production: emissions, pollution, loss of biodiversity and waste.
To achieve high-end styles at super low cost means that manufacturers have to cut corners to create the garments. Often this means overlooking industry standard when it comes to health, safety, and materials. Instead opting for cheap, inferior materials that don’t last, toxic dyes that are harmful for workers and the environment, longer working hours and less pay for employees (80% of apparel is made by young women between 18 and 24), and of course, with faster production expectations on tired workers the room for error increases leading to faulty garments and more waste.
What do the stats look like?
The fashion industry is responsible for up to 10per cent of global carbon emissions—more than international flights and shipping combined. We then discard 92 million tonnes of textile waste that the fashion industry generates each year. The impact is much larger than most people realise.
- Estimates from consulting firm McKinsey and the World Economic Forum suggest the number of garments produced each year has at least doubled since 2000.
- A study from the U.K. found that 1 in 3 respondents consider clothes old after one or two wears.
- According to data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the amount of clothing and footwear waste generated by Americans each year ballooned from around 1.4 million tons in 1960 to over 13 million tons in 2018.
- Only a fraction of what’s manufactured gets recycled. Eighty-seven percent of the total fiber input used for clothing is ultimately incinerated or sent to a landfill.
- The U.S. Geological Survey found that 71% of microplastics found in samples of river water came from fibers.
- Scientists estimate that, globally, 35% of the microplastics found in oceans can be traced to textiles, making them the largest source of microplastic pollution in the world’s oceans.
On the home front, according to the Department of Agriculture, Water, and the Environment, Australia is the second-highest consumer of textiles per person in the world. The average Australian consumes around 27kg of new clothing per year and disposing an average 23kg of clothing to landfill each year.
Why do we keep buying?
The average person does not wear 50% of their wardrobe, so why on earth do we keep on buying more?!
For as long as we can remember, shopping hauls have been glamourised and normalised. Fast fashion brands and influencers tell us every day that we need the latest, trendiest clothes. They tell us that arms full of shopping bags is the norm. They send us new arrival notifications daily that make us fear missing out. They tell us that wearing the same outfit twice is a faux pas. They sell clothes for less than a sandwich to make it tempting to fill up our shopping carts. They create a disposable culture.
Fast fashion is designed to be disposable. Designs are trendy instead of timeless. They are produced in a hurry from cheap materials that don’t last and have little consideration for fit or quality. So, we throw them out and buy more.
Who are the fastest fashion brands?
The original fast fashion giants are H&M and Zara. In fact, the term 'fast fashion' was coined in the 90s to describe Zara’s mission to turn around on-trend styles within 15 days of them hitting the catwalk.
Other big names include UNIQLO, GAP, Primark, Cotton On, and TopShop. Today there is a new breed of ultra-fast-fashion brands hitting the scene with the likes of SHEIN, Missguided, Forever 21, Zaful, Boohoo, and Fashion Nova. And they are ultra-bad.
How do we avoid fast fashion?
On an individual level we need to reframe our thinking and behaviour. Start understanding that cheap is in fact costly – for the people who are making the garments and our planet.
We must opt for quality over quantity, buying fewer, timeless pieces that are made to last and be repaired. Creating a capsule wardrobe with solid basics that can be mixed and matched time and again is a great start. And remember the Rs of fashion: reduce, refuse, reuse, repair and recycle.
Avoid brands that are:
- Offering thousands of styles at low prices.
- Offering new trends within weeks of catwalk shows.
- Manufacturing in large volumes offshore where they can exploit labour.
- Using cheap materials like polyester, which won’t last.
On a government level, fast fashion brands must be held accountable for the environmental damage they are causing.
"We need to push for laws and policies that make brands responsible for any emissions or toxic chemicals or anything else they do that damages the environment, and make transparency absolutely mandatory." Erin Skinner, University of South Australia PhD candidate.
We use a number of resources to research our blogs, here are some of the articles we used for this post: