The Problem with Fast Fashion

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In today’s world shopping is cheaper than ever. From a £1 bikini to a $4.95 dress, it’s almost as if brands are competing with each other to see who can offer the cheapest prices.

Let’s be honest — finding a cute inexpensive dress that you can wear to work, or out with the girls might sound really appealing especially if you don’t have a lot of disposable income or just don’t want to spend a lot of money. The problem isn’t that the dress is $5. Heck, you can get thrifted items for $5 and in some cases less. The issue is the story behind the dress and why it’s only $5.


What is fast fashion?

Fast fashion is inexpensive, cheaply made clothing that is rapidly produced by mass-market retailers in response to the latest and most popular trends. Fast fashion is literally designed to fall apart and is a huge contributor to a throwaway culture of overconsumption.

Over the past few decades, the way clothing is produced has drastically changed. Back in the day, clothing was bespoke, meaning clothes were made specifically for you according to your measurements. Today, online shopping coupled with the rise of fast fashion has drastically increased the consumption of clothing. In years past shopping was saved for special occasions. Today shopping has become a form of entertainment where every day is an occasion to shop. Digital and influencer marketing has made us believe that what we have isn’t good enough and that we need to constantly buy more in order to feel and look better.

We’ve created a culture of, “more.” Consequently, apparel consumption is expected to rise by 63% from 62 million tons to 102 million tons in 2030. Journalist and author of Overdressed, Elizabeth Cline estimated that Americans alone consume nearly 20 billion garments a year, the equivalent to 62 garments each.

So what? People are buying more clothes? What’s the big deal?

The textile industry heavily relies on mostly non-renewable resources to the tune of 98 million tons per year. Textile production (including cotton farming) uses around 93 billion cubic meters of water annually. Each year 1.3 trillion gallons of water is used for fabric dyeing alone. The fashion industry pumps out more carbon dioxide than international flights and shipping combined — and that’s just scratching the surface.

Not only are consumers buying more but the rate at which clothing is being discarded is becoming increasingly quicker and quicker. The average person buys 60% more items of clothing and keeps them for about half as long as 15 years ago. More than half of fast fashion produced is disposed of in under a year. Many consumers discard clothing after seven or eight wears. Per capita, Americans discard about 70 pounds of textiles per year that end up in the landfill as many consumers discard clothing after seven or eight wears.

In 2014 for the first time in history, the number of garments produced globally exceeded 100 billion. Today the apparel industry produces 150 billion garments annually yet 30% are unsold. In 2018 H&M made headlines after it was reported that the company was sitting on — $4.3 billion worth of unsold inventory rather than putting it on sale. Get this, H&M produces so many clothes that a power plant in Vasteras partly relies on burning H&M’s defective products to create energy. In 2017 the power plant had incinerated 19 tons (the equivalent to 50,000 pairs of jeans)!

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Is burning clothes really a problem? Isn’t that a better solution than sending them to a landfill?

Burning clothes releases carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, which only aggravates global warming. A report published by a UK parliamentary committee advised governments to to ban the burning or dumping of unsold stock stating, “while incineration of unsold stock ‘recovers’ some energy from the products, it multiplies the climate impact of the product by generating further emissions and air pollutants that can harm human health.”

The trifecta of the crazy amounts of raw materials, water pollution and greenhouse gas emissions used in the production and shipping of fast fashion is only part of the story. In 2013 the deadliest garment industry accident in modern history occurred when the seventh floor of the eight-story Rana Plaza retail and apparel manufacturing complex collapsed injuring 2,500 and killing more than 1,100 people.

The apparel and footwear industry is $2.4 trillion industry however, over 50% of workers aren’t paid minimum wage. The majority of workers earn less than $3 per day in countries like India and the Philippines.

The production of fast fashion is extremely detrimental to humans and the environment. To input so many human and natural resources into something that isn’t even used but instead is incinerated is a huge problem.

When it comes to fast fashion, the impact it has goes on and on and on. While that cute dress may only be $5 it makes you wonder how much the person who made it was paid and what their working/living conditions are and how much of an impact that $5 dress had on our environment and world.

Cheap fashion isn’t cheap — it comes at a high price that someone, somewhere is paying. While we love a good deal that $5 dress just isn’t worth it.

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