When people visit their local mall, the last thing they probably think about is what it takes to make the shirt they are holding. Most would be shocked if they understood how the Fast Fashion cycle created the clothing in their hands. But what even is Fast Fashion?
Fast Fashion happens when clothes are made quickly and cheaply in order to satisfy a current fashion trend (think H&M, Zara, Forever 21, and more). This practice doesn’t sound awful by itself, but when you consider how it impacts workers, consumers, and the environment, it’s clearly detrimental to society. The garment employees for Fast Fashion companies usually work in unsafe spaces and do not earn a living wage. When consumers constantly throw away and buy new clothes—a pattern that Fast Fashion’s cheap prices and poor quality perpetuates—they harm the environment and are unable to truly appreciate the clothes they have.
As we battle climate change, textile waste is a huge problem, and the Fast Fashion cycle is to blame. According to Reuters.com, 1.2 billion tons of greenhouse gases are polluting the air just from textile production. ScienceLine.org reports that less than 16 percent of textiles produced are being recycled. The other 84 percent usually go to landfills, where they break down and release methane, a greenhouse gas known to contribute to global warming. In 2016, landfills were the third largest producer of methane emissions in the world, according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Regardless of whether you are buying new items or donating them, you always have to be cautious about what has happened or what will happen to your clothes.
What people overlook the most about the Fast Fashion industry is the inhumane conditions under which the laborers produce clothes. In 2013, the Rana Plaza Building, a textile factory in Bangladesh, collapsed, and over 1,100 people died while working to produce garments for Fast Fashion companies such as Primark and Mango. Additionally, Fast Fashion workers are severely underpaid. According to anti-poverty charity\ War on Want, the majority of garment workers in Bangladesh earn approximately 3000 taka ($36) each month, when the monthly living wage (the amount needed to cover food,
shelter, and education) was calculated to be about 5000 taka ($60). Garment workers suffer in the long run because of the combination of unfair working conditions and the lack of a living wage.
Aside from its negative environmental and humanitarian consequences, Fast Fashion leads people down a rabbit hole of consumerism that encourages impulse purchasing: buying what you don’t need just because it’s cheap and trendy. Fast Fashion pieces are made quickly for a reason—so you can wear them once or twice, then throw them out and buy something new for next season. In this cycle, people aren’t able to appreciate their current wardrobe, which leads to them spending more money on more things which they only value so long as they are on trend.
Luckily, there are ways to prevent the Fast Fashion cycle from continuing. The most obvious is to stop buying Fast Fashion altogether and opt for slow (ethical and sustainable) fashion instead. Some great examples of slow fashion brands are Reformation, American Apparel, and Patagonia. You can also thrift your clothes, a preference of mine, finding something unique while preventing textile waste. And lastly, donate your old clothes, but do some research on where you will be donating, as you don’t want your clothes to go to a landfill. While Fast Fashion is a damaging phenomenon, alternatives exist to break the pattern—it’s just a matter of choosing them.