Our world has witnessed a technological revolution over the past decades, making life much simpler in many aspects. In terms of production, technological advancements have allowed manufacturers to produce goods at a vastly higher rate. With the increasing rate of mass production and new ways to collect consumer data, the fashion industry saw an opportunity they could not refuse: fast fashion.
By definition, fast fashion is a highly profitable and exploitive business model based upon replicating catwalk trends and high-fashion designs by mass-producing them at low costs. The demand for designer “dupes” essentially incentivized retailers to produce fast fashion for profit. Retailers aimed to increase profit by focusing on key elements of the supply chain, with an emphasis on increased manufacturing speed at a low price. Each season, as luxury brand designers released their new collection of which they had spent months planning and executing, fast fashion retailers immediately replicated pieces of their collection and offered them at an affordable price.
The fast fashion industry is directly to accredit for the acceleration of fashion trends, clothing has never gone out of style more quickly than it does now. The industry single-handedly creates an incentive for individuals to buy more clothes, in order to stay up to date with the current trends, allowing the industry to churn out more than 80 billion garments a year. According to TRAID, a clothing waste charity, the average garment is only worn 10 times before it is thrown away. A majority of individuals don’t bother to even recycle or donate their unwanted clothing items; most of the pieces end up in a landfill or get incinerated.
“A singular piece of clothing can take up to 200 years to decompose, so our planet is getting polluted by more and more unnatural material all the time," says an article published in Pebble Magazine. Moreover, fast fashion has a devastating environmental impact, as it directly affects water usage, microfibers, greenhouse gases, deforestation and toxins. In terms of water usage, it can take up to 200 tons of freshwater to dye and finish just one ton of fabric.
“Wastewater from clothing factories gets dumped directly into rivers in Bangladesh. Alone, 22,000 tons of toxic waste from tanneries goes straight into waterways every year," says the Pebble Magazine article. Toxic waterways not only affect people living along the banks of the affected rivers but the rest of the world, as the toxins will eventually spread to all ocean waterways. The UN has determined that the amount of water used in this industry has put 3.6 billion people at risk of water scarcity.
Environmental scientists emphasize that there is a solution to this rapidly growing problem, yet it needs almost immediate attention. The solution is sustainable fashion. Sustainable fashion is defined as a movement and process of fostering change to fashion products and the fashion system towards greater ecological integrity and social justice. Fashion can be made more sustainable in numerous ways, from using organic materials to engineering patterns that create zero waste. Sustainable fashion brands operate in a contrary manner to fast fashion as they rely on using long-lasting or reused material and hardly follow fast fashion trends. Outside of environmental impacts, another essential part of their production process is providing a safe working space and fair wages for its factory workers. Fast fashion companies place their employees in harsh working conditions and offer extremely low wages. Therefore, in choosing to shop sustainably, you’re not only helping the environment but also helping support fair labor practices.
Each year fast fashion continues to dominate the fashion industry, and more and more of our environment is negatively impacted in the process. The damage already done by this industry is going to be extremely difficult to reverse, yet it is still possible. Sustainable clothing brands are doing their best to lower the fashion industry’s environmental impact by choosing to produce eco-friendly clothes and running their businesses more sustainably. There is an abundance of benefits from shopping sustainably, so be the change in this industry. A couple of great brands to check out: Pact, Kotn, Sézane, Quince, and Whimsy + Row.