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Fast Fashion Secrets: Social & Environmental Impact of Trendy Clothing


by Alisha Shabnam

Do you ever wonder where your clothes come from?

Fast fashion is a term used to describe the production of cheap, trendy clothing that is often produced in unethical and unsustainable ways. The fast fashion industry is a global business worth over $99.23 billion. It has come under fire in recent years for its impact on the environment and workers’ rights.

Fast fashion has grown exponentially in the last two decades, and it is time to take a closer look at the impacts it has had on our planet and society.

In this article, we will explore the rise of fast fashion, the environmental impacts of the industry, and the potential solutions to these issues.

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Fast Fashion Secrets: Social & Environmental Impact of Trendy Clothing 3

The Fast Fashion Industry

The fashion industry is the seventh-largest economy in the world; in recent years, the fast fashion industry has exploded in popularity due to its ability to quickly produce and distribute trendy, affordable clothing. As of 2022, the global fast fashion market grew from $91.23 billion to $99.23 billion at a compound annual growth rate of 8.8%, and it’s expected to reach $133.43 billion in 2026 at a (CAGR) of 7.7%.

This has been made possible by advances in technology and the globalization of production, which has allowed clothing to be produced at a fraction of the cost and time it used to take. The ability to quickly produce and distribute clothing has allowed fast fashion companies to capitalize on the latest trends, offering shoppers an ever-changing selection of clothing at a fraction of the cost of traditional retailers.

 This has made fast fashion incredibly attractive to shoppers, who can quickly and cheaply update their wardrobes to keep up with the latest trends. Additionally, fast fashion has become a cultural phenomenon, with influencers and celebrities often wearing the latest trends and inspiring their fans to do the same. All of these factors have contributed to the rise of the fast fashion industry, making it one of the most popular and profitable industries in the world.

Fast fashion brands like H&M, Zara, and Forever 21 are known for their low prices and trendy designs. However, the cost of this convenience is often hidden from consumers. The truth is that the fast fashion industry is built on a foundation of exploitation of workers and resources.

Related: Cosmetic Greenwashing: Dirty Secret Of The Cosmetic Industry

Why is Fast Fashion Cheap?

Fast fashion is a trendy business model today. Many businesses are using this model to gain quick profit. The reason why fast fashion is so cheap is that companies are able to make clothing speedily and in large quantities, allowing them to keep costs low. Additionally, fast fashion companies often use low-cost materials and labour, which helps them to keep prices down.

By cutting out the middleman and using online platforms like websites, apps and online stores, fast fashion companies are also able to offer their products at lower prices. Finally, fast fashion companies use aggressive marketing tactics to attract customers and drive sales, which helps to keep costs down. All of these factors combine to create the low prices associated with fast fashion.

However, this type of business doesn’t provide the quality that consumers have come to expect. Fast fashion companies often cut corners to meet consumer demand. This leads to low-quality products.

Fast fashion companies typically use the most inferior quality fabrics that can be found instead of higher quality fibres that last longer and are kinder to the environment and your body. Furthermore, the fashion industry creates a large amount of waste, 70 % of the garments manufactured either end up in landfills or are incinerated to hook customers with new latest trends and to create a sense of FOMO.

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The Environmental Issues Surrounding the Fast Fashion Industry

The fast fashion industry has been increasingly criticized for its negative environmental impact. The production of clothing is a significant contributor to global warming, water pollution, and resource depletion. The industry’s ‘fast’ production cycles are primarily to blame for its environmental damage, as the pressure to produce quickly leads to the use of cheap, unsustainable materials and production processes.

The industry’s reliance on non-renewable resources, such as petroleum-based fibres, has also led to an increase in carbon emissions and air pollution. Additionally, the prevalence of ‘throw-away’ fashion has caused an increase in landfill waste and other forms of pollution. It is clear that the environmental issues surrounding the fast fashion industry are significant and must be addressed in order to protect our planet.

Fast fashion and water pollution:

The fast fashion industry has had a massive impact on water pollution. As clothes are produced at an increasingly rapid rate, the amount of water used to dye fabrics and treat fabrics with chemicals has skyrocketed. This water is often released back into the environment without proper treatment, leading to the contamination of rivers, lakes, and other bodies of water. In addition, the production of synthetic fibres like polyester and nylon can also lead to water pollution, as the chemicals used to produce them can seep into the water supply.

The effects of water pollution from the fast fashion industry can be devastating, leading to health problems for people and animals, as well as damage to the environment. The fashion industry uses 93 billion cubic meters of water a year, according to UNEP and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. That’s enough water to feed five million people for a year. According to the report, fabric dyeing and treatment generate about 20% of the world’s wastewater.

Fast fashion and air pollution:

The fast fashion industry is also a major contributor to air pollution. This is because the production and transportation of cheap, mass-produced clothing require a lot of energy and resources, which can result in the release of harmful emissions and pollutants into the atmosphere.

For example, the production of synthetic fabrics such as polyester and nylon requires a lot of energy and generates a significant amount of CO2. Furthermore, the transportation of clothing from factories to stores also contributes to air pollution, as it typically involves the burning of fossil fuels.

Globally, the fashion industry generates 10% of annual global carbon emissions, which is more than all international flights and maritime shipping combined. According to UNEP and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, the fast fashion industry’s emissions will increase by more than 50% by 2030. These emissions have a negative impact on air quality, leading to air pollution and health issues.

Wasteful fashion industry:

Finally, the fast fashion industry generates a tremendous amount of waste; 92 million tonnes of garment and textile waste is discarded annually. Producing large amounts of low-quality clothing creates a massive amount of textile waste that is often not recycled or reused, but up to 95 per cent of the textiles that are landfilled each year could be recycled. This textile waste can include anything from fabric scraps to clothing that is discarded due to poor quality. This waste then often ends up in landfills or incinerators, releasing harmful toxins into the environment.

The fast fashion industry is also known for its unsustainable disposal practices, particularly when it comes to the disposal of large quantities of perfectly good clothes. This is because fast fashion companies produce clothing at an incredibly rapid rate, often with little regard for quality or durability. As a result, they often end up discarding clothes that are still in perfect condition simply because they no longer fit the current trends. Also, More than 50% of fast fashion clothes will be discarded within one year of purchase by consumers thanks to fast-moving trends.

Fast fashion companies also tend to overproduce to meet the demands of their customers, which can lead to excess inventory and an inability to sell all of the clothes produced. This means that a lot more perfect clothing ends up going to waste.

Additionally, synthetic garments do not break down when discarded at landfills, and the use of synthetic materials in fast fashion clothing can contribute to the release of microplastics into the environment.

Every year, we eject half a billion tons of microfibers from our polyester clothes, which is the equivalent of more than 50 million plastic bottles! This can have devastating effects on marine life, as well as on human health. To reduce the waste generated by the fast fashion industry, consumers should be aware of the environmental impacts of their purchases and opt for sustainable options when possible.

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Fast fashion labour conditions

Recently, fast fashion has made headlines for its unethical working conditions, including the exploitation of workers in developing countries. These workers are often paid low wages and are subjected to long hours and dangerous working conditions. In some cases, workers are not even given the fundamental rights and protections that are required by law.

This has created an environment of exploitation and poverty for many of these workers, who are unable to provide for their families or access basic necessities. This is a direct result of the fast fashion industry’s focus on speed and profit, which has led to the neglect of workers’ rights and safety.

The fast fashion industry has unfortunately also been linked to child labour as well, with reports of children as young as nine years old being employed in garment factories. This exploitative practice is driven by the need for low-cost production, as fast fashion companies strive to produce garments quickly and cheaply. The use of child labour in the fast fashion industry has been documented in countries such as India, Bangladesh, and China, where the majority of the world’s clothing is produced.

In addition to the physical and psychological harm caused by child labour, it also has a detrimental effect on the economy, as it prevents children from receiving an education and gaining the skills needed to become productive members of society. It is essential that the fast fashion industry takes steps to eliminate the use of child labour and ensure that all workers are treated fairly and given a safe working environment.

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Related: Coca-Cola’s Greenwashing at COP27: A Detailed Look

What You Can Do to Help Make a Difference

Fast fashion causes a lot of environmental damage and human rights abuses, and most of us have contributed to it unknowingly. But there are things we can do to help make a difference. By supporting ethical brands, shopping secondhand, and refusing to buy into the culture of disposable fashion, we can send a powerful message to the industry that we’re not going to take it anymore.

We can demand better working conditions, fairer wages, and an end to the use of harmful chemicals, synthetic materials and toxic dyes. We can demand fashion that is sustainable, both for the planet and for the people who make it. It’s time to make a stand and demand change. Join the movement for slow fashion and help make the world a better place.

We need to do something to solve the issue. We should not let the environment and workers suffer because of the production of cheap fashion. We should make sure that the people who produce trendy affordable fashion are paid fair wages, get treated with respect, and live in a healthy environment. To begin with, we need to support ethical slow fashion companies. These are fashion companies that use low-impact techniques to produce their products.

For example, it may be a factory that uses only organic cotton or a company that does not use harmful chemicals in the dyeing process. We should choose brands that make a conscious effort to treat their workers and the environment well. We should buy secondhand and vintage items instead of buying new clothing. Many fashion designers are now using fabrics that are made of recycled materials to raise awareness. You can also refuse to purchase anything that is made from synthetic material.

 We live in a world that is becoming increasingly aware of the environmental impact of the way we live. In the last couple of years, there has been an explosion of interest in the environment and the effect that our lifestyle choices have on the planet. The fast fashion industry is one of the biggest contributors to the pollution of our planet. We can no longer afford to wait. The time is now.

It’s clear that the fast fashion industry has created a lot of environmental and ethical issues. It’s important for companies to be aware of their impact on the environment and to make sure their practices are ethical. We can also take action by being conscious of our own consumption and supporting companies that are making an effort to reduce their environmental impact.

The fast fashion industry is a complex issue, so it’s important to stay informed and continue to have conversations about how to make the industry more sustainable.

What other steps can we take to reduce the environmental impact of the fast fashion industry?

Let me know in the comment section.


What is fast fashion, and why is it a problem?

Fast fashion is a mass-produced, cheap fashion that has a lot of environmental and social issues, such as worker exploitation, hazardous chemical usage, and waste production.

What are fast fashion examples?

H&M, Zara, Stradivarius, Victoria’s Secret, Urban Outfitters, Guess, Forever 21

Is H&M a fast fashion?

Yes, H&M is a fast fashion brand. H&M is one of the major players in this fast fashion industry, producing new collections on a regular basis and offering a wide array of styles and sizes to its customers.

What is the main cause of fast fashion?

The main cause of fast fashion is the demand for affordable, fashionable clothing that consumers can wear for a season or two before replacing it with something new. This demand has been driven by the rise of social media, where people can quickly post pictures of themselves in the latest styles and trends. Additionally, the rise of online shopping has made it easier than ever for consumers to buy new clothes quickly and easily. As a result, the fast fashion industry has grown rapidly and is now a major contributor to the overall fashion industry.

How can we prevent fast fashion?

To prevent fast fashion, we must first become aware of the issue and understand how our buying habits contribute to it. We can start by making a conscious effort to buy fewer items of clothing and instead focus on buying well-made items that will last. We should also look for items made from sustainable materials, such as organic cotton or recycled polyester. Additionally, we should look for brands that have ethical production practices, such as fair wages and safe working conditions. Finally, we should be sure to recycle our old clothes instead of simply throwing them away.

Alisha Shabnam

Hi! I’m Alisha Shabnam, a freelance Sustainability Consultant and writer working in the field of sustainability education.