The Fashion Industry has been growing exponentially every year. Companies such as Zara and H&M have seen incredible success as people care less about quality products and more about quickly adapting to the latest trends. The demand for fast fashion is increasing: people bought 60% more garments in 2014 than in 2000 and kept their clothes for half as long. In Europe, 2011, fashion companies went from producing two clothing lines per year to five. Now, Zara produces 24 clothing lines per year and H&M 12-16 clothing lines per year. Although fast fashion may be beneficial for consumers and multi-billion dollar corporations, it does not outweigh its detrimental impact on the environment and poor treatment of laborers. The fashion industry contributes up to 10% of all humanities’ carbon emissions, is the second-largest consumer of the world's water supply, and pollutes the ocean with microplastics.¹ Additionally, the equivalent of one garbage truck full of clothes is burned or dumped in a landfill every second.¹ This is a huge issue as global warming is only getting more extreme every year. Humans cannot afford to have such immense amounts of pollution and waste, yet we are increasing the demand for it.
Fast fashion waste hurts us in the long term but has been affecting animals for many years. It has been determined that over 1 million marine animals are killed by plastics each year.² Microplastics are plastic fragments less than 5 mm in length that pollute the ocean.³ Larger pieces of plastic can be broken down into microplastic from UV rays and ocean currents. They are commonly found in fabrics like polyester and acrylic. Microplastics are estimated to compose up to 31% of the plastic in the ocean. A 2017 report from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) estimated that 35% of all microplastics in the ocean came from the laundering of synthetic textiles like polyester. To make matters worse, more than 60 percent of fabric fibers are now synthetics, derived from fossil fuels. Additionally, microplastics are not a temporary issue, they take hundreds to thousands of years to fully decay. Consequently, when tremendous amounts of clothing are being dumped into landfills every second, it will not just disappear.
How does fast fashion work?
Fast fashion often comes with cheap labor, poor working conditions, and exploitation of garment makers. The following quote from the Clean Clothes Campaign shows how companies like Zara can afford to produce clothing so quickly at low costs.
“In 2011 AHA, the contractor reportedly responsible for 90% of Zara's Brazilian production was found to have subcontracted work to a factory employing migrant workers from Bolivia and Peru in sweatshop conditions in Sao Paulo to make garments for the Spanish company. Workers were found to be working 16 to 19 hours a day with little time off and in debt to their traffickers. Fourteen of the workers were Bolivians and one was from Peru. One was 14 years old.”⁴
This reveals the fast fashion method of producing cheap clothing quickly and there are numerous companies like Inditex with even worse policies.
If it looks too good to be true, it probably is.
Online clothing stores like YesStyle, Aliexpress, ChicNova, Shein, Front Row Shop, and Romwe all produce clothing at rapid rates with unbelievably low prices.⁵ These are key stores to avoid because not only are they terrible for the environment, often times they own sweatshops in foreign countries that exploit their workers. Also, some of these websites, specifically Shein, steal and sell your information, leading to some customers being hacked on all imaginable accounts.⁶ They also steal designs from small companies or even individual’s Instagram shops. Felicity Howard, an Instagram influencer and plus-size model, created a distinctive logo of two manicured hands forming a heart, with a message “Self Love Brings Beauty” in the center. This logo is featured on shirts, hoodies, and bags. Shein ripped off the logo and then reached out to her manager asking for Felicity to promote their new line of plus size clothing.⁷
Solutions and Ethical Brands
If you love clothes and fashion like I do, then this news is disappointing. Most brands I used to shop at are fast fashion or do not disclose enough information about how they are implementing eco-friendly production and distribution methods. The additional issue with shopping ethically and eco-friendly, is that these brands tend to be fairly expensive. My recommendation is to buy the basics that you can use forever from quality, ethical brands because your money will not go to waste. Don’t worry, it’s not all up to you. There are multiple browser extensions and websites that will give you information on your favorite brands or help you find new ones.
For more affordable clothing, try to reuse, upcycle, or buy second hand. It is a great chance to explore your wardrobe and fashion creativity. Thrift stores are a smart option because there are tons of quality clothing in thrift stores waiting to be purchased and the clothes not bought are often sent to the landfill. If you do not have thrift stores nearby, try using apps such as Depop, Poshmark, or Mercari. You can buy clothing with a more personal feel. Also, it is another way to make some extra cash by selling your old clothes and an alternative to making sure your clothing gets a new home and does not end up in a landfill.
Overall, fast fashion needs to slow down. Try your best to shop sustainably. Share your knowledge with friends because fast fashion is only thriving because of us. Most of us have fallen into the trap of fast fashion but it will not work in our favor long term. Remember to think about all the 1,800 gallons of water it takes to produce the cotton in a single pair of jeans⁸ and the laboring that comes with it. In our world, almost anything is available at your front door by the click of a button. We need to remember the hard work put into everything we buy and look after the nature surrounding us.
Websites to find Ethical Eco-friendly Brands
Cluley, Graham, et al. “Malware Steals Passwords from 6.4 Million SHEIN Customers.” Security Boulevard, 26 Sept. 2018, securityboulevard.com/2018/09/malware-steals-passwords-from-6-4-million-shein-customers/.
“Information About Sea Turtles: Threats from Marine Debris.” Sea Turtle Conservancy, conserveturtles.org/information-sea-turtles-threats-marine-debris/.
Coscarelli, Alyssa. “Here's What Happened When We Bought Clothes From Those Sketchy Online Sites.” Cheap Asian Clothing Sites Scams, www.refinery29.com/en-us/2015/11/96886/shopping-asian-e-commerce-style-website s.
Larbi, Miranda. “Plus Size Model Felicity Hayward Calls out Shein for Stealing Her Designs.” Metro, Metro.co.uk, 12 Dec. 2019, metro.co.uk/2017/10/25/plus-size-model-and-self-love-influencer-felicity-hayward-calls-out-shein-for-stealing-her-designs-7025702/.
McFall-Johnsen, Morgan. “The Fashion Industry Emits More Carbon than International Flights and Maritime Shipping Combined. Here Are the Biggest Ways It Impacts the Planet.” Business Insider, Business Insider, 21 Oct. 2019, www.businessinsider.com/fast-fashion-environmental-impact-pollution-emissions-waste-water-2019-10.
Somos, Christy. “How 'Fast Fashion' Is Contributing to Ocean Pollution.” CTVNews, CTV News, 17 Feb. 2020, www.ctvnews.ca/sci-tech/how-fast-fashion-is-contributing-to-ocean-pollution-1.4814581.
“‘Slave-like’ Conditions at Zara Supplier.” Clean Clothes Campaign, 18 Dec. 2013, cleanclothes.org/issues/migrants-in-depth/stories/slave-like-conditions-at-zara-supplier.
“Interesting Water Facts.” Oldham County Water District, www.oldhamcountywater.com/interesting-water-facts.html.