By Olivia Henning (’22)
You may have heard the term “fast fashion” bouncing around recently in social media and other news outlets, but what really is “fast fashion”? How does it affect you?
“Fast fashion” refers to clothing designed to be quickly manufactured and purchased. Clothing is made to be cheap, resulting in a short lifespan and lasting just until the next trend takes over.
In reality, the manufacturing of these clothes pays little to no attention to the environmental effects of quick production. Additionally, labor is often undertaken by underpaid staff in order to make clothing cheaper for the consumer, and working conditions can be inadequate due to the dangers of chemical exposure. Toxic chemicals used in production are often not disposed of properly, creating damage to the environment. Excessive water usage can also be a problem in fast fashion companies, whose focus is on creating new products as quickly and cheaply as possible. Moreover, because clothing is not made to last, it falls apart quickly and ends up in landfills. This promotes more fast fashion as consumers have to purchase new clothes periodically. Materials used to make this cheap clothing are also often unsustainably sourced. For example, cotton— the staple material of fast fashion— relies on large quantities of water and chemicals for growth. Clothing also travels farther distances in fast fashion markets, increasing emissions.
How does this affect you? You head into your favorite clothing store, shopping for something wear on your next date. You probably, like most modern consumers, don’t put a lot of thought into buying the next trendy tee, except for maybe in how much it costs you. In reality, it’s going to end up costing you a lot more green than what’s on the label.
Clothes are piling up in landfills— according to Sustainable Businesses, new studies show that more than 15 million tons of used textile waste is generated each year in the United States. Lately, a lot of attention has been brought to this issue, including warnings in magazines like Forbes and The New York Times. What can you do? A new survey from The Huffington Post claimed that the average American will toss out 81 pounds of clothing this year. Turns out, one person can make a big impact.
The biggest fast fashion criminals are, in fact, the nation’s youth. Often, young people cannot afford more sustainable brands, and turn to fast fashion for their consumer fix. One alternative option for teens on a budget is to purchase second-hand clothes at stores like Goodwill and Value Village. However, trendy teens often condemn the idea of thrift stores due to the stigma that these stores are “uncool”. Additionally, teenagers are often unaware that fast fashion is even an issue— thus exposing the importance of education on sustainability at a young age. Most young people know that recycling, turning off lights when they leave the room, and taking shorter showers are ways to help the environment. The next step is to add “shopping smart” to the mantra in order to keep the next generation in the loop about where their products are really produced.
Many companies claim to be “eco-friendly,” but how do you know whom to trust? Companies such as Lululemon say they are environmentally conscious, but in reality, many of these companies have different definitions of what is helpful for the environment. For example, Lululemon only recycles some minor materials and reports their energy usage without any dedication to improving it. There are also harmful chemicals used in processing, and no limit is set on water usage. On the other hand, Patagonia has arisen as an environmentally conscious brand as they expand in their use of renewable energy and donate a portion of their revenue to grassroots activists. Rather than denying their part in the problem, Patagonia acknowledges their environmental impact and is taking steps towards improvement. Apps such as “Good on You” and “Done Good” provide ratings on different clothing companies based on many different categories such as labor and environmental practices, and can be a good resource for finding sustainable clothing options. The best bet for consumers is to simply do your research and stick with long-lasting clothing brands you know you can trust.
Clothing companies have nearly limitless ways to improve their environmental standing, from waste disposal to chemical use to water usage to materials used to types of manufacturing. Consumers need to stop validating companies that popularize fast fashion and start taking a stand against them. Invest in materials and companies that you, and the planet, can get behind. Let’s make companies accountable for their production.
It’s time to start doing your part in the clothing industry. Donate your old clothes, do your research, and hit Goodwill if you’re on a budget. It is true that more sustainable clothing is more expensive in the store. Make the investment anyway. It’ll end up costing you— and our planet— less in the end.
Goldberg, Eleanor. “You’re Likely Going To Throw Away 81 Pounds Of Clothing This Year.” The Huffington Post, TheHuffingtonPost.com, 9 June 2016, www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/youre-likely-going-to-throw-away-81-pounds-of-clothing-this-year_us_57572bc8e4b08f74f6c069d3.
“How Ethical Is Activewear Brand Lululemon ?” Good On You, 4 Oct. 2018, goodonyou.eco/how-ethical-lululemon/.
LeBlanc, Rick. “Fashion Recycling: Just the Facts.” The Balance Small Business, www.thebalancesmb.com/textile-recycling-facts-and-figures-2878122.
“Our Business and Climate Change.” Our Business and Climate Change – Patagonia, Patagonia, www.patagonia.com/climate-change.html.
Quora. “Fast Fashion Is A Disaster For Women And The Environment.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 26 July 2017, www.forbes.com/sites/quora/2017/07/26/fast-fashion-is-a-disaster-for-women-and-the-environment/#40609bd91fa4.