The dangers of fast fashion

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Fast fashion has had a lot of talk recently — between problems with the workers to chatter of environmental issues. But what’s the talk about? What’s the whole story?
Fast fashion is a simple concept: recreate the latest catwalk fashion, mass produce it at a low cost, and sell them while demand is high; then, why is it such a big deal?
Well for one, fast fashion comes with high environmental costs. According to the Ethical Consumer, “Every year the sector requires 93 billion cubic meters of water, which is enough to meet the consumption needs of five million people, and is responsible for around 20% of industrial water pollution as a result of textile treatment and dyeing.” The fast fashion industry also manages to have a heavy impact on carbon emissions, managing to be responsible for “up to 10% of total global carbon emissions, and estimated to increase by 50% by 2030”.
Now those things would sound horrible enough, but there’s something much more terrifying in the fast fashion industry: plastic.
The fast fashion industry has been heavily dependent on synthetic fibers. Some that you might be familiar with are polyester, nylon, and acrylic, which are made from heavily processed petrochemicals. What are petrochemicals? Fossil fuels. These materials are cheap to produce. Polyester costs half as much per kilogram as cotton, and that’s just one example. That keeps fast fashion’s — well, fashion — so cheap, but it isn’t exactly cheap for the environment.
“Approximately 90 % of clothing sold in the United States is made with cotton or polyester, both associated with significant health impacts from the manufacturing and production processes. Polyester, a synthetic textile, is derived from oil, while cotton requires large amounts of water and pesticides to grow. Textile dyeing results in additional hazards as untreated wastewater from dyes are often discharged into local water systems, releasing heavy metals and other toxicants that can adversely impact the health of animals in addition to nearby residents” (BMC).
However, these aren’t the worst of the problems fast fashion industries face. In fact, it’s not the most popular problem. The real chatter is about the underpaid and overworked people of the industry — the workers.
In fact, this has been an issue dating back to 2019; where female workers of Bangladesh protested the poor working conditions.
SSRN says, “Where more than 4.2 million workers are working of which 90% of workers are female who come from the rural areas of the country. The working conditions and the working lives of these female workers are hardly up to the standard. The working lives of these female workers are substantially disturbed by the unfavorable working conditions that lead to job dissatisfaction, job insecurity, and low productivity of the workers. These are due to not maintaining government compliance by these readymade garment (RMG) companies.”
Fast fashion is all over our school. The person to anyone’s left right now probably has clothing on from a fast fashion company. If it’s so harmful, what can someone do about it?
Well, we can try our best to buy from ethical brands. Companies like Patagonia, Pact, and Kotn are popular, fairly sourced and ethical clothing companies. On the other hand, companies like Forever 21, H&M, and GAP are huge fast fashion corporations, and should be avoided.
Second hand and hand-me-down clothing may seem strange, but with the recent trend in thrifting clothes and thrift shops, finding nice clothing there should be no problem at all.
Joining fast fashion campaigns is always an option too. Generous campaigns like Fashion Revolution or the Clean Clothes campaign are widespread movements to help garment workers, with tags on social media like #PayYourWorkers and #RespectLaborRights making a high climb to the trending tags.
Fast fashion is slowly declining their harmful outputs, and hopefully soon for good.
Bick, R., Halsey, E., & Ekenga, C. C. (2018, December 27). The global environmental injustice of fast fashion – environmental health. BioMed Central. Retrieved February 8, 2022, from https://ehjournal.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12940-018-0433-7
Islam, N., Ghosh, S. K., Islam, A., Salam, N. M., Khosru, M., & Al Masud, M. (2017). Working Conditions and Lives of Female Readymade Garment Workers in Bangladesh. Abdullah, Working Conditions and Lives of Female Readymade Garment Workers in Bangladesh (February 22, 2017)
What is fast fashion and why is it a problem? Ethical Consumer. (2022, February 1). Retrieved February 7, 2022, from https://www.ethicalconsumer.org/fashion-clothing/what-fast-fashion-why-it-problem