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The truth about fast fashion


What is “fast fashion”? “Fast fashion” describes the low-priced (for a reason), cheaply (and often unethically) produced, poor-quality products that are produced by capitalising on the creativity of others, stealing the latest catwalk styles to supply to mainstream stores as soon as they can.

Did you know that fast fashion brands can create a new collection up to every 2 weeks? Their business is based around providing consumers with the most recent runway trends as soon as possible, fulfilling customers’ desire to buy, and creating endless waves of new 'needs' in order to squeeze the most from their wallets. In some ways this could be forgiven. But when you start to look at things more closely, serious questions arise. In particular, how can a piece of clothing be prepared in terms of form design, materials purchase, stock planning, production, distribution, marketing, and so on, within just 2 weeks? What can the quality of  products made in such a short timescale be, what are the conditions in which the clothes makers work, and what is the environmental cost of such huge production runs? 

The truth is clear: fast fashion comes at an incredible environmental and social cost, a cost that is hard for individual consumers to imagine. During times when the impact of the fashion industry, in terms of pollution, water use, carbon emissions, human rights, and gender inequality, is increasing, I feel it is our duty, as customers, to turn our attention to more sustainable and ethical solutions.

The Fast Fashion Economy

The fashion industry constitutes a significant part of the world’s economy, with more than 75 million employees, and an estimated value of more than 2.5 trillion $USD. According to a McKinsey & Company report (2016), the sector has seen huge growth over recent decades, with consumers buying 60% more garments in 2014 compared to 2000. At the same time, a single garment’s life cycle became on average 50% shorter. According to 'The True Cost' documentary, the world consumes around 80 billion new pieces of clothing every year, 400% more than twenty years ago. And due to how comparatively affordable clothing has become, the actual value of clothes in consumers' eyes has decreased with clothes disposability becoming the norm. 
Waste and pollution

Although the growth of this important sector may be beneficial to the overall world economy, because of the low quality of many clothes, increasing amounts end up at landfills. Approximately 60% of all materials used by the fashion industry are made from plastic. Brands use synthetic fibres like polyester, nylon and acrylic, which take hundreds of years to biodegrade. 85% of all textiles created each year end up in dumps. 57% of all discarded clothing ends up being incinerated in landfill, causing public health and environmental dangers due to the toxic substances and poisonous gases released.
The fashion industry is also responsible for 8-10% of humanity’s carbon emissions. It is estimated that this figure will increase to 26% by 2050 if production and purchasing trends don’t change. 

According to the UN Environment Programme, the fashion industry is the second-biggest consumer of water, consuming around 10% of all of water used by industries. Imagine, it takes 10,000 litres of water to produce one kilogram of cotton, meaning 3,000 litres of water for just one cotton shirt. In total, 93 billion cubic metres of water, enough to meet the needs of five million people during a whole year, is being used by the fashion industry annually. What's more, textile dyeing requires toxic chemicals that more often than not end up in our oceans. The industry is responsible for about 20% of wastewater worldwide. Even simply washing some types of clothes at home results in a significant amount of micro plastics being released into the ocean. 500,000 tons of microfibers, equal to about 50 billion plastic bottles, are released into the ocean each year from washing clothes.
A 2017 report from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) stated that 35% of all micro plastics in the ocean come from the laundering of synthetic textiles.


The production of plastic textile fibres is a very energy-intensive process that consumes a lot of petroleum, and releases volatile particulate matter and acids into the environment. On the other hand, more sustainable fabrics that can be used in clothing, such as wild silk, organic cotton, linen, hemp and lyocell, provide an alternative to this scenario. 

Social Impacts 

Fast fashion not only has a huge environmental impact but also causes huge societal problems, especially in developing countries. Naomi Klein, for example, in her book “No Logo”, suggests that “developing nations are viable for garment industries due to ‘cheap labour, vast tax breaks, and lenient laws and regulations”. Fast fashion brands and retailers push for lower production costs in order to increase their profit margins and meet customer demand. Meanwhile, manufacturers keep wages below the living level, and working conditions terrible. The results make for depressing reading. According to non-profit organisation Remake, approximately 80% of garments are made by young women between the ages of 18 and 24. In 2018, the US Department of Labor found evidence of forced and child labour in the fashion industry in Argentina, Bangladesh, Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Philippines, Turkey, Vietnam and other countries. And worse still, in 2013 a multiple-floor clothes factory building collapsed in Dhaka, Bangladesh, killing 1134 workers and injuring more than 2500, one of a number of tragedies related to the fashion industry. These facts, in particular, symbolise the reality that two groups - women and children – are the most exploited by the fast fashion industry. 
The fashion industry has already caused a huge damage to our environment. One way to stop its harmful impact is mindful purchasing from slow fashion brands. Slow fashion is a movement and trend trying to reduce excessive production and mindless consumption. It focuses on manufacturing processes that respect people, the environment and animals.
If we start to take steps towards developing a green-friendly fashion industry and, on an individual level, becoming environmentally-conscious consumers, we can perhaps finally work towards minimising our impact on the world, and allow future generations to benefit from the beauty of our planet.

If you want to learn how Awear chooses the brands they work with and the particular garments they offer, you can find out more about us
McKinsey & Company report (2016)
UNCTAD report (2020)
WRI report (2017)
UNEP article (2019)
Ellen MacArthur Foundation research (2017)
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), Primary microplastics in the oceans (2017)