• Camila Lamy

The Economic and Environmental Effects of Fast Fashion

Fashion started out as status, wealth, style, and class. Pieces of clothing were made with the best quality materials and designers had their own fashion houses. That’s how the term “Haute” came out for the world to use. In the 1980s, fashion started to change due to the new technologies emerging in the world. Fashion began to globalize itself and it became “produced, marketed, bought, worn and discarded”. These five steps took over the trends that were going around the world at a rapid speed that allowed people to access the disposable pieces of clothing. This is how the globalization of fast fashion started to take over the fashion industry. Stores gave people access to similar products that high-end designer brands came up with, to the average consumer.

Wong Maye-E/Associated Press

Fashion brands are causing consumption through the process of designing their clothes. Materials such as fabrics are now 60% composed of synthetic materials derived from fossil fuels, so 85% of the waste of our clothing will not decay when it goes to a landfill. Zara among other fast fashion brands has contributed to the consumptive era. Fast fashion not only connects with global economic and climate patterns, but also to the whole state of the current fashion biosphere. The textile industry forms a big part of the world’s economy and has been developed since the Industrial Revolution, which now makes part of our capitalist system. However, this industry has been built on excruciating amounts of labor among people, such as children and elders. People work within inhumane conditions, and those in major factories are the ones at a higher risk.

There are many factors that are causing climate change and a boost in pollution, such as the overuse of plastic, but the making of clothing is one of the biggest causes of carbon emissions. From the 2000s till today, the production of clothing has nearly doubled, since fast fashion is equal to cheaper clothes for more environmental damage. Fashion brands went from launching two collections per year, to launching up to twenty-four like Zara, and sixteen like H&M. The materials used are microfibers, that are partially made of fossil fuels, which when dumped into the ocean in large quantities, it is equivalent to 50 billion plastic bottles. This industry is also the second-largest consumer of water worldwide; for instance, when making one cotton shirt, 700 gallons of water are used. Other factors such as the dumping of dye on bodies of water cause water pollution, and in total it conforms to 20% of the world’s water pollution.

Textile recycling project 'close to success' by Ecotextile

We continue to mention the waste that the fashion industry produces every year, yet we might as well ask ourselves if our unwanted clothes may turn into something useful. “The current fashion system uses high volumes of non-renewable resources, including petroleum, extracted to produce clothes that are often used only for a short period, after which the materials are largely lost to landfill or incineration,” says Chema Prajapati. (Beall 1) As mentioned before, the fashion industry makes up 10% of carbon or greenhouse gas emissions, and a lot of waste gets dumped every second. Globally just 12% of the materials used for clothing end up being recycled. Now we ask ourselves, why is it that only 12% of the materials get recycled when there’s 85% of waste contributing to pollution? The answer to this question is that the shirts or jeans, which are, for example, 100% made out of cotton, include many other components that are extremely hard to separate. Labels are composed of polyester, yarn, dye, and other materials that take lots of skills to separate and recycle. As a result of this tiresome process, only 1% of the materials are recycled to create new clothing. Sometimes smaller fibers are utilized, so that indicates much less strength on the fabric and yarns that later have to be washed so that the dyes are removed.

Fast fashion is one of the largest industries in the world. Statistics show that in the U.S, sales surpass 200 billion dollars. A way to describe fast fashion is by saying that retailers call it this way to sell momentary trends for cheap. Fast fashion got its label after Topshop opened in 2002. The method used was producing small amounts of clothing at a fast production rate, imitating the trends at the moment. After the opening of this store, quickly other stores followed, such as Zara and H&M. Due to the extreme mass consumption that we, buyers do, the clothing industry declines in a way that affects high fashion for cheap and disposable fashion. In Chinese ports, exports have raised significantly, but with the cost of multiplying the waste of materials. Since the costs are so cheap and the gains are so high, most of the clothing isn’t manufactured locally but overseas in places like China, India, and Bangladesh.

Ellen MacArthur Foundation. World Economic Forum.

According to the International Labour Organization, around 260 million children are underemployed. “The ILO estimates that 170 million children are engaged in child labor, with many making textiles and garments to satisfy the demand of consumers in Europe, the US, and beyond.” Most of the employed children are working in the fashion industry. Why does it happen? The supply chain of fast fashion is seeking the lowest prices on everything, that’s the reason for the extremely affordable prices, but what’s the cost of it? Production is obviously one of the most important parts of elaborating the clothing, and finding the cheapest sources of labor is their way to go. Many underage girls in countries where most of the fashion production is made like China, India, and Bangladesh are offered decent wages and enter the industry with high expectations just to be exploited and be exposed to what we call modern-day slavery. Since the textile and fashion industry do not require skilled workers, a lot of people in need of jobs and kids trying to earn something for their families are urged to work under these conditions.

The Impact of Fast Fashion on Women in Developing Nations. Good on You.

“Gone are the days of the art of fashion. Today, what drives the industry is its market and the variable success it provides.” Evidence of this statement is Forever 21’s owner Do Won Chang, when he said that he doesn’t really care about fashion, Forever 21 success is giving him 4 billion dollars annually, and that’s the point. What’s the future of fast fashion? It is now clear that fashion won’t be the same, and the accessibility it has is amazing for every type of person, but it produces an incredible amount of waste which is impacting our planet’s environment, so for now, a point is finding new ways to reduce that waste, but forevermore fast fashion is here to stay.


How Fast Fashion is Destroying the Planet by Tatiana Schlossberg


The fashion industry emits more carbon than international flights and maritime shipping combined. Here are the biggest ways it impacts the planet. By Morgan McFall-Johnsen


Why are Clothes so Hard to Recycle by Abigail Beall


The Economic Impact of Fast Fashion by Coty Tinsley


Child labour in the fashion supply chain by Josephine Moulds


Glenn Schlossberg: The Effect of Globalization on Fast Fashion


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