The fast fashion industry is a rapid cycle for consumers to keep up with. Consumers are faced with new trends and items every day making it impossible to consume a regular amount of clothing and stay up to date with trends. As a result of this, many of us turn to cheaper fast fashion brands to get the newest “IT” item. Even though this cheap price can be beneficial for consumers, there is a much more significant price to pay for this type of consumption: harm to the environment, poor conditions for workers, unstable lifestyles for farmers and disruption of the habitats of animals.
The supply chain journey of a clothing item is something that many of us do not think about when purchasing from fast fashion. How many stages of production has the clothing been through to get to your local shop? Where did it come from? This question is rarely asked by consumers, but when thought about on a deeper level, behind the production is the true cost of fast fashion goods.
“It takes around 1,800 gallons of water to grow enough cotton to produce just one pair of regular blue jeans” (TreeHugger)
The amount of water used to produce one pair of jeans is difficult to understand and accept especially as brands are always offering new styles. To add to this, consumers are now wearing an item only a few times before disregarding it, meaning more clothing is ending up in landfill and not being recycled. One of the most commonly used artificial materials is polyester, due to its cheap sourcing nature and durability. However, when washing this material, it can release micro plastics that are polluting the ocean, harming the environment.
The factories used to produce this clothing are often located in under developed countries, where no or poor environmental practice and law enforcement has been put into place, resulting in the toxic waste polluting the ocean without being filtered. It is not only consumers who are disregarding clothing after a small number of wears, brands are doing this too. As consumers become more demanding and brands are responding to this, brands are left with clothing that has not reached the sales expectations when originally sourced, therefore sending to landfill is one of the only options. Fast fashion brands claim to recycle clothing but it is unclear how much is actually being done.
The factories responsible for making fast fashion clothing can often provide poor working conditions and low wages, resulting in workers becoming another victim of fast fashion production. Buildings can often be unsafe for workers and in some sourcing countries children can be found working on the factory floor. The True Cost documentary is a great educational tool to use to become more aware of the conditions workers are going through. There is some positivity for the future, as consumers are becoming more sustainably aware, brands are trying to act by being more responsible in their sourcing decisions.
The farmers responsible for growing conventional cotton to sell to fast fashion brands are often paid a low wage and live in poor conditions, making them another victim of fast fashion consumption. Being the most popular natural material used in clothing, cotton is needed on a mass scale and requires pesticides to be used in the growing process. This can release harmful chemicals into the environment, damaging the planet.
The production of clothing can be harmful to habitats of animals too. Fashion can damage wildlife, resulting in animals not being able to survive. The use of animals to make materials such as leather is not a sustainable way to consume fashion, but brands are recognising this therefore in order to prevent this harmful action, consumers can buy from vegan brands where damage to the environment has been minimised in production.
The issues addressed in this post are just the tip of the iceberg, relating to the harmful effects of fast fashion. Educating yourself on the subject as a consumer is the most important action you can take. You will have the power to increase awareness and purchase thoughtfully, having the vital information in mind.
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