Social & Environmental Impact of Fast Fashion
We need to talk about fast fashion

Social & Environmental Impact of Fast Fashion

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Fast fashion has left impacts on the sustainable environment. Get to know some of them.

Maybe you are not familiar with the term “fast fashion,” but you do know what “fast food” is, right? If not, let us explain it to you. Fast food is a type of mass-produced meal designed for commercial resale and focused on serving and eating fast. It’s not concerned about your health or its impact on our planet. And, when it comes to Fast Fashion, the main concept is basically the same.

Impact of Fast Fashion

To make clothes cheaper and increase sales, some companies adopted a business model that focuses only on profiting and, consequently, production amount. After all, the more they produce, the more they’ll sell.

Of course, there are a lot of strategies behind it, such as marketing, communications, and trend hunting. In short, fast fashion it’s not concerned about the employee’s situation or the environmental impact.

As Good on You defined, fast fashion means cheap, trendy clothing that samples ideas from fashion shows and celebrities and turns them into mass products. With over 12 collections per year, fast fashion brands aim to get the newest styles on the market as fast as possible.

However, this business model has brought a series of social and sustainable problems.

The shocking truth of the Environmental Impact of Fast Fashion

Fast fashion offers low costs but also low quality and textile waste.

The math is simple: with the fast fashion industry concerned only about selling, to make the business run, it’s important to create the product as cheaply as possible. And, to reduce its costs, an alternative is to lower its quality. It means that after using it a few times, fast fashion pieces will wear out, get ugly, tear and/or even fade the color. With that, the items end up becoming completely disposable in a short period of time.

Impact of Fast Fashion

Basically, if a product has a short service life, soon one will have to throw it away. Therefore, producing more trash and heavily polluting the environment. After all, we are talking about the disposal of clothes on a world scale. Actually, most of the time, these pieces end up in landfills or being incinerated.

How did Fast Fashion begin?

Before the 1800s, fashion was slow. People didn’t buy as much as today, and when they did, the majority of the purchases would come from small artisanal stores, with high-quality materials and production.

As said in The History of Fashion: From the 1900s to Today, after the Industrial Revolution, factories adopted new technologies, like the sewing machine. Making clothes became easier, cheaper, and quicker. Dressmaking shops emerged to cater for the middle classes and soon the demand started increasing. Around this time, sweatshops emerged, along with problems with the working conditions of employees and rampant consumption.

With that, the fast fashion phenomenon emerged not only to fulfill the consumer’s demand, but to make them buy more. After all, fast fashion clothes are cheaper, with less quality and super trendy. The last less than a hyped trend.

Summing it up, those companies and brands are so focused on profit that they left behind important points such as employees’ rights and the environmental impact.

Some facts about the environmental impact of fast fashion

Data is always a good source to better understand a certain reality. Check below 20 – worrying – facts about the real social & environmental impacts of fast fashion.

In 2020, a research on Social Responsibility Report of China’s Textile and Apparel Industry was released. It showed that major fast fashion companies – such as H&M, Zara, and Forever 21 – release around 14 collections per year. That means more than 1 per month.

Every new collection comes with a comprehensive range of pieces. They want to offer as many options to consumers as possible. Ok, you may think that this is amazing because consumers have freedom of choice.

While the trend-conscious consumer moves fast too, and a trending design can become obsolete within two weeks of its launch. Fast fashion brands leverage social media and influencers to introduce new trends. People who are always searching for the latest fashion find themselves on a rollercoaster trying to keep up with the trends.

2. In 2014, people bought 60% less than in 2000. However, they kept the clothes for half as long

According to the World Economic Forum, fast fashion makes shopping for clothes more affordable, but it comes at an environmental cost. So, even though people are buying less, the clothing is also lasting lass. Therefore, throwing them away more often and, of course, producing more trash.

3. By 2030, global apparel consumption is projected to rise by 63%

As stated by a UK report, consumption will go from the current 62 million tons to 102 million tons. It is equivalent to more than 500 billion additional T-shirts going out of stores in only one year.

4. The sustainability ‘pulse’ of the fashion industry is 32 out of 100

The impression that the fashion industry is moving towards being greener is not all that real. According to research carried out by Boston Consulting Group and Global Fashion Agenda for the Copenhagen Fashion Summit in 2017 on a scale of 100, the fashion industry is only on 32 when it comes to the desire and real actions towards sustainability.

Fast Fashion Documentary

Clothing production consumes resources and contributes to climate change. According to Fashion Revolution, the raw materials used to make fast fashion clothes require land and water, or the extraction of fossil fuels. This means that the production itself is already cruel to the environment.

Also, as said, the products are disposable. Once the material doesn’t have quality, after a couple of times using a piece of clothing, it will become trash. That practice increased the amount of textile waste.

The bad impact of fast fashion doesn’t leave behind the social impact issues. To ensure the small prices of the clothes, the employees in this industry work in conditions similar to slavery. They receive ridiculous wages and, also, put their lives and the lives of their families at risk.

You can see all of this in the documentary The True Cost. The movie shows the reality of these workers and also talks about the Rana Plaza tragedy, in which over 1,000 men and women lost their lives while making our clothes.

Fashion is to love but it is also about human rights, sustainability, and social impact. It needs a change and it’s up to us to make this revolution in the fashion industry by maintaining its profits, but, mostly, making it more transparent, honest, and socially responsible.

Fashion Is Reducing Impact & Achieving Sustainable Goals

The numbers are really scary. The fashion industry is one of the primary industries responsible for negatively impacting the environment. In the last Worldwide Talks, Kutay Saritosun – the Head of Marketing & Communications of Bluesign Technologies – explained the importance of having visibility into your textile supply network to measure and reduce the impact on people and the planet. Bluesign Technologies works with several brands and highlights the industry’s social impact.

Another issue is carbon emissions. The fashion industry should control the amount of gases released into the atmosphere. But, unfortunately, things are not how they should be. Each country has its regulations and laws and, today, some nations tend to have greater control over these gases emitted. However, there is still much to be done.

Kutay Saritosun talks about reducing the impact to be sustainable as possible and also follow legislation. He exemplifies the Europe Union, about the so-called EU Green Deal, a set of policies and strategies articulated by the European Commission to contain the threat of global warming.

The biggest fast fashion nowadays is Shein. Read our full article about it and its controversies!

Júlia Vilaça

Head of Content & Social Media

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Júlia Vilaça

Head of Content & Social Media

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