The Environmental Impact of Fast Fashion

The fashion industry is an ever-growing industry consisting of frills, feathers, bright lights, and runway shows. Models walk the runway wearing the newest items created by the designers while influencers and celebrities pick out which pieces to add to their wardrobe. Each outfit is created and curated with the utmost care, paying attention to every little detail. 

Fashion shows are typically attended by representatives from fast fashion brands. Fast fashion executives take the high quality and intentionally created designs and commodify them by turning them into cheap versions. This creates toxic and fast cycles of fast fashion. According to The Good Trade, fast fashion is a design, manufacturing, and marketing method focused on rapidly producing high volumes of clothing. These clothes are often made of low-quality materials that are replications of ongoing trends. Although fashion trends have played a part in history since clothes have existed, due to the current social climate, trends have increased exponentially. A typical fast fashion cycle now contains 52 micro-seasons a year. This means that new items are being made and delivered to fast fashion brands on a weekly basis.

Due to increased consumerism, and the fast-paced trend cycle, pieces are often discarded after a few wears. The fast fashion cycle is based on instant gratification – a method that negatively affects the environment, those involved in creating the garment, and those discarding it. During production, fast fashion brands often turn to dangerous chemicals, artificial dyes, and synthetic fabrics. While this is often done to cut costs, it has a negative impact on the surrounding environment. The toxins often end up in the surrounding ecosystem, causing harm to the local community, agriculture, and wildlife. This in turn also leads to health issues faced by the surrounding population. 

However, this is only the tip of the iceberg. Each year 11 million tons of clothing are discarded in the US alone. Those that donate their items to thrift stores often naively believe they will end up in the hands of those in need. However, the reality is that most clothing items end up in landfill. 

Clothes donated to major thrift store chains are usually sent over to Africa to be resold. In fact, Kenya is home to one of the largest second-hand markets in the world, importing up to 189,000 tonnes of items in 2019. While these items travel across Africa and are given different names (obroni-wawu translates to “dead white man’s clothes” in Ghana), this is an important industry as a source of revenue. 

While it contributes to their economy, it’s important to remember that this entire industry is sourced from discarded clothes from the west. While western countries are encouraged to donate items, at least 70 percent of those items end up in second-hand markets across the world.

The last stage of the discard phase is the landfill. Fast fashion items are so cheaply made that been coined the term “landfill fashion”. Unfortunately, textile waste can take over 200 years to decompose. During the decomposition, it often releases harmful greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere.  In addition to the harmful gasses, as synthetic fibers decompose, they release microplastics into the surrounding lands and bodies of water. 

While the environmental impact of the fast fashion industry is immense and impacts the people and planet on a global scale, there is a big question that remains: is there a solution? 

It is true that large corporations hold more power to take responsibility to find a solution to this very complex problem, however, consumers can do their part simply by making conscious choices with their clothing. Next time you find yourself in a shopping mall, take your time to consider what buying that cute handbag would have on your surrounding environment and on local communities across the globe. How did it get there? Who made it? And where will it go once you no longer want it?

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