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Why is Fast Fashion unsustainable?

From pollution to labor exploitation, all the reasons that make Fast Fashion unsustainable

Everyone says Fast Fashion is unsustainable, but why is it so? Let's dive into the reasons that make this business model so harmful.

What is Fast Fashion?

Fast Fashion is a term used in the retail industry to describe a type of clothing production and consumption where garments are produced rapidly and at low cost to meet demands from consumers.

The Fast Fashion industry has grown rapidly in recent years, however, this growth is often at the expense of people and the environment.

Fast Fashion Environmental Impact

The textile industry is one of the most polluting industries in the world, and Fast Fashion brands are responsible for a large part of that pollution.

The negative effects on the ecosystem are manifold:

Carbon Footprint
The fast fashion industry is responsible for a huge amount of greenhouse gas emissions. Apparently, it generates more carbon emissions than aviation and shipping combined.

  • Water Consumption
    The fast fashion industry also has a massive water footprint. Consider that according to the UN Environment Programme it takes around 2,000 gallons of water to make a pair of jeans. In addition, the textile industry is responsible for around 20% of the world's industrial water pollution.

  • Use of chemicals and dyes
    The fast fashion industry also uses large amounts of chemicals and dyes in the production of clothing. These chemicals often end up in the environment, causing air, land, and water pollution, and harming wildlife.
    Moreover, Fast Fashion apparel is typically made from synthetic materials that do not biodegrade easily and often release harmful toxins when produced and even when washed.

  • Waste production
    Not only does fast fashion have a huge carbon and water footprint, but it also creates a lot of textile waste. For example, in the US alone, about 85% of textiles go to landfills (or are incinerated). Once in the landfill, most of the clothes will not decay rapidly, since they are made of synthetic fibres.

  • Transportation
    Clothing is often transported long distances, from the factories where it is made to the stores where it is sold. Since most of the transportation employed is reliant on fossil fuels, it contributes to climate change and air pollution. 
Why is Fast Fashion unsustainable?

The Social Impact of Fast Fashion

In addition to its environmental impact, Fast Fashion also has several negative social impacts:

  • Cheap labour and poor working conditions
    Very low wages, forced overtime, long hours, and dangerous working conditions are all common in the Fast Fashion supply chain. In addition, Fast Fashion companies have been criticised for their use of child labour in their supply chains.

  • The impoverishment of local communities
    Sometimes the presence of Fast Fashion factories leads to the displacement of local people, as well as the exploitation of local resources. As a consequence, local communities lose human and even economic means in order to thrive.
    In addition, Fast Fashion companies often do not invest in the local communities where they operate, meaning that people are left without jobs or livelihoods when the factories close.

  • Health risks
    The use of harmful chemicals and dyes in clothing production can cause skin irritations, respiratory problems, and cancer. In addition, the poor working conditions in many Fast Fashion factories can lead to injury and even death, as occurred in the collapse of the Rana Plaza in Bangladesh.

The real problem with Fast Fashion

Many of the problems above concern the textile industry as a whole. However, Fast Fashion makes them worse because it pursues an incompatible business model.

In fact, the main issue with Fast Fashion is the way it's produced. Fast Fashion brands only aim for profit. To do so, they want (and have to) sell large quantities of clothing items, so they have to produce as much as they can, continuously and quickly, at the lowest price. To reduce costs, they must cut corners somewhere, hence they transfer production to countries where the laws to protect work and the environment are loose.

As a consequence, an industry that was already polluting and exploitative becomes even more so. That’s why Fast Fashion is so unsustainable.

Fortunately, many long-standing brands have been moving towards a business model based on sustainability for years, while new sustainable brands are constantly emerging. However, Fast Fashion is a phenomenon that won't go away anytime soon.

The only way to fight it is by educating customers through traceability and brand transparency, to make them understand how their choices can affect the protection of the environment and also the quality of many people's lives.

26 Oct 2022

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