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Features,  Style + Beauty

Fast Fashion and the Impact It Makes on the World

The fashion industry is worth several billions of dollars, each segment (men’s, women’s, etc.) contributing their own share to the multi-billion-dollar pot. To give you an idea, the fast fashion segment was estimated at $35.8 billion in 2019.

Nowadays, fast fashion is what most people opt for- aside from luxury brands. It has built its success on low prices and a consistent stream of trendy designs. However, it leaves quite a nasty impact on our world in ways hidden from public vision.

What is Fast Fashion?

H & M white paper bag fast fashion
Photo Credit: Valeriia Miller

You’ve probably heard the term before, either on TV or from a socially-responsible friend. We’re talking about fast fashion. But what is the fast fashion definition? Everyone has their own opinion of the definition.

If you ask a manager at H&M or Forever21, they’ll paint a beautiful picture, describing how fast method means producing trendy clothing in high-volume with low-cost designs. On the surface, that sounds like a great answer.

But the fact of the matter is that answer is just a polite way to say, “We produce clothing unsustainably just to keep our costs low, so we make more money.”

Which is exactly what fast fashion is. It is the dismissal of ethical practices and sustainability efforts to produce high-volume designs that can be sold 10x the cost of production- incredibly fast. Hence the name.

To first understand what fast fad is, one must understand its inner workings, the problems associated with it, and what type of impact it makes on our planet.

Why Fast Fashion is Bad

Though not always visible to watchful eyes, the impact that this kind of industry leaves on our world is undeniably present. Fast fashion is an interesting phenomenon that flourishes throughout the clothing industry yet is littered with injustices.

Highly Unsustainable

Overall, this method is highly unsustainable. It perpetuates waste and is the farthest thing away from LEAN production as you can get. According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, almost $500 billion worth of value is lost each year because of clothing underutilization and zero recycling.

Human Labor Violations

Arguably the biggest problem with the fast style industry is human labor violations. Companies like H&M, Forever21, Zara, and Charlotte Russe produce their clothing offshore to garment workers who are eager to make even a penny.

Fast fashion brands purposefully target these people because they know they can 1) secure cheap labor and 2) get away with breaking labor regulations. Approximately 93% of fast brands (surveyed) do not even pay these garment workers a living wage.

Environmental Damage

The problem of sustainability in this kind of industry goes hand-in-hand with environmental damage. The New York Times reports, “Fast fashion brands use open-loop production cycles that pollute water and land.”

The toxic chemicals and dyes used by FF companies seeps into the water in foreign countries (place of production) and then in domestic waters. Aside from water pollution, about 3/5 fast fashion items will end up in a landfill. They won’t be decomposing any time soon.

Slow Fashion is Rising Up

slow fashion clothes on clothes rack
Photo Credit: Leticia Ribeiro

Move over, fast fashion. Slow fashion is rising to the challenge of showing consumers that nice clothing can be affordable, well-made, cute, and ethical.

Clothing brands that produce slow fashion emphasize sustainability, mindful manufacturing practices, and natural materials without unfair human labor.

A clothing revolution is taking place, slowly but surely.

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