What Is Fast Fashion, And How Exactly Is It Affecting The Planet?

Here's how you can make better shopping choices.

Fast fashion is a buzzword that has been popular for a while, but not for the right reasons. But what exactly is fast fashion, and why is it given that name? Let’s find out. The clothing industry’s business strategy of copying current catwalk trends and high-fashion designs is referred to as ‘fast fashion.’ The fashion industry mass-produces these clothing items at a low cost, with no fair labor, and rapidly delivers them to retail outlets when the demand is high. So, as we strive to move toward ethical clothing brands and a minimalist lifestyle, it’s crucial to understand why there’s a war between fast and slow fashion.

If you’re reading this, you are probably already aware of the industry’s sad side; but it’s worth contemplating how we’ve failed the planet with our choices. So, what should we do to fix this?

If there is one thing that is prominent nowadays, it is a hungry world seeking fashion. With many fast fashion brands attempting to keep up with demand, these brands overstock their stores and use low-quality materials. Instead of eco-friendly fabrics, synthetic fabrics are used to provide the consumer with the so-called ‘inexpensive’ style.

Trust no multinational brand. Listen to garment workers instead.” – Aja Barber

But why is there hardly any discussion of these fast-fashion brands’ cheaply manufactured clothing? So, are these brands negatively affecting the planet, the workers, the consumers, or all of them? You’d understand this better by the end of this article.

Three things that define fast fashion

From the consumer’s point of view, fast fashion has three key characteristics: cheap, trendy, and disposable. It makes impulsive clothing purchases simple and accessible. To stay up with the ever-changing trends, shoppers are urged to change their collections regularly throughout the year.

What exactly is fast fashion?

Fast fashion is that $10 or $100 dress you see on a mannequin at your favorite retailer brand. When you stroll past a certain store every day and keep seeing different beautiful pieces of clothing on mannequins every time, that’s fast fashion too. These mass-produced collections encourage impulse shopping and the discarding of clothes for new apparel pieces, which promotes the same loop again. The cycle is complex, and not being a part of this cycle is a burning need.

A brief history of the fashion industry

Fast fashion was relatively slow in the 1800s. However, by the 1960s and 1970s, the youth were already discovering new trends and using clothing for self-expression. However, the late 1990s and early 2000s saw a spike in this dark industry. With fast fashion brands like H&M, Zara, and Topshop sweeping over the high street, online and offline demands for these brands took off.

But, why are these fast pieces entering the outlets of these fast fashion brands being closely scrutinized by conservationists, consumers, and planet-lovers worldwide? There must be a reason, or perhaps ‘many’ reasons, why it is so terrible for the environment. Also, why is it the need of the hour to choose non-fast fashion brands, aka slow fashion brands, for a (better) future.

So, how did fast fashion reach this point where the planet needs it to stop, right away? Let’s take a look at how it came about, before proceeding to its effects and alternatives.

The rise of fast fashion: how did it happen?

When Bangladesh’s Rana Plaza clothing manufacturing complex collapsed in 2013, people got a devastating reality check. More than 1,000 workers died. This was when consumers began to question these brands, and those $5 T-shirts often purchased from these retailers came under scrutiny.

Shopping for clothes was never meant to be an ‘everyday thing’ until recently. But over the years, regular clothing purchases by customers have given the fast fashion industry a boom like never before. Clothes became cheaper, trends kept coming in, and shopping became an everyday phenomenon. And to match these highly petty demands of new designs, colors, and trends, fast fashion brands entered the market. These brands currently rule the high streets and, to some extent, every online retailer.

Why is fast fashion bad for the planet?

Cheap fashion is really far from that. It may be cheap in terms of the financial cost, but very expensive when it comes to the environment and the cost of human life.” ” Sass Brown

In the battle between fast and slow fashion, haute couture is the phenomenon in the fashion industry that causes extensive damage to the environment, employees, animals, and consumers’ wallets. The industry routinely uses fabrics that are bad for the planet, skin-damaging chemicals, and animals that shouldn’t be killed to create clothing that one can wear or flaunt.

1. Pollutes the planet

Until now, we have spoken about what exactly fast fashion is and how it grew to rise to be the easiest choice for consumers when they’re out shopping. Now is the time to understand that it just doesn’t affect our shopping habits but also has an immense impact on the planet. Fast fashion’s negative impact on the planet includes cheap, toxic dyes and garments given up early and thrown out, producing massive wastage. “More than $500 billion of value is lost every year due to clothing underutilization and the lack of recycling.” – Ellen MacArthur Foundation.

This is the reason that Greenpeace has been putting pressure on manufacturers through its detoxifying fashion campaigns over the years to get hazardous chemicals out of their supply chains.

2. Exploits its workers

Fast fashion comes at a cost frequently borne by the environment and consumers. However, it also comes at a human cost – to those who make it. Most of these brands aren’t even aware of who made their products, how they were made, or how little the employees were paid. Additionally, the garment business exposes workers to risks, including working in hazardous conditions without any consideration of basic human rights.

Unfortunately, reports from Bangladeshi factories describe women getting bladder infections due to a shortage of bathroom breaks and supervisors pressuring women to take contraceptive pills. Farmers deal with hazardous chemicals and harsh procedures in addition to this horrific reality, which negatively influences their mental and physical health.

Related: Why Is Fast Fashion Bad For Its Workers & The Environment?

3. Animal cruelty

man removing fur from animal

It hurts us to say this, but fashion brands kill wildlife and jeopardize endangered species. The industry is responsible for catching, raising, and skinning billions of animals every year. Despite the abundance of viable alternatives, customers continue to buy from these brands. Each year, 115 million animals — including rats, rabbits, mice, guinea pigs, birds, cats, and dogs — are used in laboratory tests. Additionally, the industry hurts, exploits, and enslaves countless other animals.

Animals are severely harmed by the industry not just because real animal leather is made from their skin but also because harmful dyes and microfibers are dumped into waterways. This continues to be consumed by both marine and land species through the food chain, with disastrous results.

Related: What Is Vegan Leather? Is It Better Than Real Leather?

4. Drives consumers to no end

Last but not least, in addition to harming the environment, animals, and its workers, the fast fashion industry primarily targets its own consumers. Due to the built-in obsolescence of the products and the quick emergence of trends, the business promotes a ‘throw-away’ culture. Inducing a sense of dissatisfaction, fast fashion leads us to assume that we must continually shop to keep up with the trends.

How to spot a fast fashion brand?

With many scandals about fast fashion companies making the rounds on the internet, it becomes rather easy to recognize them. However, if you’re tilting towards non-fast fashion brands, make sure you first understand what a fast clothing brand looks like:

  • The manufacturing costs involved are very cheap regarding the worker’s condition, wages, and complex supply chains.
  • The limited supply of a specific outfit, such as at Zara. New inventory is delivered to customers every other week, satisfying their desire for new designs. Brands like H&M, Fashion Nova, Forever21, Zara, and many others have thousands of styles that attempt to cover all the most recent trends.
  • Short turnaround time between spotting your favorite celebrity wearing an outfit, and then, spotting it on store shelves.
  • The largest known source of marine microplastic pollution, according to scientists, is textiles. They are thought to be responsible for 35% of the ocean’s microplastic pollution today (in the form of synthetic microfibers). The amount of microfibers entering the ocean on a yearly basis is roughly 2.2 million tons.

What can you do to stop wearing fast fashion and switch to its slower-paced counterparts? Read on.

The rise of slow fashion

I am grateful to realize that my desires do not entitle me to add to another’s suffering.” – Zoe Weil.

  • Try to buy less. Rediscover your affection for the clothing you already have. Then, as you always do, style them uniquely by using your outfit to make a statement. And on your ethical fashion journey, create a capsule wardrobe.
  • And finally, when your clothes have reached the end of their life cycle, ensure you recycle them.

So by now, you should be aware that the fashion industry, particularly fast fashion, comes with a heavy price. So, choose slow fashion brands committed to conscious manufacturing, fair labor practices, sustainable textiles, and improved working conditions.

Fortunately, many ethical clothing manufacturers are doing their bit for the environment despite society’s obsession with fast fashion. We know we are in for good, thanks to the countless organizations and communities working to hinder the fast fashion industry.

And, don’t forget to check our guide if you’re looking for tips for a closet cleanout.

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