The Environmental Cost of Fast Fashion
Updated: Oct 20, 2020
Arianna Robertson '22
Fast Fashion- consumers love it, companies thrive off of it, and the environment is being destroyed because of it. Fast fashion brands offer the latest trends seen at Fashion Week extremely quickly at affordable prices. You might not even realize which stores or brands fall under the category of fast fashion. Then again, why would you? Nobody wants to pay more for something than they have to, and most people don’t think twice when they see low prices.
Although there is a low cost for the consumer’s wallet, there is a high cost for our planet. The issue is that by offering the best deals and lowest prices, consumers are less likely to purchase cautiously, despite the environmental costs it took to produce it. Likewise, because of the nature of Fast Fashion, the life cycle of a product in the hands of a consumer is relatively short, in an attempt to make room for the new trends hitting the stores. According to the study and report conducted by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, the global fashion industry produces massive amounts of waste and pumps out staggering greenhouse gas emissions. Quantis, a company focused on inspiring sustainability, attempted to record the impacts of the global fashion industry and found that the industry emits “4 billion metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions, or 8.1% of the world total”. Not only does this particular industry release a massive amount of CO2 and other greenhouse gases, but it also consumes a large amount of important resources, specifically water. Large amounts of water are required for cotton and textile production itself, but also in the washing process that takes place in the hands of the consumer. This is particularly harmful for the major cotton-producing countries who are continually faced with running out of water. Studies suggest that the consumption of water and the production of pollutants tied with Fast Fashion will rapidly grow as time goes on.
Despite this, there are several well-known Fast Fashion brands working towards sustainability and reversing the harmful effects of Fast Fashion. Levi’s, for instance, has pledged to reduce the amount of water used in their denim production along with reducing the use of harmful dyes used to color their denim. Furthermore, H&M has committed to working towards improving the energy efficiency of their textile production along with using solely recycled and/or sustainable materials by 2030. The company plans to be “100% climate positive” by the year 2040.
Although it may seem like the only reasonable thing for brands to do is to just be sustainable, there is a cost that comes along with this standard. If companies work towards consuming less in their production, then inherently there will be less they can produce, which will impact the sales of the company. Similarly, sustainable practices can slow the rate of production, which again affects how much money the company is bringing in. Therefore, many brands are discouraged from making environmentally friendly efforts because these efforts cause a lack of efficiency and convenience in their products, which turns away the consumers.
While there are efforts being made by some, saving the environment is a collective effort and more brands need to change their business models in the name of sustainability. Being a collective effort, it is not just the job of the producers, but also the consumers. Consumers can take part in combating the effects of Fast Fashion by being conscious of where they buy their clothing and making sure that once the products are in their hands, the cost of what it took to make them does not go to waste. In other words, don’t be careless with your clothing once you retire it from your wardrobe and be conscious of how frequently you are putting things through the wash. There are even websites like ThredUp that only sell used and recycled clothing, much like thrift stores, but online. Shopping at websites like ThredUp and at thrift stores are also ways consumers can work against Fast Fashion. If the majority of consumers changed their behavior, and clothing brands improved the sustainability of their manufacturing practices, Fast Fashion would not pose such a threat to the environment.