Fast fashion. At this point, most of us know what it is and can give a list of fast fashion brands without stuttering.
It’s no secret that transparency and sustainability still aren’t the fashion industry’s favorite subjects, and, when it comes to fast fashion – oh boy –, they aren’t even in the syllabus.
Now, look at your outfit and tell me:
What do you know about its environmental impact? Do you know who made it? Can you imagine their working conditions?
In this post we’re going to dive into these questions, but something I want you to know is that sometimes not even the big fish sitting in the boardroom of one of these brands have the answers. And that sucks.
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Fast Fashion 101
We can recognize fast fashion by:
- Its low quality and durability
- Its low price, due partly to…
- The low wages factory workers are paid
- Lack of originality – its repetitive styles are based on trends that change at the speed of light and sometimes even copy the work of smaller designers and artists 👀
Now, this is what really boggles my mind about fast fashion. Instead of offering 4 collections a year – as in one for each season – fast fashion brands have about 52 – as in one for each week.
Like, some of them add over a hundred new listings to their websites daily.
This little overproduction trick makes you feel outdated from one day to the next. It’s a cycle where we’re made to believe we need the latest trend, we buy into it, it becomes obsolete within a month, and repeat.
But there are ways to get out of the loop, and these are the 8 things that helped me break up with fast fashion for good and without losing my mind.
Enough rambling, let’s chat about uncomfortable facts.
1. We buy over 80 billion pieces of new clothing each year worldwide
Do you realize how many zeros this number has? 80 billion = 80,000,000,000.
This means we consume 400% more clothes than we did in the year 2000, and, in 2016 alone, approx. 20 new garments per person were manufactured.
These 20 pieces of clothing aren’t distributed equally throughout the world (geographically and socially). So for every person who doesn’t contribute to fast fashion because of principles or lack of accessibility, another one is contributing x2.
And this is exactly why, instead of having a couple hundred very eco-conscious consumers, we need a couple billion people who are willing to do a little bit better for Mama Earth.
…even when it is possible to recycle or reuse the materials.
Also, remember that most of our clothes are synthetic – plastic, fuel-based, not biodegradable –, and if they end up in a landfill they’ll spend the next 200+ years breaking down into microfibers (aka microplastics) that are released into the air, soil, and water.
Some fashion brands are trying to tackle the whole fashion waste problem by making clothes out of recycled materials. This is great in the case of natural materials, but comes with a couple of issues in the case of synthetic ones – we talk about that in this post about leggings made of bottles.
3. Textiles account for almost 35% of the global microplastic pollution
Did you know that washing a load of synthetic clothes can release more than 700,000 microfibers? Wild how just using synthetic clothes, even when they’re second hand, can be an issue.
If you already own synthetic clothes and you’re worried about microplastic pollution, you can install a filter in your washing machine or use laundry bags that catch microfibers, like these ones from Guppyfriend .
Read more: What Are Microplastics?
4. The textile industry is very water intensive
The textile industry also produces around 20% of global wastewater, which is often polluted with toxic chemicals and dyes. For example, this is the case of Kanpur, a city in India where leather manufacturing factories pour about 50 million liters of polluted water daily into the Ganges river.
5. The fashion industry makes 3 trillion dollars yearly
Which equals 2% of the world’s GDP.
Of those, around $1 trillion belong to the fast fashion sector.
And while factory workers make less than 3 dollars a day, it takes the richest fashion CEOs 4 days to make more money than one of their workers in their lifetime.
In 2013, there was this huge protest in Cambodia where garment workers demanded a decent minimum wage of 160$/month.
As a result of the protests, the government agreed to raise it to 140$/month from the 100$ they were initially offering. Can you believe it?
So, guess who benefits from the cheap clothes we buy.
6. It’s one of the most polluting industries
The fashion industry produces 1.2 billion tons of CO2 every year – more than air and marine transportation together –, mostly as a consequence of the long supply lines and the delocalization of their factories.
This is about 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions, and, if we don’t do anything about it, by 2030, the fashion industry will be consuming more than 25% of the carbon budget by 2050.
7. 40 million people work in fast fashion all over the world
Of those, around 4 million work in 5,000 factories in Bangladesh alone producing for western brands. And yes, you guessed it, the reason is cheap labor. Messed up.
Read more: What Is Ethical Fashion?
Delocalization is very common in fast fashion. With the vast majority of their manufacturing facilities – aka sweatshops – overseas, they can manage to pay extremely low wages with no legal consequences and facing minimal backlash.
But don’t think that this only happens far from home: in the past months, we’ve been hearing about LA sweatshops exploiting immigrant workers and Boohoo doing the same in the UK. How can we ignore this, even when it’s happening in our neighborhoods?
And this is not good news. It doesn’t have to do with female emancipation and empowerment, but with exploitation.
In many cases, women working for delocalized sweatshops are the only breadwinners for their entire household – with, let’s say, around 97 $ per month. If you want to learn more about this, the film The True Cost shows the living and working conditions of one of these women and I can’t recommend it enough.
Fast fashion is a feminist issue – and this isn’t just a cute quote to post on Insta. Today, we can’t be selective and empower women in one part of the world while we ignore others that just weren’t as lucky as us because they were born a couple hundred miles away.
So what’s next?
Look, I just don’t want to live in a world without fashion. And to have fashion, we need a fashion industry.
Which doesn’t mean that we need a toxic fashion industry.
The first step is to raise awareness and show everyone that they, as consumers, have as much power as they’re willing to take – that whole “we vote with our dollars” thing is true!
When we talk about environmental activism, there’s strength in numbers. So if more people start caring about how our fashion choices shape the world, we’ll be able to move mountains and create real change.
So, why don’t you start by asking who made your clothes?