What is Fast Fashion?
Fast fashion is the mass production of cheap clothes overseas that are sold in stores in developed countries such as the United States, Canada, and the UK. These clothes are produced in countries like Bangladesh, China, India and Pakistan. Not only do these clothes destroy our environment, but the industry as a whole exploits their workers who are mostly women.
The Clothing Industry Creates Waste Water
One big issue surrounding "Fast Fashion" is the impact it has on our waterways and oceans. When clothes are dyed the bright vibrant colors we love they use water along with toxic chemicals. This leads to waste water that contains among other harmful things arsenic, lead, and mercury. This water pollutes local wildlife, and communities and eventually ends up in the sea. To show you the extent of this in Bangladesh alone, 22,000 tons of toxic waste from tanneries goes straight into the waterways every year (The Guardian). The problem is not just with waste water, but also how much water is used to produce the clothing we wear everyday. It takes 700 gallons of water to simply produce one cotton shirt!
With the production of clothes polluting our water and consuming it at an alarming rate water shortages come into play. The Extinction Rebellion and the UN have found that 3.6 billion people, (almost half the world's population) are at risk of water scarcity at some points during the year. If the clothing industry continues to grow these water shortages will only get worse, and human suffering will continue.
Greenhouse Gasses Caused By Fast Fashion
Quite possibly the most talked about and most important problem associated with our changing climate is our Carbon emissions. If we do not lower our global emissions the planet will continue to warm, and natural disaster events will be on the rise. The fashion industry right now creates 10% of carbon emissions world wide. If things do not change it could increase to 26% by the year 2050 (Ethical Consumer). These emissions are cause by the production, manufacturing, and transportation of clothes. Not to mention many of the synthetic fibers that are used is clothes come from oil such as polyester.
Another issue that contributes to the carbon emissions of Fast Fashion is where these clothes are manufactured and produced. The majority of these cheap clothing options are produced in countries in Asia; Bangladesh, China, India, Pakistan, Taiwan, Vietnam to name a few. A lot of these countries are completely reliant on coal for energy and are not using sustainable energy sources to power their factories. With more demand for the latest styles this will lead to the creation of new factories that are not sustainable and run on coal to power operations.
Fibers Cause Environmental Harm
Wool is sometimes used in clothing especially in coats, jackets, and blankets. In order to produce wool goats and sheep are raised in mass quantity. These sheep and goats overgraze their enclosed area which results in soil erosion, weakening of soil, loss of plant species, and even food shortages and famines. Because of our complex ecosystem when there is one problem it usually leads to another that causes more damage. Other fibers used in clothing like Rayon or Viscose are made from wood. Because so many clothes are produced each year these small fibers play a big role in deforestation and clear cutting.
I think we have all owned a cotton shirt at one point or another, it's a classic look. What we may not have thought about was how the production of the cotton used in this shirt was hurting our forests and food systems. You see almost all clothing made with cotton is not organic meaning a lot of pesticides are used to keep the crop yielding as much as possible. These pesticides not only harm our water ways and our soil but us as well. Occupational poisoning levels are high with as many as 42% of farmers reporting signs and symptoms of pesticide poisoning (Wriggly Toes). Pesticides also eliminate the natural enemies of the targeted pests, which reduces biodiversity by interfering with an ecosystem. This provides the opportunity for secondary pests to increase and then become the primary ones. The next time you want to buy that trendy shirt, or order merch for your company try to avoid buying products with cotton.
Toxins and Our Health
Many many toxins are used to make the clothes we wear today. It may be obvious but these toxins our toxic to our health. In 2011 Greenpeace launched their ‘Detox My Fashion’ campaign and called for 80 leading fashion brands and suppliers to reduce their toxic impact on the environment. As of 2018, 80 companies including Adidas, H & M and Mango have worked to reduce the volume of chemicals used in their production. Throughout this project Greenpeace discovered 11 chemicals that are commonly present in clothes production that cause cancer and disrupt our hormones (Compare Ethics). Some of these chemicals are AZO dyes used in black and brown colors, perfluorocarbon used in waterproof clothing, solvents used in dyes, and Phthalates which can cause cancer and hormone disruption. In order to stay away from these toxins choose organic clothing made from linen and hemp with natural dyes. Also look out for GOTS and Standard 100by OEKO-TEX written on tags, this means they were tested for harmful substances.
Mistreatment of Workers
In textile factories women make up 85% of the workers (BWSS). Also in these factories men are given positions of management and power creating a destructive hierarchy. This leads to physical, sexual, and verbal abuse of women by the men in charge as a form of discipline for making a mistake. Not only are women mistreated by employers but they cannot even make a living wage. It is said that one in six people worldwide work in the fashion production industry and that just 2% of them receive living wages! (Zerrin)! Big corporations could afford to pay their workers a living wage but they choose not to in order to increase profits and make their executives rich. Companies take advantage of the lax regulations and low wage requirements in the developing world to outsource production. On top of long hours, and low pay the working conditions are terrible. They are trapped in tiny factories that are packed with people working side by side. Also the toxic dyes used in clothes production must be used by these workers and it has a very negative impact on their health.
Hope is not all lost for these workers as many organizations such as Clean Clothes and The Fair Wear Foundation are working to educate people to make more ethical purchases, and lobbying companies and governments to create better conditions for workers. The best thing you can do is research on how these workers are treated, and tell people about what you learn.
How We Can All Help
Our world runs on supply and demand, and right now demand for Fast Fashion is on the rise. If we want to change this we must get the people to stop buying from these destructive brands and rely on more sustainable clothing options. One major problem with humans and clothes is we are simply not getting enough use out of them. The average article of clothing is only warn 7 times before it is thrown out or disposed of. These clothes end up in landfills and pollute our Earth. The solution is to use our clothes for longer and get the most out of them. When they are damaged try repairing them and see if you can extend their life.
Also when our clothes come to the end of their lives we need to recycle and donate to get the most out of them. Most people don't think clothes can be recycled but they certainly can and we need to do more of it. Many organizations and groups will be happy to take your worn clothes to be recycled or repurposed. Another great option is to donate clothes to stores such as The Salvation Army, or Good Will. This gives your clothes another life, and it gives people with less money an opportunity to look their best and feel good about themselves.
If you want to avoid Fast Fashion all together consider purchasing less clothes and go with the ones you have. Who really cares if you have the latest fashions when our planet is being killed because of it. Go with what you have and judge people based on their character and values instead of the clothes on their back.
If you live in the Amherst Ma area consider being a part of the clothing drive August 1st-8th. Any old clothes you have can be happily donated and will find a new home. To sign up for this event today click the button below.