Primark. H&M. Boohoo. All examples of popular fast fashion companies today.  

According to The Guardian a recent report found that the textile industry has greater greenhouse gas emissions than international shipping and aviation combined. But what exactly is fast fashion and how is it harmful?

Fast fashion can be defined as the rapid mass production of ‘trendy’ clothing at inexpensive prices for the public. ‘Trendy’ clothing is normally inspired by catwalk or celebrity looks. While the promise of cheap trending clothing may sound nice to most, statistics show a harsher reality. According to the Copenhagen Fashion Summit, fashion is responsible for 92 million tons of waste dumped in landfills each year. This number is due to companies mass producing clothing with lower quality materials, resulting in consumers wearing garments for a shorter period of time. Consumers then get rid of their clothes quicker resulting in a build up of thrown away clothes and people going out to buy new clothes sooner. This cycle is environmentally detrimental as well as economically unsustainable for consumers. These companies make great profit, regardless of how cheap they’re selling garments for because of this mass production.

This is harmful to the environment because the clothing materials are often not biodegradable and end up releasing toxic chemicals into the atmosphere. Some garments are even shown to have dangerous levels of lead present, which could harm us by increasing likelihood of heart attacks. Polyester is a popular material amongst companies because it is wrinkle-free, manipulatable and low costing. However it is a  synthetic petroleum-based fiber,so is a non-renewable resource that results in high carbon emissions.  According to Dr James Conca, a planetary geologist, more than 70 million barrels of oil are used to make polyester each year.Clothes made up of synthetic materials such as polyester end up releasing plastic microfibers into the water supply and in turn affects marine life. Fish, turtles and other marine animals absorb this toxic plastic leading to the gradual presence of plastic in food chains.

Fast fashion ultimately negatively impacts the environment but also has socially harmful impacts. The manufacturing process often consists of exploitation of labour via sweatshops in order to meet the demand of cheap clothing. Companies utilise the looser regulations in LIDC countries such as Bangladesh, where work is welcome by locals as it provides them with jobs. However they are paid low wages which can be as little as £25 a month or 3,000 taka. Unregistered sweatshops rely on child labour, where children work for up to seventeen hours a day with half a day off in the week.

So who is to blame, company or consumer? Regardless,effort is required by both parties to tackle environmental as well as social problems with fast fashion. In recent years there has been increasing awareness in fast fashion, prompting companies to make efforts to become more environmentally friendly. Slow fashion attempts to remedy environmental and social problems by focusing on eco-friendly production of clothing. Better alternatives to fast fashion includes the recycling and upselling of clothing. A popular app that utilises this is Depop. Recycling clothes could also take the form of buying used clothes from thrift shops or charity shops.

For some people completely cutting Primark, H&M and other fast fashioncompanies can seem near impossible but even occasionally looking to buy more sustainable clothing can make a difference. As well as raising awareness of the issues of fast fashion. The Netflix documentary ‘The True Cost’ looks into the problems with fast fashion and Lucy Siegle concludes ‘ Fast fashion isn’t free. Someone, somewhere is paying.’