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What’s Wrong With Fast Fashion?

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What’s Wrong With Fast Fashion?

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Fast fashion: what’s wrong? Why is it so bad for the environment? Check out our simple guide.

Phoebe Young

Tue 11 Aug 2020

Are you a bit confused about fashion and just why so many are causing a fuss over it?

We get so many questions on pebble about what is fast, slow and eco fashion that we've put together this simple guide to help you understand the devastating impact of fast fashion.

What’s Wrong With Fast Fashion?

Here's our take on some of the key issues with fast fashion, with tons of stats and further reading to get you clued up about clothes when it comes to the environment.

What Is Fast Fashion?

Fast fashion is the mass production of cheap, poor quality, disposable clothing. To give you an idea of the scale of the problem, the fashion industry churns out a gargantuan 80 billion garments a year - that's over 10 for every person on earth.

And it's 400% more than it produced 20 years ago.

According to clothes waste charity TRAID, the average garment is only worn 10 times before it is thrown away.

This diabolical disposable cycle is being fuelled because:

  • Clothes are becoming cheaper.
  • As their prices fall, so does their quality.
  • While prices are dropping, fashion trends are accelerating.

This creates an incentive for people to buy more clothes to keep up with the trends.

person looking through clothes

There's an incentive for people to buy more clothes to keep up with the trends

Because people know that the next trend is right around the corner and their clothes will soon fall out of fashion, they lack an incentive to take care of them. This means they dispose of them faster.

What’s wrong with this fast fashion system is that the majority of items are neither recycled nor donated.

Instead, they either go to landfill or get incinerated.

Every link in the fast fashion chain comes with huge environmental and societal costs.

Our clothes can take as long as 200 years to decompose...so our planet is getting polluted by more and more unnatural material all the time.

The majority of fashion items are neither recycled nor donated, they go to landfill

What's wrong with fast fashion? Why is it bad for the environment?

Fast fashion is causing devastating damage to the planet in a number of ways:

Water usage

A byproduct from textile factories in countries that produce fast fashion items en masse is untreated toxic wastewater.

What’s wrong with it? It contains substances like lead, mercury and arsenic that are extremely harmful to aquatic and human life.

  • Waste water from clothes factories to be dumped directly into rivers. In Bangladesh alone, 22,000 tons of toxic waste from tanneries goes straight into the waterways a year.
  • This toxic water the health of the people and the wildlife who live along the banks and eventually runs into the sea and pollutes that as well.
  • It can take up to 200 tons of fresh water to dye and finish just one ton of fabric.
  • Extinction Rebellion and the UN have also found that 3.6 billion people, almost half the world's population, are at risk of water scarcity at some points during the year.

River Blue fast fashion pollution documentary

Tons of toxic waste from tanneries goes straight into the waterways.

Microfibres

How can anything micro be a big deal? Microfibres are a key part of what’s wrong with the fashion industry.

What Are Microplastics And Why Are They Harmful?

"The fashion industry churns out a gargantuan 80 billion garments a year - that's over 10 for every person on earth"

Greenhouse Gasses

According to The Ethical Consumer and Greenpeace’s Journal, ‘Unearthed’, if the demand for fast fashion continues to grow at its current rate, we could see the total carbon footprint of our clothing reach 26% by 2050.

Here’s why:

  • Producing, manufacturing and transporting the millions of garments produced each year uses a lot of energy.
  • The synthetic fibres that most of our clothes are made of are generated from fossil fuels.
  • China, Bangladesh and India are the countries that produce the majority of our clothing, and they are powered almost entirely by coal.

power station and gases

The synthetic fibres that most of our clothes are made of are generated from fossil fuels

Deforestation

In order to produce food on planet earth, we need healthy soil and healthy forests. Because both absorb CO2, they are essential for preventing global warming too.

Yet another thing that’s wrong with the fast fashion industry, is that it hurts soil, woodland, and our entire ecosystems

  • Goats and sheep, raised for their wool, are overgrazed in pastures. Overgrazing leads to soil erosion, land degradation, loss of valuable plant species, food shortages and famine.
  • Chemicals used in the production of fabrics like cotton also degrade the soil.
  • Wood-based fibres, like rayon and viscose, cause mass deforestation.
  • Thousands of hectares of endangered and ancient rainforests are felled every year. They are replaced by plantations of trees used to make wood-based fabrics.
  • This harms indiginous communities as well as the earth.

herd of goats being used for wool

Overgrazing leads to soil erosion, land degradation, loss of valuable plant species, food shortages and famine

Toxins

So many chemicals go into every stage of textile production and manufacture:

  • They are still very much present when we buy and wear our clothes! That even goes for garments that are ‘100% natural fibre’.
  • Our skin absorbs all of these unnatural substances and endanger our health.
  • The Greenpeace detox campaign discovered 11 chemicals that are commonly present in clothes production that cause cancer and disrupt our hormones.
  • Other studies have found that chemicals contained in children’s pyjamas can be found in the children’s urine five days after they wore said pyjamas for just a single night.

According to clothes waste charity TRAID, the average garment is only worn 10 times before it is thrown away

Human rights

We have focussed on the environmental factors here, but the conditions of fashion industry workers is another reason why fast fashion is totally inhumane.

Unbearably long working hours, terribly low pay and extremely hazardous working conditions are just some of the issues. The 2013 Rana Plaza disaster is just one example of how unsafe it is to work in this industry.

Sustain Your Style has excellent, detailed and chilling information about the humanitarian crisis going on within the fast fashion industry.

River Blue fast fashion factories in fashion documentary

There is a humanitarian crisis going on within the fast fashion industry

There are so many more issues up and down the complex supply chains in massive fashion brands, which are generally highlighted when abuses make the mainstream media, but hopefully this quick guide has given you a quick overview into some of the biggest issues.

What are your biggest issues with fast fashion? Let us know in the comments below!

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