*cover image source: sustainability.uq.edu
Fast fashion is the term used to describe clothing designs that move quickly from the catwalk to the stores to align with new trends. Fast fashion allows mainstream consumers to purchase trendy clothing at an affordable price. The quicker turn-around of “fashionable” items began in the 90’s when shopping went from an occasional “event” to a favorite pastime.
Leaders in the fast-fashion industry include:
These brands boast around 52 micro-seasons a year*
- Zara (20,000 styles annually*)
- H&M + Forever21 (they receive 21 new garment shipments a day*)
- TopShop (features 400 new styles a week*)
And many other brands that worked quickly to meet demand of fashionable, affordable clothes, and compete with their competitors, (traditional department stores, Target, Walmart, etc.).
It sounds great – cute clothes that are on-trend for affordable prices that can just be “donated” when we’re done with them. Unfortunately, we’re all guilty of sporting Fast Fashion… I know I’ve purchased my fair share!
So what exactly is wrong with fast fashion?
- The clothes are cheap. Hands down, most of the brands don’t last longer than a few washes before showing wear and tear. I’ve had clothes fall apart at the seam, shrink in the wash, or pill so quickly after 1-2 wears. Why do we continue to spend money on products that have such short lives?
- Factory Worker Mistreatment. The millions of individuals (mostly younger women across the globe) deal with physical abuse, sexual harassment, poor working conditions, and forced overtime as a part of everyday factory life. This continues to cultivate a climate of fear and intimidation to maintain worker submission and achieve fast fashion’s high production demands.* When workers fail to meet the quick-turn arounds and garment targets, workers may experience physical, verbal, and sexual violence as punishments.
- Child Labor. The International Labor Organization estimates that 170 million are engaged in child labour (11% of the children in the global population), with many making textiles and garments. Child labour is a particular issue for fashion because much of the supply chain requires low-skilled labour and some tasks are better suited to children than adults. In cotton picking, employers prefer to hire children for their small fingers, which do not damage the crop.**
- In the cotton industry, children are employed to transfer pollen from one plant to another. They are subjected to long working hours, exposure to pesticides, and are often paid below the minimum wage. In developing countries where cotton is one of the main crops, children are enlisted to help harvest the delicate crop.
- In the yarn and spinning mills, child labour is rampant. The SOMO report found that 60% of workers at the mills it investigated in India were under-18 when they started working there.
- Want + Waste. Globally, we now consume about 80 billion new pieces of clothing every year—400% more than we were consuming just 20 years ago. Paradoxically, the more we love buying clothes, the more we seem to love either not wearing them or disposing of them, (we only wear an item an average of 7 times!!). The average U.S. citizen throws away around 80lbs of clothing annually. Most of this ends up in landfills, which then decomposes and emits a toxic brew of pollution.***
- Donations. Thrift stores can’t keep up and could never sell the amount of clothes they’re given. Then, the U.S. sends away over a billion pounds of used clothing per year, and a lot of those excess textiles are sent to East African countries like Kenya, Rwanda, and Uganda, each of which has received so much that some have proposed banning imported used clothing. Not to mention, the secondhand imports reduces the ability for these countries to develop their own textile industry – thus handicapping their economy.***
- Environmental Impact. Polyester is the most popular fabric used for fashion. But when polyester garments are washed, they shed microfibers that add to the increasing levels of plastic in our oceans. These microfibers are minute and can easily pass through sewage and wastewater treatment plants into our waterways, but because they do not biodegrade, they represent a serious threat to aquatic life. Small creatures such as plankton eat them, which then make their way up the food chain to fish and shellfish eaten by humans.
While many brands believe their factories don’t fall into these categories, the complexity of ownership and management of garment factories means most corporations aren’t 100% sure which factories are producing their clothes, and as long as they meet the deadlines – there is little pressure or interest to investigate.
So what can you do to help slow down the fast fashion movement?
- Wear what’s already in your closet
- Swap clothes with friends! (more on this later)
- Buy used (Poshmark + ThredUp)
- Purchase new from sustainable + conscious brands, who use fair manufacturing practices and organic or recycled fabrics (more on this later too!)
- Don’t throw your clothes away!
I’m not trying to make anyone feel badly about their past purchases. I know as consumers, we have so many factors that go into decision making – cost, accessibility, usage, needs, etc. My kids are certainly dressed in Target and Old Navy most of the time because I hate spending money on clothes that get ruined. But I do believe we should all be a bit more conscious moving forward, paying attention to the facts, and making sure we know about the brands we are purchasing from before we vote with our dollars!