Just over 30 years ago, fast fashion became a norm in the global market. Stores went from having two seasons to having 52 micro seasons. Soon, people started paying less attention to the quality of the clothing and more attention to the quantity to upkeep with these new styles. Fast fashion leaders like Zara, H&M, UNIQLO, and Top Shop offer both in-store shopping and online shopping, making high fashion clothing easier than ever to access at unbeatable prices. Fast fashion has become a huge part of consumer identity, and many people are constantly purchasing new items instead of buying staple pieces that can be worn. Many people become tired of their clothes and want something new and in style. According to TRAID, a clothing waste charity; the average garment is worn about 10 times before it is thrown away. This is because cheap clothes are often made up of cheap material, are not made to last, and any re-hemming or tailoring work would cost more than the item’s value.
As a result, there has been a surge of textile waste as most clothes are not recycled or donated but thrown into landfills. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), in 2018, only 2.5 of the 17 million tons of textile waste were actually recycled. The constant high demand for these new trends leads to a cycle of cost-cutting unsustainable practices from clothing producers. The mass production of clothing has caused severe damage to the planet through polyester pollution, microfiber pollution, excessive water usage, and carbon emissions from the transportation of the goods. In addition, McKinsey researchers discovered that fast fashion contributes to over 8% of the total greenhouse gases produced. Another huge drawback to the mass production of fast fashion is that the majority of them rely on sweatshops that enforce unsafe working conditions.
If fast fashion is so bad then why is it so popular? Despite the desire to be environmentally friendly, it has become a social norm to rely on retail therapy as a pastime endeavor. As a result, organizations like Ontario Textile Diversion Collaborative (OTDC) ban together to conduct public awareness campaigns for textile waste. A lot of people are unaware that it takes a lot of water to produce new clothing, not to mention the cheap dyes that are used that produce toxic runoff in the process, or the fact that most clothing cannot decompose fully without leaving behind microfibers and microplastics that reenter the ecosystem.
There are many affordable alternatives to fast fashion companies. One great way to avoid the fast fashion industry is to buy second hand through thrift stores or online stores like Poshmark. Another great alternative is to only purchase from environmentally friendly companies and actively research whether the companies you are buying from follow sustainable practices. Companies like tentree, Patagonia, Frank and Oak, and People Tree are just some of the many companies dedicated to sourcing fair trade and environmentally friendly products. The best way to avoid the fast fashion industry altogether is to practice minimalism and keep a select amount of clothing, donate the rest, and only buy something new when you really need it. Also, buy clothes that will last and go to a tailor when something gets torn!
In a culture where there are constantly new and better styles coming into the fashion market, it is easy to get persuaded by sale signs and fall into the cycle of fast fashion. I’m not saying never buy a new shirt, but if you do, think twice about where the shirt came from and buy one that you would wear more than a few times. Now you know a little more about the secrets of your closet and are even more aware of the impact that the mass production of textiles has on the environment.