Fast-fashion brands like Zara, forever 21, H&M, and Shein provide affordable, stylish apparel to meet the demands of young consumers. A wide range of clothing is being made accessible to consumers at affordable prices and in a convenient manner. Sounds lovely, doesn’t it? The situation isn’t all that terrific, though. Fast fashion is bad for the environment.
The business consumes more water than all international flights and marine transportation combined, contributing to around 10% of global carbon emissions, per the UN Environment Programme. Sadly, buyers frequently need help seeing the issues with fast fashion.
Before assessing the fashion industry’s environmental challenges and discussing ways to make it more eco-friendly, let us first understand “fast fashion.”
The phrase “fast fashion” has gained popularity in discussions of fashion, sustainability, and concern for the environment. To capitalize on current developments, the phrase is used to describe “cheaply manufactured and priced items that replicate the newest runway looks and be pushed through stores swiftly.”
The phrase was initially used when Zara arrived in New York at the start of the 1990s. The term “fast fashion” was created by the New York Times to characterize Zara’s goal of reducing the time it takes for a garment to get from conception to retail sale.
The fast design, production, distribution, and marketing of clothing are the basis for the model’s name. As a result, shops can offer vast amounts of a broader range of products, giving customers access to more fashion and product distinction at a lower cost.
The amount of time required for a product to move through the supply chain, from design to purchase, is called the “lead time.” In just two weeks, a new item may be designed, made, and delivered by Zara in 2012. As a result, the fashion sector generates excessive quantities of trash.
The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change predicts that by 2030, emissions from the textile industry alone will increase by 60%.
The environmental impact of fast fashion comprises the depletion of non-renewable sources, the emission of greenhouse gases, and the use of massive amounts of water and energy.
Fast Fashion and Its Environmental Impact
Water exploitation is one of the significant environmental consequences. The fashion industry is the second largest consumer industry of water. Every year, the sector needs approximately 79 billion cubic metres of water.
The amount of freshwater used excessively to produce fast fashion reduces the availability of clean water worldwide. Currently, 884 million people lack safe drinking water, which accelerates the pace of dehydration and other harmful health impacts. Water use in the sector is notably increased by cotton.
The amount of water needed to grow one pair of jeans’ worth of cotton is close to 1,800 gallons. Additionally, significant amounts of freshwater and chemical colourants are used while dying clothing. Instead of collecting and purifying their effluent, many fast fashion businesses dump it in nearby waterways. Bangladesh’s leather tanneries are renowned for dumping garbage.
Another significant environmental impact is the use of synthetic fibres. To save on expenses, businesses make clothing using plastic strands. Synthetic fabrics reduce production costs and processing times while polluting the environment with microplastic.
Microplastics have been linked to neurological problems in aquatic life, and when they move up the food chain, they can also have an impact on human health.
Energy-intensive processes are needed to produce synthetic fibres, which fuels the exacerbated greenhouse impact. It takes much energy to make plastic fibres for textiles, and the process also generates a lot of volatile particulate matter and acids like hydrogen chloride.
Furthermore, most fast fashion businesses run their production facilities on fossil fuels. The power sources burn, releasing greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. According to an estimate by Business Insider, fashion production accounts for 10% of all global carbon emissions, equal to that of the European Union.
The world will experience harsh droughts, agricultural limits, depopulation, and other issues with ecological stability if the sector keeps producing significant amounts of air pollution.
Fast Fashion & The Society
It is well-established that fast fashion is bad for the environment. However, the adverse effects of this sector extend beyond the environment. The sector also causes societal issues, particularly in underdeveloped countries.
According to a US Department of Labor study, the fashion business in Argentina, Bangladesh, Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, the Philippines, Turkey, Vietnam, and other countries has used forced and child labour.
The True Cost estimates that one in six individuals works in the global fashion business, making it the sector most dependent on labour. These underdeveloped countries seldom adhere to environmental rules; China, for instance, is a major fast-fashion exporter but is also known for air and water pollution and land destruction.
How can We Reduce the Environmental Impacts?
According to the WRI, businesses should develop, test, and engage in business models that encourage the reuse of clothing and extend its life span. To combat the harms brought on by quick fashion, the UN established the Alliance for Sustainable Fashion. It aims to “stop the socially and ecologically damaging practices of fashion.”
Fast fashion is bad for the environment and requires a greater deal of government involvement. Emmanuel Macron, the president of France, has signed a deal with 150 firms to make the fashion sector more sustainable.
Purchasing from second-hand vendors like ThredUp Inc. is one way consumers minimize their consumption of fast fashion. Consumers send their unwanted clothes to these websites, and people then buy those items for less money than they would have initially cost.
People can make their closets more environmentally friendly by thrifting their clothing rather than purchasing brand-new ones. Customers may also fix damaged or worn-out clothing to lengthen their useful lives and reduce landfill waste.