In the past two decades, the fashion industry began to revolve around the fast fashion concept – the quick rotation of cheap garments imported from developing countries with few labor laws and low minimum wage. While this concept has made fashion more profitable for fast fashion company CEOs, because fast fashion encourages overconsumption and impulse shopping, it has created many environmental and ethical issues in our world.
In this article, we’ll dive deep into what these issues are, how is fast fashion and the current fashion industry causing them and how they can be resolved with sustainable fashion practices.
The environmental impacts of the fashion industry
The environmental impacts of fast fashion – where do we start? There are many different serious issues that need to be tackled.
Did you know that the fashion industry accounts for 10% of all greenhouse gasses produced by human activity? This isn’t just because large amounts of fossil fuels are burned to ship products from sweatshops to the west, but also because the countries where most fast fashion garments are made rely mainly on fossil fuels for energy production.
Aside from climate change, fast fashion is also a threat to our water supply. It takes large amounts of water to cultivate conventional cotton, putting a strain on the precious resource. As if that wasn’t enough, fast fashion is also a significant water polluter. Often, cotton farms use large amounts of pesticides to increase yield and sweatshops rely on nasty chemicals to dye and finish garments. All of these are then washed into rivers, poisoning many people’s source of water.
However, cotton isn’t the only fabric that’s to blame – synthetic materials have been gaining popularity with fast fashion brands, because of their low cost. However, what’s often forgotten is that these fabrics are essentially plastic, and they release plastic particles into wastewater anytime they are washed.
Fast fashions ethical issues
From an ethical standpoint, fast fashion is also highly problematic. It outsources production into developing countries, where it underpays its workers and forces them to work in terrible conditions.
These workers are paid as little as 3 cents per hour, often having to work for 100+ hours per week to satisfy our demand for fast fashion. All this happens in factories which are often structurally unsafe, with the threat of factory fires or building collapses. Even though the labor laws are typically very limited in developing countries, sweatshops often go as far as to break these already oppressive standards.
Encouraging overconsumption and other shady practices
There is one moral issue related to the spread of fast fashion – it encourages us to buy more than we need and spend money on an impulse. In an age where conscious shopping is more important than ever before, fast fashion uses a variety of sales tactics which directly contradict and undermine the importance of sustainable development.
Another shady practice you’ll want to watch out for is greenwashing. Many fast fashion companies wish to appeal to the more environmentally conscious of us without actually doing any work to become more sustainable. Therefore, they make unsubstantiated claims about sustainability. Thankfully, they are quite easy to see through with enough research – make sure you look up any claim about environmental benefits and search for proof.
What are the sustainable fashion options?
How can we stop supporting the environmentally and ethically insufficient fast fashion and find a more sustainable alternative? Sustainable fashion isn’t a one-size-fits-all thing, there are many different ways to pursue it – here are 3 of our favorites
1. Support sustainable fashion brands
Instead of buying your clothes from a fast fashion brand, support sustainable fashion labels which are working to make their clothes as eco-friendly and ethical as possible. They use natural materials, implement water conservation practices, pay their employees fair wages, provide a safe work environment, and more.
A sustainable fashion garment may cost more upfront, but it will end up saving you money in the long run because it will last you for years.
Here are quite a few sustainable clothing brands we've been loving lately:
- For Days
2. Wash your clothes sustainably
Sustainable fashion isn’t just about buying sustainable clothing – it’s also about making sure the clothes that you already have remain in good shape and that the cleaning process doesn’t have a negative environmental impact.
Opt for sustainable laundry detergent options, such as the laundry detergent sheets or the laundry soap bar and switch to natural wool dryer balls – or you can skip the dryer altogether and air-dry your laundry.
3. Shop second hand
A great way to save money while supporting sustainable fashion and buying eco-friendly clothing is to shop second-hand. This way, you’re preventing clothing from ending up in a landfill and giving it a second life!
While some clothing and fabrics can be composted, it’s always best to reuse them in their original form when possible.