What Is Fast Fashion And How Is It Harmful?

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Fast fashion mimics the artistic creativity of luxury apparel brands at one-tenth the cost. It harms the environment as well as the labourers.

Would you buy a pair of jeans for $150 or a similar-looking pair for only $15? If your answer is $15, then you’re a fast fashion consumer.

However… why wouldn’t we be, right? Doesn’t it make more sense to buy something that’s cheaper than spending a fortune for a nearly identical product? It’s better for your pocket and can also be discarded once you get bored or want to change your look. For the short term, it does look like a wise spending option, but in the long run, it’s not only costing you more, but also doing a lot of harm to the environment.

Since the majority of the population in any country falls into the middle-class category, they typically can’t afford high-end luxury products. Thus, fast fashion comes to the rescue. Fast fashion mimics the artistic creativity of  luxury apparel brands at one-tenth the cost. The clothes that were fashionable a week or a month back are regularly tossed and consumers are presented with new collections quite frequently.

But are these products really sustainable and friendly to the environment? We all know that fashion changes quickly; what was fashionable yesterday might not be ‘in’ today. Buying cheaply made products decreases the cost of labour and also encourages you to buy products sooner, since they wear out more quickly.

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Sustainability refers to meeting the needs of the current generation without imposing a threat to the needs of future generations. Fast fashion’s primary goal is variety and speed. Fast fashion brands like Zara and H&M are well aware of consumer behavior.

They work on a ‘ten wash rule, meaning that the quality of the clothes are able to sustain only ten washes; after that, they lose their luster. Consumers don’t mind tossing a clothing item after ten uses because of the low cost and ever-changing fashion that they want to keep up with. In this way, consumers end up buying more and more, which heavily impacts the environment.

The fashion industry is also one of the most pollution-causing industries, reportedly producing around 15 million tons of waste every year. Since fast fashion discards collections so rapidly, they all end up in landfills. These piles of clothes in landfills produce methane as they decompose, which contributes to global warming.

Fight Fast Fashion protest, fashion is the second biggest polluter on earth(shaotft)S
Protests in the U.K. against fast fashion (Photo Credit : shaotft/ Shutterstock)

Now, let’s not assume that only women’s desires are the main contributors to this problem. The leather jackets that men love wearing so much leave behind extremely toxic waste. The chemicals used in the leather tanning process seep into the soil, nearby water bodies, and underground water, where they cause pollution and contamination. 10% of the world’s contribution to the carbon footprint comes from the fashion industry, making it the second-largest polluter of freshwater worldwide.

Also Read: What Is Zero Waste And How Can You Create Less Waste In Your Life?

We’re all quite conscious about food, paper, plastics, recycling and waste management, but when it comes to clothes, we usually turn a blind eye. The current clothing that has “gone green” are made from organic cotton and dyes, but they’re often not as aesthetically pleasing as a Zara or H&M outfit. The colors look dull and the styles are limited, seemingly outdated. Another hindrance is the high cost. It’s very difficult to compete with the prices of fast fashion companies while maintaining rightful pay for laborers and the high cost of organic products.

Also Read: Can Smart Clothing Be Converted Into Wearable Apparel?

Labor (Human) Rights

When catering to fast fashion demands, labor rights and safety regulations are often ignored. Brands like Zara, Forever 21 and Walmart outsource their manufacturing labor to third-world countries where cheap labor is available. The laborers are poorly paid and sometimes made to work in inhumane conditions.

They also work extra hours for which they’re not paid. They become trapped in this vicious cycle—unable to find better work, since it requires literacy and higher qualifications. Companies know this weakness and, as a result, don’t bother to maintain all the safety regulations of the factory buildings.

Bangladeshi Childs working in a small garment factory at Keraniganj in Dhaka( Sk Hasan Ali)S
Fast fashion at the cost of what? (Photo Credit : Sk Hasan Ali/ Shutterstock)

According to Article 23 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the United Nations, every individual of every nation has the ‘right to just and favorable working conditions’, as well as the right to receive rightful remuneration for their work in order to live a healthy life. However, are these rights available to workers in the fast fashion industry? No, they’re not. In order to maximize profits and provide cheap pricing for the clothing, the laborers do not receive rightful pay.

An example of this breach was when the Rana Plaza building collapsed in Bangladesh (2013), even after repeated warnings about the deteriorated condition of the building. The garment factory workers were working for brands like Walmart and, even after receiving an evacuation order, the managers simply told the workers to continue working. This tragedy, founded on greed and the neglect of safety, cost 1,129 lives.

Now, when you buy a piece of clothing at a cheap price, think of the collateral damage you’re causing to the lives of others who are not as fortunate as you. Think about the pollution you’re causing to the environment just for the sake of variety and style. Think about your own future, and the fact that we will be leaving nothing for our future children to enjoy. Earth has enough for man’s need, but not for man’s greed.

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References (click to expand)
  1. (2012) Fast Fashion, Sustainability, and the Ethical Appeal of Luxury .... The University of Notre Dame du Lac
  2. Innovation@Work Blog - MIT Sloan Executive Education. exec.mit.edu
  3. Fast-Fashion: Unethical and Unsustainable - UAB. University of Alabama at Birmingham
  4. M Lambert. The Lowest Cost at Any Price: The Impact of Fast Fashion on .... CORE
  5. An Analysis of the Fast Fashion Industry | Semantic Scholar. Semantic Scholar
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About the Author

Anupriya is an English and Social Studies teacher at Jamnabai Narsee School, Mumbai. Besides her interest in Literature and Social Sciences, she spends her time reading finance articles and binge watching historical drama series on Netflix. She aspires to be an author.