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Fast Fashion

Fast fashion is a business model focused on rapidly and massively producing clothing in response to the latest trends. The idea is to replicate catwalk trends and high-fashion designs quickly and cheaply using low-quality materials to bring inexpensive styles to the public. Companies that practice fast fashion include Zara, H&M, Uniqlo, Urban Outfitters, Forever 21, ASOS, and Topshop (source).

According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, the fashion industry is responsible for 10% of global annual CO2 emissions – more than all international flights and maritime shipping combined (source). Emissions come from factories, transportation to retail outlets and consumers, and landfills once consumers discard the product. 

The fashion industry is the second most water-intensive world, all the while billions lack an adequate supply of drinking water. It takes 2,700 liters of water to make a cotton t-shirt: enough drinking water for one person for 900 days (source). Fast fashion also contributes to water pollution: clothes made out of synthetic fibers (polyester, rayon, spandex) contain microplastics, and when they get washed or dumped in landfills, they release plastic into our waterways and end up in the stomachs of marine animals, including some that we eat.

Another major problem with fast fashion is textile waste. In 1960, the average American adult bought fewer than 25 items of clothing each year – today, it’s about 70 (source). Because the clothes are so cheap, people are more inclined to throw them away. In the US, the equivalent of one garbage truck of clothes is dumped in landfills or burned every second (source).

Finally, fast fashion is also notorious for unsafe and unethical labor conditions. To quickly and massively produce cheap clothing, companies often use sweatshops where laborers work in hazardous conditions (exposure to chemicals, no ventilation, unsafe buildings, abuse) for extremely low wages and long hours (14 to 16 hours a day, 7 days a week). Because the fashion industry requires low-skilled labor, child labor is widespread too (source). 

Only about 2% of clothes sold in the US are actually made in the country (source). So, in the end, consumers purchase cheap and trendy outfits for a fraction of what they’re worth in terms of human and environmental costs. Behind that price tag, many hardly realize that are impoverished workers in developing countries working in dangerous conditions for minimal pay.

What you can do:

  • Buy/sell vintage! Second-hand clothing is unique, less expensive, and better for the environment.
  • Make informed shopping choices: you can educate yourself on the environmental footprint of clothing brands using this guide called GoodOnYou, which rates hundreds of fashion brands.
  • Or better yet – boycott fast fashion. It might be difficult at first, but if you buy less but better quality clothing, you’ll find yourself loving and caring for them more. You always have the choice to resell them when you’re done loving them and buy other second-hand clothing to change up your wardrobe.
  • Donate what you no longer wear! Click the “Donate” button to use the location finder from the Council for Textile Recycling to find a donation/recycling center near you.


  • Stella
    Posted May 17, 2024 at 8:25 pm

    Brands like Fashion Nova, Zara etc should be illegal! I am really into fashion and have had to reconcile my love for clothing with my environmentalist heart. I’ve found that buying clothes that are of better quality actually makes them more sustainable because you can re-wear them for years and not have to keep buying over and over again and leading to waste. It costs more but is worth it to help the earth. That’s also my recommendation for anyone who likes fashion but wants to be more mindful/conscious on their environmental impact. Did you see Greta Thunberg’s vogue interview? she basically said that the brands that call themselves sustainable and talk about being vegan etc. is all just greenwashing. The only way to really limit your negative impact when it comes to fashion is purchasing high quality items that will last for a long time.

    • Nathanw
      Posted May 18, 2024 at 8:26 pm

      Agree with you @Stella . The other thing is to buy items created locally. The stuff that is made in China causes a bigger carbon footprint because it all has to be shipped/flown in. Buy locally made products and you’re already a step ahead. And greenwash is real, brands do it all the time and its a disgusting way of profiting off of people’s fear of the world ending

      • KamilleJ
        Posted May 18, 2024 at 10:09 pm

        Yes! Buying local is so good! Also if you learn how to make your own clothes you can upcycle old pieces and create new ones to keep your outfits fresh and new

  • KamilleJ
    Posted May 19, 2024 at 6:21 pm

    I stopped shopping at stores like Zara and H&M years ago knowing that I could never support any company that uses child labor and unsustainable practices and are major contributors to fast fashion. Brands like Shein, Fashion Nova, and Zara are also really bad for the environment because the poor quality of the clothing leads people to have to buy more overtime leading to more waste. I started focusing more on thrifting when I need new clothes. I only really buy stuff when I absolutely NEED

  • Avatar photo
    Posted May 19, 2024 at 8:13 pm

    This information really makes you think twice about clothes purchasing..

  • eggs
    Posted May 20, 2024 at 7:10 pm

    This is sooo true. I want to be a fashion designer in the future and I really want my focus to be rewearable, sustainable, efficient, and affordable but I refuse to sacrifice my enviromentalist beliefs and environmentaly safe fabrics for a lower cost.

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