The effects of fast fashion on the planet

Fast fashion… we need to talk: The major impacts

Fast fashion is that toxic relationship we all need rid of. It’s time to break up… break up for good. Breakups are hard and this one is no exception. First things first, we’re not the fashion police, we promise! We’re strong believers that you should wear whatever you want and feel good doing so. You do you boo, live your best life. Boycotting fast fashion is never easy. Especially if you class yourself as a bit of a “shopaholic”. We’re just here to help you be a little more mindful of your consumerism, and hopefully make you think twice before you order that next “going out-out” outfit. 

We all wear clothes on our backs and, whether you’re a fashionista or not, it’s important to be aware of the massive detrimental impact how fast fashion has not only on the planet, but on the people too. Let’s not lie, this is no secret. We’ve heard time and time again “fast fashion sucks” or “boycott fast fashion” or “fashion kills”, yet we still choose to turn a blind eye and support it. The open ended question is: why is this? 

As with all retail, the fashion industry relies solely on the consumer. Keep buying the clothes and they will keep getting made. Supply and demand – it’s that simple. We all need to clothe ourselves but hey, you can find some super jazzy garms in charity shops for 10 times cheaper. Fast fashion is cheap – correct. However you can find a full outfit in a charity shop for under a tenner and guess what; you won’t ever have that embarrassing moment when you’re twinning in a nightclub with the person across the room ever again! We could waffle on about this for days. Of course, this is just the tip of the iceberg but let’s break this down a little. We’ll be focusing on the planet and the people here. Intersectional environmentalism is important to us and fast fashion falls deeply into this. 

The impact of fast fashion of the environment:

Okay, we’re about to get a little factual. It won’t be a big yawn, don’t worry, just a few interesting things we all should know! You’ve probably heard before that fast fashion is the “second biggest polluter in the world” (Forbes), but here’s why. The fast fashion industry pollutes the environment with greenhouse gases. “These gases come from the production and transportation of the billions of pieces of clothing bought each year. In fact, the fashion industry contributes to about 5% of the world’s global greenhouse gas emissions.” (get-green-now). Let’s put this into perspective. This is equivalent to the amount of greenhouse gases emitted by the entire country of Russia or worldwide aviation industry. How crazy is that!

The production of synthetic polymers is another contributor to greenhouse gas emissions in the fashion industry. Lightweight and durable, synthetic polymers make clothes last longer. The problem is these are not found naturally and are therefore manufactured from crude oil.

In addition to all of these harmful emissions, the fast fashion industry also uses non-renewable resources (fossil fuels). Polymers are not renewable and are actually classified as a type of plastic. Microplastics in clothing can be released into the water system when they’re put through the washing machine, which in turn pollutes the environment and have been found everywhere from ocean trenches to mountain peaks. Plastic really is everywhere! Mining fossil fuels also contributes to air pollution and climate change. Plus, as we all know, fossil fuels equate to BAD and are not a sustainable resource (non-renewable).

The fashion industry is also a huge water consumer. It laps that water right up! Did you know that it takes 2700 litres of water to make a single cotton t-shirt? (Huffington Post) This is why we’re sharing some FACTS because when we hear cold hard statistics, it typically aids the reaction of “woah, really?!”. Shock provokes change.

Estimated water required in the production of cotton clothing items
Source: World Economic Forum

Cotton is one of the most common materials used in clothing and it needs a lot of water to grow. Usually grown in hot regions where water scarcity is already an issue, and cotton farming just compounds the issue. A LOT of water is also required to dye and manufacture textiles. For example, a ton of dyed fabric can take up to 200 tons of water to produce (sustainyourlife). Another big WOAH. 

On top of all of this the majority of clothing is manufactured in developing countries, where environmental laws may not be so strict. This means that many times, untreated wastewater from factories is dumped directly into rivers or lakes. Wastewater can be extremely toxic from factories, containing pollutants like lead, mercury and arsenic. Once in the water, these substances pollute the drinking water of local inhabitants. 

Lastly, about 84% of all clothes in the USA ends up in a landfill each year (newsweeks). Make sure you’re donating all of your unwanted clothes. Nearly all of that 84% could have been recycled, repurposed, or donated instead. If you don’t want it someone else definitely will! Remember your trash might be someone else’s treasure. Another reason why recycling clothing is so important is because once in landfill it takes years to decompose. Polyester (basically plastic) is a material used vastly in fast fashion and it takes 200 years to decompose. Nylon is not much better either, requiring a minimum of 30-40 years. In addition, whilst these materials decompose, they can release microplastics into the soil which can pollute the nearby area. 

Due to the overconsumption of clothing, 1 garbage truck of clothing is landfilled or incinerated every second
Source: (Carillo S., 2018:

The impact of fast fashion on the people:

To better understand how garment workers are affected we need to know who they are. According to The Guardian & Unicef, “The workforce of this industry is 80% female” and  “The International Labor Organization estimates that “170 million children are engaged in Child Labor, or 11% of the global population of children.” Many of these children are recruited from rural, impoverished areas with the promise of fair wages, regular meals and an opportunity for education. Unfortunately, these promises are rarely kept. This trillion dollar industry does not pay workers enough money to supply for basic human needs; in other words, workers are not paid a living wage (Huffington Post UK). Girls as young as 14 work 10-14 hour days to support their families, yet they are not able to live on the sum they earn (Conscious Living).

Fast fashion relies on us, the consumers, to survive:

1. We ignore the fact that we demand rights for ourselves without demanding them for the human beings that clothe us.

2. We justify our ignorance of their unethical treatment by pretending that these people welcome their own exploitation due to their inherent difference from us i.e racial injustice.

fast-fashion unethical treatment of employees

Garment workers typically work very long hours in unsafe working conditions, often exposed to harsh chemicals and industrial machinery. There is no value of human life in fast fashion. Garment workers are often seen as “disposable”. We must refrain from saying “but at least they have a job?” – this isn’t good enough. Everyone deserves to get paid a fair wage for the work they do. This is why slow fashion and being mindful of who is making our clothing is so important. When they say “fashion kills” they really mean it. No piece of clothing is worth more than a life. No excuses.

It’s happening a lot closer to home, too. Just this week Boohoo has been exposed for paying workers in a factory in Leicester just £3.50 an hour. You can read more about their human rights abuses here. Please don’t turn a blind eye!

fast-fashion: illegal production of clothes
fast-fashion: unethical treatment of people from third world countries

Things to take away with you and what you can do:

Every little helps. Completely cutting out fast fashion can be difficult for some. We understand not everyone has this luxury. However cutting down is better than doing nothing at all. If you are in the position to take the #nonewclothespledge then go for it, we believe in you! Here are some of our top tips, along with some super helpful resources.

  1. Shop ethical, sustainable or secondhand wherever you can. There’s always going to be an impact with anything we do but it’s about lessening that impact. If you’re in the financial position to shop ethical brands then definitely do so. If not, bag yourself a bargain at your local charity shops. Also try eBay or depop for secondhand goodies. This can be a great way to fulfill that shopping spree urge when the purse strings are tight.
  2. Avoid buying anything new, unless you NEED it. We mean it: you don’t need those shoes when you have 100 pairs at home! You don’t have to go cold turkey straight away but just cutting down on your spending is an amazing start. With time you’ll slowly start to realise that you just don’t need as many things as you think. Remember, capitalism relies on us buying things we just DON’T NEED. 
  3. Shop seasonal clothing so that you can literally wear it all year round. When we shop this way we’re much less likely to constantly need new clothes. Similarly, wearing clothing more than once is an absolute necessity. Buying things we know we’ll wear again is the way forward. 
  4. Unsubscribe from pesky discount emails from fast fashion brands. We don’t want any urges or temptations. Block them out of your life! Just because something is discounted it doesn’t mean we need to buy it. 
  5. Read, learn, know: get clued up, sign petitions and raise awareness! 
slow fashion benefits

Some helpful resources:

Take the #nonewclothespledge: 

Sign petitions:

Some reads:

How To Break Up With Fast Fashion by Lauren Bravo

Clothing Poverty: The Hidden World of Fast Fashion and Second-hand Clothes by Andrew Brooks

Fashionopolis: The Price of Fast Fashion and the Future of Clothes by Dana Thomas

Our sources: