Over the past three decades, fast fashion has become an increasingly accepted and accessible way to purchase clothing. Brands like Shein, Zara, H&M, Forever 21 and ASOS mass produce cheap and “trendy” styles that often go out of fashion or wear out before they can be worn more than seven times. As of 2018, the fast fashion industry was valued at 2.5 trillion dollars and employed over 75 million people. 

Underpaid workers are shown sewing and packaging garments for Shein. Photo: businessoffashion.com

Poor working conditions are one of the many problems with this industry. Celebrity styles and garments from the catwalk are sampled and produced at breakneck speeds to meet consumer demand, and are then quickly disposed of once they are deemed “out of fashion.” This is part of the reason for such horrible working conditions in this labor-dependent industry. Fast fashion companies prey on workers, predominantly women, in low income countries like Bangladesh, India, China, Vietnam and the Philippines. According to a 2019 Oxfam report, 0% of Bangladeshi workers and only 1% of Vietnamese workers earn a liveable wage, forcing mothers to start putting their daughters into this system at as young as ten. 

A second issue with fast fashion is the disastrous effect it has on our planet. Fast fashion has a multitude of environmental impacts, but the two most detrimental ones are water pollution and textile waste. Pressure to produce clothes faster and sell them for cheaper has led fashion companies to cut corners and use cheaper, more toxic dyes. This makes the fashion industry one of the top polluters of clean water globally, next to agriculture. About 25 trillion gallons of water are consumed annually by the fashion industry. For reference, this much water would be enough to meet the needs of five million people. Additionally, wastewater from the dyeing and treatment of textiles often remains untreated, and can be drained back into our water systems, polluting it with heavy metals and toxins. Textile waste adds up to 92 million tons each year, and by 2030, we are expected to dispose of 134 million tons, 95% of which has the potential to be reused or recycled. 

What can you do to help? The most obvious answer is to avoid buying from fast fashion brands and to do your research before buying. Additionally, your voice as both a consumer and a citizen can have a great impact if you are willing to use it. Shopping second hand whenever possible is also a great way to reduce waste. You can also try to support companies whose values align with yours. If you keep in mind that your voice and choices can make a difference, we will be well on our way to a cleaner and more sustainable fashion industry.

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