If you've been paying attention over the last 2-5 years, you've heard terms like "fast fashion", "slow fashion" "sustainability" and "greenwashing". But what is fast fashion and why is it bad? While the practice of trying to reduce the footprint of fashion isn't new, how mainstream the issue is, is new. Read to the end to find out exactly what it is and how it's effecting you right now.
Before we dig into the consequences of fast fashion, it makes sense for us to first know what it is. Fast fashion is pretty much what it sounds like; making fashion quickly, particularly for items that are trendy, poor quality and have very short lifetimes in the the end users closets. Now, at first glance that seems harmless enough, we get clothes cheap and fast from retailers, what could be wrong with that?
The Consequences Of Fast Fashion
The only benefit to fast fashion is that if you buy from brands that subscribe to this production model of producing products in large quantities in record speed time, then you can see something on a blog post or in a magazine and have a fast fashion brand knock it off in lightening speed time; putting it in your hands in a matter of a couple of weeks rather than months.
What you may not know, is that in order for that company to produce that item so quickly it not only impacts the environment in an extremely harmful way, but it often exploits, puts in danger and creates extremely poor working conditions for the people working in the factories.
"Fast fashion accounts for 10% of all carbon emissions in the world and is the second largest industry when it comes to pollution behind the oil industry. Fast fashion companies put out 150 billion clothing items every year. ... Thus, pollution is just one of the negative effects of fast fashion." Samira Akbary, Borgen Magazine Nov. 2020
The 10% increase of carbon emissions (as of Nov 2020), is a big issue. But if carbon is naturally emitted from mammals when they breathe and it's a vital part of life on Earth, why is it so bad? It's true that Carbon is naturally emitted from humans when we breath, animals when they decompose, and the largest source of natural carbon emissions is from the exchange of carbon dioxide between the oceans and the atmosphere. This extra Carbon needs to have somewhere to go. Without a way to breakdown in the atmosphere, it can cause the temperature of the planet to increase because it absorbs radiation and traps heat in the Earth's atmosphere.
But wouldn't it be great if there was a way to absorb this extra carbon that is being emitted into the atmosphere? We do have something! Trees. But because of the amount of deforestation, and trees we cut down for so many various reasons, the amount of carbon emissions that nature can help us to sustain continually decreases, causing the carbon footprint to increase.
How does this effect you? That super cute shirt you got for super cheap, is contributing to the carbon emissions that the factories are outputting to make it. Those carbon emissions are warming the planet. The warmer atmosphere is changing weather patterns drastically, causing extreme cold temperatures in places that don't typically have it, more severe hurricanes, super long dry periods in places that are prone to fire, volcanoes that haven't erupted for hundreds of years to become active again, tsunamis are more frequent and more severe. It's wreaking havoc on the planet.
Exploitation Of Factory Workers
Another, lesser discussed side effect of fast fashion is the exploitation of the overseas workers in the factory, often women of color.
"Fast fashion is bad for workers, especially young and underage women. These women work long hours with minimal pay and they work in unsafe working conditions. Many women start working underage because they need a way to support themselves.
Not only do these workers get paid measly wages, but they are also subjected to dangerous working conditions with no benefits or protection. There are instances throughout history, such as when the Rana Plaza workshop collapsed in 2013 killing over 1000 workers. The combination of working long hours, underpayment and extremely unsafe conditions are just some ways companies exploit their workers. And this exploitation is just another one of the negative effects of fast fashion." Samira Akbary, Borgen Magazine Nov. 2020
How Do We Know If We're Buying Fast Fashion?
This can be tricky, especially since with the awareness of fast fashion, you have so many brands that are pretending to be sustainable, or greenwashing their efforts and claims that they are sustainable and helping to reduce the fashion industries carbon footprint.
So how do you know if your favorite brand is a fast fashion brand causing harm to the environment? 2 key things to look for are:
Hundreds and thousands of various styles that don't seem to connect by a common brand vision or inspiration.
New and updated styles very often.
Styles that were previously new, are on sale and replaced by newer styles in a very short time frame.
Check their website. Larger brands will typically announce and be proud of the efforts that they are making to help clean up the environment and fashion industry from harmful production practices.
Certain brands that I won't name are known for it. So already I would say, if you are aware of a brand that practices these environmentally harmful production processes, then stop shopping from them and find an alternative for how you purchase your clothes.
I'm On A Budget & Can Only Afford Fast Fashion
In today's day an age there are so many ways to get what you're looking for or something similar, without having to sacrifice the environment to do it. Try things like:
Thrift shopping. There are some AMAZING thrift, 2nd hand and vintage boutiques out there. Giving life to an item that's already had a life, is great for the environment, speaks to the quality of the garment if it's still around and has no additional impact on the environment besides it's original impact. There are great digital, sustainable options too.
Buy better quality clothes. Hear me out here. One of the reasons that Europeans always look so good is they practice investment shopping. They go for quality and not quantity; spending the bulk of their fashion budget on items that can last for decades. This decreases the cost per wear, typically has lower impact on the environment because these types of garments are made with slow fashion techniques using traditional garment manufacturing practices that produce much lower carbon. NIC TIP: when buying high end items is to shop classic styles on sale.
Shop Small. Smaller brands that don't have the reach of larger brands, typically produce their garments in a more eco-friendly way already simply because they don't have the budget to mass produce. At Nic Hyl , we produce with smaller factories, that have smaller teams and smaller to no outputs at all. We also use fabric that is recycled from larger brands, and often repurpose items and give them new life by redesigning them. In our newest collection, dropping May 5th 2021, we have over 4 styles that are made exclusively with vintage or recycled fabrics.
Nic Hyl vintage Sequin Dress, redesigned from vintage clothes.
What Can I Do?
The first place to start is to become aware and educate yourself. Reading posts like this, getting familiar with the process of how what you buy is made and delivered to you, and learning how our global world is driven by our desires is a huge first start.
Once you become aware, making choices for yourself and your household become a bit easier to control because you know what to look for and what the problems are. Also, sharing the information and resources you learn with groups that you are in can help to spread the word.
Lastly, just because you begin an initiative to shop in a more ethical way, doesn't mean that you will be inconvenienced. Once you learn what you need to know, putting action to that knowledge becomes so much more convenient.
How are you practicing sustainability and not buying fast fashion? Comment below!