How does Fast Fashion in the Fashion Industry affect the Environmental Degradation in the world?
The Fashion Industry is one of the top five global polluters. There are a series of environmental costs of fast fashion but there are some companies combating these harmful practices through the use of sustainable products and recycling. Fast Fashion is defined as “an approach to the design, creation, and marketing of clothing fashions that emphasizes making fashion trends quickly and cheaply available to consumers” (Merriam-Webster, “Fast Fashion”). As convenient as fast fashion is, there are physical and mental consequences for how accommodating the industry is.
As humans, we are constantly evolving. Our fashion style can be one of the very many interests that changes, which is most likely the reason fast fashion is so appealing for consumers. It’s cheap, on trend and chances are you’ll buy something new within the next week because you’ve grown tired of wearing the t-shirt that you just bought a month ago because it’s poorly made and it already out of season. What people don’t tend to think about are the implications that fast fashion has on the environment. A lot of clothes are not donated and end up in landfills, adding more waste to the already monstrous amount of garbage. Not the mention the environmental cost to produce these articles of clothing.
Now shifting the conversation to the environment impact and cost of fast fashion, a topic that most consumers seem to skim over due to the guilt they may feel or out of complete ignorance. Fast fashion is a major contributor to water pollution, toxic chemicals, and textile waste (Perry, “The Environmental Costs of Fast Fashion”). Textile dyeing adds to the pollution of water pollution, it is the “second largest polluter of clean water globally, after agriculture” (Perry, “The Environmental Costs of Fast Fashion”). The dyeing process includes many harmful chemicals that are being added into textiles which ultimately impact hormones in the human body (Morgan, “The True Cost”). In The True Cost, farmers who grow cotton are dying from illnesses caused by pesticides used in their crops. Their children are also suffering from these harmful chemicals through birth defects. Since the cotton has been genetically modified, they require an ample amount of pesticides and insectides. These chemicals used are entering through the skin and into the bloodstream which is the leading cause of the illnesses. Another farmer featured in the movie also emphasized the importance of organic cotton after her husband had died from a brain tumor from the pesticides used on their crops and how organic cotton is now on the rise. Aside from physical deformities, growing cotton is also having a mental and emotional influence on farmers. Cotton has been genetically modified which means that cotton seeds need to be purchased from big pharma companies who have patented this specific cotton seed as their own and hiked up the prices. These farmers are now in debt to these huge companies and will never be able to pay off their debts, causing a tremendous amount of stress which has led to depression. Many of these farmers are committing suicide once they realize they could never pay off their debts or to end their suffering and pain caused by the chemicals used on their crops (Morgan, “The True Cost”). To further add to the environment cost of fast fashion, textile waste is another consequence of the rapid change in trends. The production of clothes will more than likely leave a trail of waste since it still requires copious amounts of water, energy, and chemicals to produce which leaves room and arguments for those who don’t believe that the fashion industry strongly affects environmental degradation.
Society has conditioned us to believe that we must always be on trend in order to fit in, and this mindset has unfortunately led to fast fashion and the inevitable decline of the environment. Companies may start to use more sustainable materials and more “ethical” practices but many are not recycling their textiles or materials. In Early October of 2018, Michael Preysman, the founder of Everlane has announced their ReNew initiative which aims to rid their company of virgin plastic by 2021. Although it is not immediate, Everlane is still recognizing their social responsibility to the environment (Iredale, “Everlane Commits to Plastic-Free Plan by 2021”). In addition to getting rid of virgin plastic throughout all levels of distribution of their company, they are also planning on recycling plastic and creating outerwear out of water bottles. One jacket is the equivalent of 32 water bottles. Designers like Stella McCartney are taking a different approach, lab grown leather. Stella McCartney has partnered up with BOLT Threads, a company that’s passionate about creating textiles out of organic materials, to create a lab grown leather from mycelium. Mylo contains mycelium which is “composed of billions of cells which form a 3D mesh on a micro-scale” and in addition to having the same characteristics as real leather, Mylo is “vital to our ecosystem and infinity renewable”, meaning Stella McCartney has hit the environmentally friendly jackpot (McCartney, “The Next Chapter with BOLT Threads: Mylo Material, Rooted in Nature”).
There are multiple actions consumers may take in order to fight against fast fashion or at least the environmental impact produced by fast fashion. Improving our consumption practices is a great starting point. Making a more conscious effort to know the source of where your products are originating from can make an impact on the environment. Instead of paying $15 for a t-shift from Zara where it was manufactured in India where the working conditions are dangerous and the wages are impossibly low, you could be buy a shirt made from a company that uses sustainable textiles such as biomaterials or recycled materials for a slightly higher price. Being mindful of who you are giving your money and business to can ultimately reduce environmental costs and eventually force companies to reevaluate their developmental processes and social responsibilities to fit a consumer’s need to be more environmentally friendly.
While it is clear to see how fast fashion directly contributes to environmental degradation, there can be arguments made for the benefits of fast fashion. As a consumer, you are able to stay on trend while only paying the least amount of money. For retailers, fast fashion is imperative to growth as a company, rapid profits, and an easy recovery are all in the line of sight. Fast fashion is an advantage for those who may not have as much of a disposable income, such as college students, to spend on clothes. Clothes can be a “socioeconomic equalizer”, and people will be able to follow trends and express themselves through relatively cheap pieces (Martinez, “The Benefits of Fast Fashion for College Students”). After a trend may pass, if the clothes are still in good conditions, consumers may resell their items to stores like Buffalo Exchange or Crossroads and gain a small amount of money.
Fast fashion is a double edged sword. On one hand, you get to try out a lot of different styles and stay on trend while only spending a small amount of money and on the other hand, fast fashion is responsible for a sizable amount of environmental degradation. Some companies and designers are finding a way to decrease the negative impact of their manufacturing processes, from reducing plastic and reusing and recycling water bottles for the production of outwear to using biomaterials to make artificial leather.
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