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Fast fashion harms the earth, so how can we stop it?

By Alex Diaz

Arts Editor

With the growing interest in fashion everywhere, companies have grown more and more unethical with the sourcing of their products, often at the cost of the environment. Before the Industrial Revolution, people had to make their clothes themselves by growing products, sewing them together, and reusing them. However, since then, factories have taken over, making it easier, cheaper and faster to make clothes. While this sounds mostly beneficial, in reality, it has detrimental effects on the environment.

Fast fashion was first coined in the 1990s to describe the speedy process at which clothing was made. Since then, it’s been used to describe clothing that comes from factories that use unethical means to make its clothing. Zara, H&M, GAP, Forever 21, and UNIQLO are just a handful of brands that profit by creating fast fashion. Oftentimes, these companies target lower to middle-income families due to how cheap their clothing is compared to more expensive brands.

Even with the benefit of being able to get more clothes for cheaper, it comes with the cost of the environment. states, “According to the UN Environment Programme, the fashion industry is the second-biggest consumer of water and is responsible for 8-10% of global carbon emissions – more than all international flights and maritime shipping combined.”

As stated previously, fast fashion manufacturers are one of the largest causes of both water waste and water pollution globally. The amount of water it takes to create a single piece of clothing is more than one may think; in fact, it may cost up to 3,000 liters (792 gallons) of water to make a single cotton shirt. The average person owns up to 20-30 shirts, meaning if they were all made of cotton, that would be at least 60,000 liters of water used. To put it simply, the amount of water a fast-fashion company uses accumulates quickly, causing many water sources to run dry.

Our colorful clothes are killing the environment - CNN Style
Fast fashion factories’ pluution ends up dying natural water sources. (Source: CNN)

In addition to using excessive water, fast fashion is one of the greatest causes of water pollution. CNN states, “Fashion is responsible for up to one-fifth of industrial water pollution, […]in producer countries like Bangladesh, where wastewater is commonly dumped directly into rivers and streams.” The water waste produced by fast fashion produces a mixture of chemicals, dyes, and other materials that end up in freshwater sources. Fast fashion pollutes water sources to the point where the color of the water changes due to the dyes and chemicals poured into it. This not only harms the local wildlife but also people who rely on those rivers and streams as a water source. 

Fast fashion is also responsible for the increased amounts of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Due to factories mass-producing clothing, fast fashion factories’ carbon emissions could end up increasing by up to 50% if nothing is done to stop it. With the added fact that it’s already responsible for up to 10% of all carbon emissions globally, fast fashion harms the environment in ways that could end up being irreversible.

Additionally, fast fashion is responsible for an increased level of plastic in the oceans. Since synthetic fabrics such as polyester are easier and cheaper to mass-produce, they’re often used in every article of clothing fast fashion companies produce. Polyester contains plastic microfibers, and while these microfibers aren’t as large as a plastic bag, the amount of microfibers accumulates over time and takes just as long to decompose. When a person throws away their clothing, the microfibers end up in the ocean and increase the ocean’s overall plastic levels.

Report on Bangladesh Building Collapse Finds Widespread Blame - The New York Times
The 2013 Rana Plaza collapse left thousands of fast fashion workers dead. (Source: New York Times)

Finally, many fast fashion companies prioritize profit rather than the treatment of their workers. Many times, fast fashion workers are put into cramped rooms, work for less than minimum wage, and work an unhealthy amount of hours. These circumstances can lead to incidents such as the Rana Plaza incident in 2013 that killed more than 1,000 underpaid fast fashion workers. With all these factors in mind, it would seem reasonable for people to take care of the clothes they wear and maximize their wardrobes. However, research has shown that people wear clothes up to 7 times before throwing them away. With the rise of social media apps, such as TikTok, that emphasize aesthetics and “cores,” people often end up throwing away what’s in their wardrobe for whatever’s next in season and repeating this cycle, causing more pollution to end up in the environment. 

Despite how dismal the situation may seem, there are ways to combat the rise of fast fashion and help support the environment.

To start, one of the easiest solutions is to donate rather than dispose of unwanted garments. Research shows that over 50% of Americans still throw away unwanted clothes instead of donating them. By donating unwanted clothes, it allows others to reuse them, stopping the cycle of clothes ending up in landfills and in oceans.

Some other alternatives to fast fashion are buying secondhand clothing, repairing rather than throwing away, buying quality over quantity, and reusing what’s already in your closet. Cutting down on constant buying helps boycott fast fashion companies and helps reduce harm to the environment.

While in this age it’s near impossible to eliminate fast fashion, we can make progress towards this goal by encouraging companies to be more green. Rather than blame individuals for shopping at fast fashion companies, we should push companies as a whole towards helping the environment rather than harming it.


Featured Image (At the top of this page): Fast fashion brands that contribute to the environment’s decay.

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