Fashion has always been somewhat environmentally detrimental, but it seems like in the past few years, with the rise of online industries and companies like Shein, H&M, and Zara, fast fashion has not only gotten increasingly popular, but increasingly worse for our rapidly warming planet. Why is that?
Rather than traditional fashion companies who reveal a new lineup of clothes once or perhaps twice a season, fast fashion companies are rapidly producing cheap, accessible clothing in order to keep up with microtrends (trends that are often popularized on social media and only last a few months).
If we’re lucky, these clothes bought from fast fashion brands are donated to thrift stores and reused; however, that’s often not the case and instead clothing bought during the popularity of certain microtrends lay in the back of closets or end up in landfills.
A 2017 report by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation revealed that more than 50% of fast fashion garments are disposed of within a year of being produced, creating waste that our planet cannot afford to have.
Clothing piles up in landfills, and when it’s burned it releases pollution into the air and the soil, contaminating nearby neighborhoods. Sadly, even when fast fashion is given to thrift stores, its quality is so poor that the stores won’t accept it, or it’s thrown out soon after someone purchases it.
Beyond the negative economic impacts of disposing of fast fashion, its creation process is equally problematic, wasting an absurd amount of water and releasing an equally absurd amount of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
Clothing production has doubled since 2000, and the fast fashion industry consumes roughly 79 billion cubic meters of water annually, making it the second-largest water-consuming industry in the world, after agriculture. In just 2018, the global fashion industry contributed 2.1 billion metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions to the atmosphere. That’s akin to the total emissions of the U.K, France, and Germany combined.
All of these environmental impacts pale under the true cost of fast fashion: the human toll.
The reason that prices at fast fashion companies are so low, is because fast fashion clothing is produced in factories that criminally under pay their workers (if they get paid at all), employ child labor, and subject their factory workers to deplorable working conditions. Many companies won’t even disclose the locations of their factories, nevertheless promise to afford their workers basic human rights.
As always, mass consumerism and comfort for the West comes at the cost of exploiting the global south. Fast fashion production is tied to the idea of producing as many products for as cheap as possible — but those cheap prices are built off of the labor, blood, and suffering of workers (very often women and children) in developing countries.
So, what is the solution?
To start, buy clothing from stores that are transparent, ethically sourced, and environmentally conscious. Looking for Fair Trade labels on clothing you buy, while not a perfect solution, is at least indication that clothing you’re purchasing isn’t built on slave labor or actively dumping chemicals in water resources.
Before you buy a piece of clothing, consider if you will continue wearing it, at least a couple years into the future.
When you can, donate your clothes (whether to thrift stores, or to even family members) rather than throwing them out.
And again, buy clothes second-hand and from thrift stores. A couple local thrift store options include: Holy Redeemer Thrift Store, Penny Buck Junction, In Full Swing, Second Look Thrift Store, and Plato’s Closet. If you don’t live near a thrift store consider online options such as Depop or ThreadUp.
While real change in solving our growing climate crisis and global inequality must come from the companies that continue to perpetuate it, it does not mean that we should be careless or heartless in our consumption.
Isha Chitirala is a sophomore at Lower Moreland High School in Huntingdon Valley. She loves to write and is an avid piano player.
This article originally appeared on Bucks County Courier Times: On Earth Day, a look at the environmental impact of fast fashion