Fast fashion is a term used to describe businesses that profit from mass-producing trendy and cheap clothing. However, this industry’s highly profitable model is based on unsustainable practices and violations of human rights. So while the cheap price tags may be a tempting, vibrant red, that promises quality and value, it is simply an illusion. The true cost of fast fashion is on the millions of victims from unethical labor and our devastated planet.
As consumers, we are driving the sky-rocketing demand for fast fashion. We leave no incentive for brands to become more sustainable or to pay up their workers. Why do we buy fast fashion when there are so many affordable and ethical alternatives? It’s time for us to change.
Fast-fashion garments are exchanged not at the expense of our wallets but rather on our ever-so-devastated planet. According to The Guardian, fast fashion is the second leading pollutant of micro-plastics, the second-largest consumer of the world’s water supply, and produces over 10% of global carbon emissions. And clothing production has doubled within the past 20 years. At this current trajectory, we are accelerating toward an environmental catastrophe. This is because the Fast-fashion industry takes on one of the most unsustainable business models: The take-make-waste model.
Take: Resources are depleted from the environment.
Make: The materials are rapidly manufactured into clothes and transported to consumers, leaving a significant carbon footprint.
Waste: The clothes are thrown out after a short time period and turned into synthetic and toxic waste.
Now, let’s put this into numbers:
According to The Wall Street Journal, over 100 billion clothing items are produced each year— in other words, over 12 clothing items for each human being. However, 20%- 200 million of these clothing items are never sold. Instead, they are burned into the atmosphere as toxic greenhouse gases. Why? To protect the company's brand image.
That isn’t the worst part…
The cheap and plentiful supply chain has been fueled by exploited children and underpaid workers. The model of the industry has paved a road to the bottom and it’s a race between which companies can produce the cheapest clothes most quickly, and at the lowest cost. According to Sofie Ovaa, an advocate of Stop Child Labor, children have become the most vulnerable to inhumane conditions and false promises of adequate income. Their lack of education and power are taken advantage of by manufacturers. In fact, UNICEF estimates there are over 170 million children exploited within the textile industry, sacrificing their health and education.
In recent years, many companies with household names in the industry struggled to bury the dark reality of labor exploitation. In 2016, H&M was exposed for hiring underaged children in Burmese factories. The company was quick to defend itself, claiming that the legal age of employment was 14 years old. However, just because their age is legal, it doesn't mean that it's humane. They might be old enough to work, but what about their lack of labor rights, the hazardous sweat-shop conditions, and sexual harassment and discrimination they experience every day? H&M’s unapologetic response to the allegations simply shows that they, like many other fast fashion companies, are not at all ashamed.
Until we do our part to avoid purchasing from fast fashion companies, there will never be an incentive for those companies to change. As consumers, we must stop supporting these shameless fast-fashion companies. While we can afford to spend a few extra dollars on sustainably and responsibly made clothing, we cannot afford to deplete our planet of its ever-degrading natural resources and pollute our ecosystems. We cannot afford the exploitation of impoverished children and the violation of their human rights. After all, buying cheap comes at a high price.