Fast Fashion: What It Is and Why It Matters
Updated: Feb 28
Fast fashion. The biggest foe of the environmentalists and the best pal of most of the clothing brands. A sly advocate for capitalism and a relentless supporter of climate change. Fast fashion is hardly a new term. It has been on the radar for a couple of decades, but it’s peaked in popularity several years ago when it became clear that the horrors of climate change are probably not a question of “if”, but “when”.
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According to Merriam-Webster, the term fast fashion was first used in 1977 and can be defined as “an approach to the design, creation, and marketing of clothing fashions that emphasizes making fashion trends quickly and cheaply available to consumers”. The definition shows that historically, the “fast” part was supposed to refer to the amount of time it takes for a trend to get from the catwalk into your closet. And that isn’t a problem per se. Nowadays, however, the “fast” part can be applied to every part of the items’ lifecycle. The clothes are designed fast, made fast, shipped fast, bought fast, and in the best cases, worn fast. But they also go out of fashion, get forgotten, and end up in the landfills just as fast.
Besides, fast fashion is nothing without cheap fashion. The only way to persuade you that you really need that trendy new handbag that has just premiered on a fashion show is making the similar handbags in the stores very affordable, if not unbelievably cheap. This way, you don’t have to spend much time thinking about whether you need it or not. Even if I end up wearing it just once or twice, it costs as much as a pizza, so that’s not a big deal. Or is it?
To put it straight, if you’re not worried about fast fashion, then you probably haven’t been paying attention. And it is quite easy not to pay attention. Thirty years ago almost everyone knew someone who worked in the textile industry. People were aware of the way clothes are made and the amount of work it takes. Now that all the work is outsourced overseas, young people have no idea where their clothes come from. Most of us are used to seeing India, Bangladesh, or China on our labels. The clothes we wear became something that’s just always there. Something without a backstory, without a face, without a voice.
But what do these factories in Asia actually look like? The answer shocked the entire world when the hidden became visible after the collapse of Rana Plaza, an apparel factory in Bangladesh. The collapse killed over a thousand people, most of them women. The accident is known as the deadliest structural failure accident in modern human history. When the cracks started appearing on the building, some companies evacuated their workers. The clothing factory, however, didn’t take the warnings into consideration and told the workers to keep coming to work. The price that was paid for that mistake was so high that the industry couldn’t afford to let anything like that happen again.
Since the accident happened in 2013, the factories in Bangladesh and the companies that make their products there have introduced some new safety measures. However, the industry as a whole remains on the brink of disaster. Reportedly, 80 percent of garment workers in Bangladesh have witnessed or experienced sexual harassment in the workplace. More than three-quarters of them are women and only one out of 50 people earns a living wage. That makes fast fashion not just a fashion issue, but a feminist, humanitarian, and a social issue. As Kalpona Akter, executive director of the Bangladesh Center for Worker Solidarity, said in her interview for The New York Times, “Cheap clothes are not cheap. Someone always has to pay for them. And that someone is a worker. ”
Unfortunately, fast fashion is also one of the biggest abusers of the voiceless, that is, the animals and the environment in general. Cheap almost always equals unsustainable, which can be proved by the amount of environmental damage that has been done by the fast fashion industry. For example, considering the demand for fast fashion, it’s not surprising that the fashion industry is the second largest polluter of clean water worldwide. The rivers in China, India, and Bangladesh are risking to become biologically dead zones due to the toxic chemicals that have been released into the rivers by the local textile suppliers. When it comes to greenhouse gas emissions, the situation isn’t optimistic either: worldwide, the global apparel and footwear industries are responsible for 8% of them, which is the equivalent of the climate impact of the entire European Union.
If you are trying to live an eco-friendly lifestyle, stay away from synthetic fabrics such as polyester. Although they account for more than 60 percent of fabric fibers, they are also one of the most harmful ones. Since they are derived from fossil fuels, they directly contribute to climate change, not to mention the fact that they will not decay once they are in a landfill. Besides, during the washing, synthetic fabrics release microfibres that contribute to the amount of plastic that ends up in the oceans, the bodies of animals, and, consequently, human bodies. Cotton, especially organic cotton, is definitely an all-around better option. But it’s important that we shop mindfully even when it comes to cotton items: cotton requires great amounts of water, so its production often leads to water crises in the developing countries.
Sadly, animals have been the victims of the fashion trends for a long time now. Real fur and real leather are still considered luxuries, but more and more people are starting to pay attention to what matters, which is unnecessary suffering caused by our impulsive decisions. But there are other ways in which these trends affect the environment. Many fast fashion companies use faux fur and faux leather, which don’t cause animal suffering, but synthetic fibers, dyes, and chemicals used for their production are very harmful to the environment too.
So is the future really that grim? Not necessarily. Considering the amount of research done regarding climate change and fast fashion, there are ways to stop fast fashion and the environmental damage it causes. The famous “reduce, reuse, recycle” is now more important than ever. We need to think more carefully about the clothes we buy, where they come from, and what they are made of. We should remember that refraining from the purchase is always the most sustainable option (slow fashion). And also, we should rethink the amount of money we are willing to pay for our clothes. The low prices of the fast fashion brands aren’t really normal. The price of these clothes is, in fact, much higher, and if we don’t pay it, it is paid by the workers, the animals, and the environment.