OPINION: What’s so bad about “Fast Fashion”?

By Reese McBride

Fast Fashion keeps spitting out new, extremely popular trends. In fact, trends are popping up so quickly that the excitement of new clothing causes people to buy more and more, and forget what they already have in their closet. 

The general definition of “fast fashion” is random articles of clothing that are cheap, trendy, or look like something made by a designer brand, but also are easily disposable. Online stores such as ZARA, Shein, Romwe, and H&M have been heavily contributing to the growth in the fast fashion industry. From 2020-21 the market has grown about 18%, Oberlos statistics reported.

One of the reasons the industry has grown so quickly is because it takes so little time to manufacture items. Most designer brands have to go through designing, choosing the textiles, creating the actual product, and then exporting and showing off the product after seasonal releases. This entire process can take about two years.

Fast fashion brands changed the game by combining quick response manufacturing, the process of keeping certain raw materials on hand and making more of a product if its popularity increases and streamlining distribution. The combination of these methods can get a new product out on websites or even some stores in as little as four months.

Easy accessibility to new clothes can cause people to splurge and buy pieces they might only wear once or twice. “In 1930, the average American woman owned an average of nine outfits,” Elizabeth Cline said in “Overdressed.” In 1980, an average American bought about 12 new clothing items a year, Dana Thomas said in “Fashionopolis.” In 2022, Americans are expected to buy more than 60 pieces of clothing.

According to “The Economics Of Fast Fashion,” Amelia Josephson theorizes that people used to buy clothing based on how long it would last and based on the season. Now people “buy on impulse,” and instead of trying to mend clothes, they throw the clothing away or donate it to second hand stores. 

Americans used to spend 20% of their income on a few useful clothes. By 2003, people spent 4% of their income on clothing but were buying a higher volume of clothes.

More clothes means more trash, especially in fast fashion. Companies can use marketing methods like social media influencers to quickly spread the pieces globally and expertly advertise the product. The major downside to this type of marketing is that when the marketing styles change, the pieces consumers buy to mimic the influencers and models in flashy advertisements end up in the trash, barely worn, along with the packaging they came in.

Chariot Energy suggests the barely worn pieces are thrown away and taken to a landfill where the cheap material they are made with can take hundreds of years to decompose. “How Long Does it Take for Plastic to Decompose” states the product packaging can last anywhere from 50-500 years depending on the material and structure.

But that’s not the only environmental toll that your new shirt from ZARA is taking. 

To first create a new shirt, it has to be made from something. Textiles produced more than 1 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide in 2015, according to The Guardian. That’s more CO2 than what was created by combining every international flight and all maritime shipping.

Less than 1% of the textile material that isn’t used in your shirt is recycled, and another 12% of that extra material is recycled into mattress stuffing. A BBC Three Episode series from Stacey Dooley Investigates reports to create the textile that a cotton T-shirt was made from “would have cost the planet about 10,330 liters of water. That is equivalent to about 24 years of water for one person.”

Cheaper clothing fabrics like nylon or polyester are made from oil. “A New Textiles Economy” from the Ellen Macarthur Foundation reports that in 2018, nylon, polyester, and spandex use 352 million barrels of oil per year. 

Viscose is another type of clothing fabric and approximately 33% of it is made from endangered forest, host of Patriot Act Hasan Minhaj explains. A clip from Earthrise in 2019 states that only 30% of cleared forest ends up in clothes and the rest goes to another landfill or is incinerated. 

The next step in getting that shirt on the store rack, shelf, or warehouse is to give it a desired color. The dye chemicals usually end up in rivers, lakes, or streams, and can poison any life around them. A clip from “101 East” provides an interview with a woman from Indonesia. She lives near the Chatrium River, and because of the clothing factories near it, the river contains toxic chemicals that her very small children have gotten liver problems from. 

Consumers who no longer want to wear their items might throw their clothing away. Then that shirt ends up in the landfill. Places like GoodWill or Salvation Army keep only a small portion out of the landfills. Most of what people donate is still trash. “What charities can’t sell or give away is often sold by the ton to buyers in the developing world,” Diana Swain explains in a 2018 recording of CBC News, The Investigators.

Hasan Minhaj says that if donated clothes aren’t sold in a month, most if not all end up in places like Kenya, waiting to be burned or bought by locals. In “A New Textiles Economy,” the Ellen MacArthur Foundation provides another eye-catching statistic that 87% of donated clothing ends up in landfills or incinerated. 

All of these problems could have an easy solution: wear clothes for as long as you possibly can and repair them.

Elizabeth L. Cline explained to NBC Nightly News that if everyone would wear their clothes for only nine months longer than usual, it would reduce the carbon footprint for those pieces by 30%. If “everyone bought at least one used item this year, instead of new, it could save nearly six pounds of CO2 emissions. That’s equivalent to removing half a million cars off the road for a year,” KRON 4 news stream said.

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