Why is Fast Fashion Bad for the Environment?

By: Durtiman Sonowal
18 Apr 2022 11:32:51 AM Shoolini University, Solan, Himachal Pradesh

Of course, the global fashion industry, worth US$ 2.5 trillion, found a way. This is what we call “fast fashion”, or the mass production of clothing designs, just days after it creates an online trend on a catwalk. The main objective is to take advantage of trends and manage to sell as many articles as possible before the next trend arrives.


However, this level of accessibility comes at a high price. 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.


Poisoning water with toxic textile


The production of dyes to colour clothes is one of the leading causes of polluted water sources. Meanwhile, 85% of all textiles produced go to dumps each year. Even washing clothes releases 5,00,000 tons of microfibres into the ocean each year, the equivalent of 50 crore plastic bottles.


Polyester happens to be the most popular fabric in the world of fashion. But unfortunately, it tends to shed microfibers that add to the ocean's level of plastic. These microfibers, though highly minute in size, pose a massive threat to aquatic life.


Making plastic fibres into textiles is an energy-intensive process that requires large amounts of petroleum and releases volatile particulate matter and acids like hydrogen chloride. Additionally, cotton, used in many fast fashion products, is also not environmentally friendly to cultivate. Pesticides deemed necessary for the growth of cotton pose health risks to farmers.


Labour export


Another factor enabling fast fashion brands to afford to sell most of their line at 50% off is employing the cheapest workforce possible. Most of the Euro or US-based brands outsource the production work to third-world countries where labour laws and hazard standards are far more lenient than first-world nations. 


According to the non-profit Remake, 80% of apparel is made by young women between 18 and 24. A 2018 US Department of Labor report found evidence of forced and child labour in the fashion industry in Argentina, Bangladesh, Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Philippines, Turkey, Vietnam and others. Rapid production means that sales and profits supersede human welfare.


We need to slow down ‘fast fashion’


The fashion industry is currently responsible for more annual carbon emissions than all international flights and maritime shipping combined. If the industry maintains its course, an increase of 50% in greenhouse gas emissions is expected within a decade. 


The only way to counteract as widespread a movement as fast fashion is the adoption of slow fashion, the argument for hitting the brakes on excessive production, overcomplicated supply chains, and mindless consumption. It advocates for manufacturing that respects people, the environment and animals.


The World Resources Institute suggests that companies need to design, test and invest in business models that reuse clothes and maximise their useful life. The UN has launched the Alliance for Sustainable Fashion to address the damages caused by fast fashion. It seeks to “halt the environmentally and socially destructive practices of fashion.”


With stricter regulations being imposed by third-world countries and  making customers aware of the challenges posed by fast fashion, things seem to be changing. Still, if we start to take proactive steps toward advocating a green-friendly fashion industry and becoming environmentally-conscious consumers, we can finally slow down climate change.

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