What's Wrong With Fast Fashion (And What To Do About It)
Updated: Jun 8
“Fast fashion” is a buzzword that gets thrown around a lot in the fashion industry. And while we may know the general concept, it can be hard to wrap our heads around the overwhelming role fast fashion plays in our everyday lives as conscious shoppers.
So, let’s start with the basics.
ThredUp describes fast fashion companies as “specialist clothing retailers with a fast stock turnaround and whose business models rely on selling high volumes at (usually) inexpensive price points.” So, think Shein, H&M, Zara, and Forever 21 (among others). Fast fashion retailers tend to lure consumers to purchase their clothing by selling garments for unbelievably low prices. And, though fast fashion provides immediate gratification and serotonin, while (in theory) not breaking the bank, experts believe that many major fast fashion retailers have gone too far.
In fact, Lauren Bravo, author of How To Break Up With Fast Fashion, goes so far to say that popular fast fashion retailers like Shein have begun to price clothes “so cheaply that they’re encouraging consumers to view them as disposable.”
So How Bad Really is Fast Fashion?
The “disposable” clothing mindset that fast fashion retailers bring to the fashion industry has major, dangerous consequences. Here are the stats:
With over 100 billion *new* clothing items produced every year, and 20% of those clothes being left unsold, fast fashion is a key contributor to the waste created by the fashion industry.
Over 10.5 million tons of textiles are being sent to the landfill every year, and most of those textiles are NOT biodegradable.
All of this means that fast fashion retailers are contributing to an already immense global trash problem.
If you’re an environmentally conscious consumer like me, this information can be totally overwhelming. The multi-billion dollar fast fashion companies can feel like huge shadows looming over sustainable clothing retailers and secondhand shopping sites. So, what can we do to combat the environmental impact caused by fast fashion?
We can start viewing our clothes as long-term assets.
The most sustainable way consumers can buy clothes is by keeping already existing clothing in circulation. So what if instead of buying a $10 dress from Forever 21 that you could get 2 wears out of before the seams start tearing, you invest in a (secondhand??) dress that you know will last for years to come? You take great care of that long-term asset, and you continue to wear that same dress for years to come instead of buying 10 more $10 dresses from fast fashion retailers made with textiles that wear down easily. We could start consciously thinking about keeping our own clothing in circulation by investing in well-made clothes created using strong textiles.
And if we can start wearing our pieces of clothing more, we’ll avoid the current race to the bottom and instead start laddering up to a more sustainable fashion industry.
In an interview with the New York Times, Maxine Bédat, the architect of New York’s Fashion Sustainability and Social Accountability Act, said “prolonging the active lifetime of a garment by two, will decrease the climate impact by 49 percent.”
And what’s the current average active lifetime of a garment? Only seven wears.
So, if we begin to consciously choose garments that we know will last for at least 14 wears, we can decrease our climate impact by 49 percent. It almost seems criminal how easily we could enact this change.
This is a call to action. Please take note of the quality of your clothes before buying. Please start thinking of your clothes as long-term investments that you would adore passing down to the next generation. Let’s do our very best to keep already existing clothes in circulation by avoiding fast fashion retailers and the disposable clothing effect.
If you’re interested in learning more about fast fashion and its impact on the environment, check out NPR’s podcast on how to “ditch” fast fashion trends and Common Threads’s episode with Lauren Bravo.