According to a report by Business Wire, the fast-fashion industry is projected to continue to grow rapidly from US$91 billion in annuals sales in 2021 to US$133 billion by 2026. The term “fast fashion” describes the mass-production and distribution of inexpensive clothing that meet the latest fashion trends. While fast fashion represents a big payday for brands like Hollister and Zara, it also represents a heavy dependence on fossil fuels and significantly contributes to the rapid depletion of our non-renewable resources.
The race to snag the most trendy and cost-effective clothes consumes many of us. The trends change quickly and so does our wardrobes. So, we remain trapped in the never-ending cycle of discarding outfits and shopping for new ones. According to the 2015 documentary The True Cost, in the past two decades we’ve increased the amount of clothes we purchase annually by 400 per cent. Every year worldwide, people purchase almost 80 billion new articles of clothing. Have we stopped to consider the implications of fast fashion on our environment?
Well, I’m here to tell you the indulgence of fast fashion is extremely wasteful.
Since clothing sold by fast fashion brands is relatively cheap, we tend to feel less guilty about throwing away older outfits to make room for new ones. Replacing our clothing to follow the latest fashion styles means that we are constantly increasing global waste.
According to a report by Earth.org, approximately 92 million tonnes of clothing end up in landfills annually. If this trend continues, by 2030, fast fashion waste is projected to accumulate 134 tonnes per annum. According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, under 1 per cent of clothing is recycled, further exacerbating the waste creation of the fast fashion industry.
As if that isn’t bad enough, fast fashion is severely depleting the Earth’s resources—both renewable and non-renewable. Many don’t realize that fast fashion uses approximately 100 million tonnes of oil annually. Additionally, the fashion sector is the second greatest consumer of water, due to its high dependence on cotton plants for materials. Manufacturers use approximately 700 gallons to make one cotton shirt, and 2,000 gallons to manufacture just one pair of jeans.
This mindboggling waste of potable water is enough to enrage even the most passive environmentalist when one considers that the average person drinks just over 180 gallons of water per year. Not only this, but, clothing manufacturers are accountable for up to one-fifth of the world’s water pollution. Wastewater from production is often disposed of in bodies of water, which in turn poisons rivers and oceans with toxic dyes, carcinogens, and other harmful chemicals that are by-products of the manufacturing process.
Fast fashion also has negative implications on the environment through carbon emissions. According to a report released by the United Nations Environment Programme, the fashion industry contributes ten per cent of annual greenhouse emissions. This is more emissions than of all international flights and maritime shipping combined. If we don’t address the waste created by the fast fashion industry and its environmental impact, then by 2050, the fashion sector is projected to have consumed a quarter of the world’s carbon budget.
Additionally, working conditions in sweatshops or garment factories for fast fashion brands such as Shein are unfavourable, as workers are exploited. Some shifts last up to 18 hours and workers, reportedly, are offered as little as four cents per clothing item. Additionally, a report by Forbes shares that fast fashion “disempowers women.” The company states that 80 per cent of the workers making clothing for these big brands are mostly women aged between 18 to 24 years old, with some as young as 14, working for limited pay, ensuring they remain impoverished and disempowered.
We need to face the harsh reality that fast fashion hurts our environment. The fast fashion model encourages consumers to regard cheap clothing as easily disposable—a view that is entirely opposite to that of sustainable thinking. The fix? We need to consume less.
So, the next time you pick up that pair of jeans at H&M or Shein, think about whether you want to support the label brand in the destruction of the environment, and in creating a polluted wasteland that your children will have to call home.
Staff Writer (Volume 49) — Angelina Jaya Siew is currently in her first year at UTM, seeking to specialize in Criminology, Law and Society and minor in French. After completing her secondary education in Trinidad and recently moving to Canada, she started writing for The Medium as a way to to highlight important global issues and encourage debate on controversial topics. When Angelina is not writing or studying, she is reading the latest mystery novel, travelling to different countries, or getting her almond milk vanilla latte at Starbucks.