What is fast fashion and what are the impacts?

Written by José Max Lin
Last updated
July 29, 2022

In recent years, fast fashion has become increasingly popular as more and more people turn to affordable, trendy clothing options. However, this kind of fashion has several negative consequences, from its impact on the environment to its effect on workers' rights. Here's a closer look at fast fashion and some ways it harms our world.

Podcast: What is fast fashion and what are the impacts?

What is fast fashion?

Fast fashion is a term used to describe clothing designed to be quickly produced and sold at a relatively low price in high street stores to meet consumer demand. Current runway trends typically inspire this type of fashion, often using lower-quality materials to keep costs down. As a result, fast fashion items usually have a shorter lifespan than higher-quality pieces.

While fast fashion has only become prevalent in the last few decades, it has already significantly impacted the global fashion industry and the world at large. Let's take a look at some of the ways fast fashion is harming our planet.

against fast fashion

How has fast fashion become popular?

The fast fashion industry has grown exponentially, thanks to a perfect storm of factors.

Social media and celebrity culture

The rise of social media and celebrity culture has created a new generation of trendsetters, who are constantly sharing images of themselves wearing the latest styles. This has had a domino effect, with ordinary people wanting to keep up with the latest trends.

social media groups

Quick response

Fast fashion brands have become very good at responding quickly to the latest trends, thanks to cutting-edge technology and lean manufacturing processes. They can quickly produce new styles in small batches, meaning they can get them into stores (and onto our screens) much faster than traditional fashion brands.

Marketing

Fast fashion brands are very good at marketing themselves as affordable and accessible. They often target a younger demographic, who are more price-conscious and less likely to invest in higher-end fashion pieces.

These factors have contributed to the fast fashion industry's explosive growth in recent years. And unfortunately, this growth has come at a considerable cost.

From its reliance on plastic fabrics to its enormous carbon footprint, fast fashion is devastatingly impacting the planet. And its erosion of workers' rights also causes serious concern.

Negative consequences of fast fashion

Fast fashion has been criticized for a number of reasons, from its impact on the environment to its effect on workers' rights.

The environmental impact of fast fashion

Fast fashion production is one of the most polluting industries in the world. It is responsible for 10% of global carbon emissions and consumes large amounts of water and energy.

Most fast fashion clothing is made from synthetic materials like polyester and nylon derived from fossil fuels. These materials are not biodegradable, meaning they will remain in landfill sites for centuries. In addition, fast fashion garments often require multiple washings and wearings before they break down, which further adds to their environmental impact.

2700 liters of water to make a cotton shirt
It takes 2,700 liters of water to make one cotton shirt
one person drinking water
Enough water for one person to drink 2,5 years

What's more, the fast fashion industry is notorious for overproducing clothing. In fact, it's estimated that it produces 20% more textile waste than we need and discards 50% more clothing within a year. These overproduction leads to mountains of clothes ending up in landfills each year.

Fast fashion's effect on workers' rights

The fast fashion industry has also been criticized for its treatment of workers.

Many fast fashion brands outsource their production to developing countries with poor labor laws and human rights protections. A 2018 U.S. Department of Labor report found evidence of forced and child labor in Bangladesh, Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Philippines, Vietnam and other countries. As a result, garment workers in fast fashion factories often work long hours for very little pay in unsafe and unhealthy conditions. According to non-profit Remake, most of them are young women between the ages of 18 and 24.

jeans produces greenhouse gas as 80 miles car
Making a single pair of jeans produces as much greenhouse gas as driving a car over 80 miles

Moreover, fast fashion companies often put pressure on their suppliers to produce cheap and fashionable clothing as quickly as possible. This can lead to cut corners, putting workers at risk. For example, in 2013, over 1,100 workers were killed when the Rana Plaza factory in Bangladesh collapsed. This tragedy was mainly due to the fact that the factory was not built to accommodate the heavy machinery being used, and it had been repeatedly cited for safety violations.

Which are the leading fast fashion brands?

Most of the fashion sector 's biggest names are fast fashion brands. Here are some of the most well-known:

  • Zara
  • H&M
  • Forever 21
  • Uniqlo
  • Topshop
  • ASOS
  • PrettyLittleThing
  • Missguided
  • Shein

Fast fashion industry in the future

The fast fashion industry is showing no signs of slowing down. It's estimated that the industry will be worth $775 billion by 2030. However, there are some signs that the industry may be starting to change.

In recent years, there has been a growing movement against fast fashion, with consumers becoming more aware of the industry's negative impacts. As a result, some fast fashion brands have started to make changes, such as using more sustainable materials or increasing transparency around their supply chains.

It's also worth noting that the COVID-19 pandemic has devastated the fast fashion industry, with many brands shutting down or filing for bankruptcy.

It's too early to say what the long-term effects of the pandemic will be, but it's possible that it could lead to a decrease in fast fashion consumption. Only time will tell what the future of fast fashion looks like. But one thing is for sure: the industry is facing some challenges that it will need to address if it wants to continue to grow.

man collecting plastic waste

What can be done about fast fashion?

The fast fashion industry is detrimental to the planet and its people. But what can be done to change things? Many initiatives aim to reform this industry, from sustainable fashion labels to conscious consumer campaigns.

Sustainable fashion labels

Some sustainable fashion brands have emerged in recent years in response to the fast fashion industry's environmental and social impact. Stella McCartney, well-known Britain luxury fashion brand, teamed up with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation to launch a report on redesigning fashion’s future.

These brands are committed to make clothing production sustainably using materials like organic cotton and recycled polyester. They also tend to work with smaller suppliers with whom they can build closer relationships.

As a result, eco-friendly fashion brands often have a higher price point than fast fashion brands. But they offer a more ethical and environmentally-friendly alternative.

stella mccartney sustainbale fashion

Conscious consumer campaigns

Some initiatives aim to educate consumers about the impact of fast fashion.

These campaigns encourage people to think about the environmental and social implications of their clothing choices and to buy less and choose better-quality pieces when they shop.

One of the most high-profile conscious consumer campaigns is Fashion Revolution, launched in the wake of the Rana Plaza factory collapse. Fashion Revolution encourages people to ask brands, "Who made my clothes?" to raise awareness of the often hidden supply chain behind fast fashion.

So, several initiatives are working to reform the fast fashion industry. But only time will tell whether these efforts will be successful.

bangladesh rana plaza factory 2013

The bottom line

Overall, fast fashion is an industry that has increased in recent years, with devastating consequences. The good news is that several initiatives are working to reform the sector, but only time will tell whether they will succeed. In the meantime, consumers can play their part by becoming more conscious of the impact of their clothing choices.

If you're looking for a sustainable alternative to fast fashion, check out Handbagio. Handbagio handbags are made from sustainable materials like organic cotton and recycled polyester, and they work with reliable suppliers to produce fine custom bags. Plus, they have a higher price point than fast fashion brands. So you can feel good about your purchase knowing that you're supporting a sustainable business.

HANDBAGIO product specialist
José Max Lin
I am product specialist and content marketing specialist for Handbagio. If you want to wholesale vegan handbags or vegan related products, feel free to ask me any questions.
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What is fast fashion and what are the impacts?

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