How fast fashion is killing the planet

The fashion industry today is now worth a huge £59.6 billion in the UK.

It’s an industry that seems to be forever thriving, even during a global pandemic.

Fashion consumerism has changed dramatically over the past few decades, since the increase and development of online shopping platforms. It’s now easier than ever to fulfil an impulse purchase shop online, click a few buttons and a day or two later receive a whole new wardrobe of clothing.

What’s worrying about this is just how cheap it is to purchase on-trend pieces online, and how disposable and wasteful these products become once they have dropped off the trend radar.

So what is “fast fashion”?

Fast fashion is defined as the on-trend fashion designs that take inspiration from high-fashion catwalks, popular streetwear or celebrity culture, that very quickly become available for mass production at an affordable price.

Fast production and fast delivery have become a norm in the world of fashion, where demand for “in trend” clothing is being met at extremely quick paces by the likes of high street and online fashion giants- some even renewing trends on a weekly basis.

But these trends come in cycles, and nothing stays “on trend” for long.

Fast fashion brands cater to the masses, producing items to please the demand from trend followers across the globe. The bigger issue at hand now is that the life cycle of such products is short-lived due to both the rise and fall of trends and the low-quality materials used to fulfil the demands.

How exactly is it harming the planet?

Image shows people sewing in the factory

It’s no secret that the fashion industry plays a huge role in environmental pollution- and increasingly so there are emerging reports about the extreme underlying issues within the fast fashion processes, including labour exploitation.

Fast fashion retailers are designing and ordering huge quantities of fashion pieces from manufacturers across the globe on a daily basis. And in order to make fast fashion products affordable for the masses, they need to be cost-effective for the retailer selling them- which more often than not, means sourcing products that are made using cheap, problematic fabrics like polyester and acrylic. 
The reason these fabrics are so problematic is that they are hugely damaging to the environment. Each synthetic material contains plastic which is released into the oceans when garments are washed after a few times, causing what’s known as microplastic pollution.

Microplastic pollution cannot be removed from the ocean once it is released and is harmful to all forms of ocean wildlife and each food chain within it. Microplastics have the ability to block digestive systems in marine life, causing it to be difficult for species to eat and feed, which can have consequences for reproduction and lifespan.

Image shows dead fish killed by micro pollution

A single clothes wash of polyester clothing is thought to produce as much as 700,000 microplastic fibres into the environment.

Materials in the production phase also require tonnes of gallons of water to make, dye and treat, meaning the fashion industry is responsible for 20 per cent of the world’s global water waste.

Sadly, it’s not just microplastic pollution contributing to an environmental crisis. The fast fashion industry is responsible for 10% of the world’s carbon emissions annually- a combined result of production, transportation, retailing and garment care.

And, since the purpose of fast fashion products is to create and sell products that are in-trend during a specific time, they often go out of trend just as quickly. When items go out of trend, millions of tonnes of waste is created when items are not properly recycled, with much of it being sent to landfill where synthetic materials like Lycra can take hundreds of years to break down. According to the WRAP Organisation, a huge £140 million worth of clothing is sent to landfill each year, an estimated 350,000 tonnes in the UK alone.

What can you be doing to help?

Image of a woman in purple with flowers covering her face

One of the core issues with fast fashion is that it is so disposable. While it’s great to have some on-trend pieces in your wardrobe or to order a handful of new dresses for the endless events you might have planned for the summer, unfortunately, “on-trend” often means they’re in one minute and out the next. WRAP found that the average lifespan of a clothing garment was just a mere 2.2 years.
Investing in more high-quality pieces of clothing and holding onto them for longer, is one of the best ways to combat the effects of fast fashion as an individual. Rather than seeking products that are in fashion in a particular moment, why not think about your personal style and find well-made clothing that matches your personal taste?

In order to prevent further damage to the environment through fast fashion, we all need to be more mindful about the purchases we make and which brands we make them from.
This doesn’t mean that you should feel awful every time you make a new clothing purchase. A ‘slow fashion’ approach can benefit everyone. There are so many small, independent businesses emerging in the fashion industry that create beautiful clothing using sustainably sourced materials, and if you’re after clothing that’s going to last longer than the average polyester t-shirt – you can think of it as a great investment.

Lastly, recycling is the best way to ensure that old clothing products don’t end up in landfill. There are plenty of recycling options available now including charity shops, online auction sites like eBay and Depop, charities looking for donations, clothes swap events and even clothing hire companies.

Fast fashion might be killing the planet, but there’s a lot we can all be doing to slow down its effect on the environment. Until we as consumers, stop shopping for clothes simply as and when we need them (perhaps for a new event, a wedding, or just because we want some new in-trend pieces), and start shopping mindfully- the problem will continue to worsen.

So, next time you’re daydreaming of a new outfit for an upcoming event, give some of your already owned garments some love or a restyle.

Written by Zoe Blogs

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