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Fast Fashion's Environmental Impact: Is It Worth the cost?

The fast fashion industry is booming. It is now a $100 billion industry, growing rapidly, but what is fast fashion's environmental impact? Unfortunately, this fast-paced, disposable fashion trend has some serious environmental consequences.

This blog post will explore the negative effects the fast fashion business model, water usage, microplastics, energy consumption, the effect of a non-ethical supply chain and social media in the fast fashion industry. We will also look at why fast fashion is bad for the environment and discuss some alternatives to fast fashion (like us at State of Matter).

What is fast fashion?

who is affected by fast fashion

Fast fashion is a term used to describe inexpensive, mass-produced clothing items. Fast fashion brands like H&M, Zara, and Forever 21 are known for their low prices and trendy styles. However, fast fashion comes at a cost.

This global fast fashion clothes fashion industry has been criticized for its negative environmental impact and non-ethical supply chain. Fast fashion garments are often made from synthetic materials like polyester and nylon derived from fossil fuels. These synthetic materials are not biodegradable and release harmful chemicals into the environment when manufactured.

In addition, fast fashion brands are often producing garments in developing countries where environmental regulations are lax or nonexistent. This means that fast fashion brands can get away with practices considered environmentally destructive practices in developed countries.

The fashion effects on our environment are far reaching; they include water pollution from dyes used in the manufacturing process, air pollution in the form of toxic emissions released during production, and a massive increase in textile waste. In addition to this, due to low quality fabrics used by fast fashion companies garments break down more quickly than garments produced under ethical labor standards, meaning consumers have to buy new clothes more often – leading to further over-consumption.

Why are fast fashion brands so popular?

Unfortunately for textile workers, fast fashion is popular worldwide because it produces cheap and fashionable clothing. In a global economy, fast fashion brands can keep their prices low by manufacturing their garments in countries where labor is cheap.

Another reason fast fashion is popular is that social media platforms like Instagram and Pinterest have made it easy for people to find and share fashion inspiration. As a result, people are always looking for the next trendy item to add to their wardrobe.

Finally, fast fashion is popular because it is convenient. The fast fashion business model is built their around the concept of convenience, offering easy online shopping and in-store pickup.

What is fast fashion's impact on the environment?

Fast fashion effects on environmental issues are increasingly coming into the spotlight. Its terrible environmental impact is now recognized as one of the most polluting industries in the world.

It is becoming increasingly known that the booming industry of quick-turn-around, inexpensive clothing has a huge footprint in terms of energy consumption and emissions. As more styles are churned out in order to keep up with trends, it takes up further resources and an immense amount of energy to not only design them, but manufacture and transport them to retailers.

Even after garments are sold, many find their way into landfills where they release toxins into soils and water systems. The carbon footprint from transportation alone accounts for 10% of global emissions according to some estimates. Furthermore, the labor practices tied to these factories can be exploitative and detrimental to workers' safety and rights.

Fast fashion energy consumption also depletes resources at an unsustainable rate, creating a cycle of waste that has serious long term implications for the planet if we do not take action soon. 

How is fast fashion bad for the environment? Below is a list of just a small number of the damaging fast fashion environmental impacts:

Negative effects of water

The negative effects of fast fashion on the marine environment, are copious. Fast fashion companies are the second largest water users in the world, after agriculture. It takes about 1,800 gallons of water to produce a single pair of jeans.

Moreover, the dyes and toxic chemicals used in clothing manufacturing are often released into waterways, polluting them and causing harm to local ecosystems. Wastewater from textile factories contains high levels of toxic dyes and chemicals that can pollute our rivers and lakes - harming plant life, wildlife, and even humans who rely on these water sources for drinking and bathing.

So, while we might not immediately think about it, fast fashion companies has a massive impact on global wastewater and on water resources worldwide.

Reliance on plastic fibers

negative effects of fast fashion

The impact of fast fashion can be seen in many areas. Garments are often made from synthetic textiles, such as polyester and nylon. These fibers are derived from petroleum, which is a non-renewable resource.

Not only does this mean that fast fashion garments have a large carbon footprint, but it also means that they will eventually end up in landfill sites, where they will take hundreds of years to degrade.

At State of Matter, we are doing the opposite. Rather than adding more plastic in landfills, we are taking plastic bottles and recycling them by turning them into fabric. Our Oceaya Polo, for example, is made up of 11 recycled bottles.

Microplastics Pollution

Fast fashion is bad for the environment in several chemical and polluting ways. Microplastics are tiny pieces of plastic that are less than five millimeters in length. Fast fashion companies are often used in manufacturing fast fashion garments, as they help make fabrics more durable.

However, microplastics are a serious environmental pollutant. They often end up in our oceans, where marine animals can ingest them. This can cause digestive and reproductive problems and, in some cases, death.

It is estimated that there are more than 51 trillion pieces of microplastics in our oceans, and most of these come from fast fashion garments.

Energy consumption

The effects of fast fashion on the environment can be clearly seen by its requirement for high energy usage. The fast fashion industry is also responsible for a huge amount of energy consumption. It takes a lot of energy to produce fast fashion garments, from growing the crops used to make fabrics to transporting finished products worldwide.

It is estimated that the fast fashion industry accounts for more than two percent of the world's energy consumption. This is a huge amount global consumption of energy, and it significantly impacts the environment.

Carbon Emissions

How does fast fashion affect the environment? Not only does the fast fashion industry consume a lot of energy, but it also has a lot of greenhouse gas emissions. Greenhouse gases are responsible for climate change, and the fast fashion industry is one of the leading contributors to this global problem.

The fast fashion industry is estimated to emit more than 1.2 billion tons of carbon dioxide yearly. This is equivalent to the emissions from more than 250 million cars.

Chemical Pollution

Why fast fashion is bad for the environment? The fast fashion industry relies heavily on chemicals, from the pesticides used to grow crops to the dyes and finishes applied to garments. These chemicals can pollute our air and water, and they can also have harmful effects on human health.

Some of the most common chemicals used in the fast fashion industry are known carcinogens. This means that they can cause cancer.

Deforestation & Biodiversity loss

The fast fashion industry is also responsible for deforestation. Many fast fashion garments are made from wood products like rayon and viscose.

To produce these materials, trees are cut down and turned into pulp. This pulp is then used to create the fibers. This process requires a lot of water and energy, resulting in the loss of valuable habitat for wildlife.

Loss of soil fertility

What is fast fashion doing to the environment? The fast fashion industry also harms soil fertility. This is because the chemicals used in fast fashion production can leach into the soil, where they can pollute water supplies and damage plant life.

Soil pollution can also lead to biodiversity loss, killing off plants and animals that rely on healthy soil to survive.

Textile waste

how much waste does fast fashion produce

How does fast fashion impact the environment? The fast fashion industry creates a lot of textile waste. Every year, billions of fast fashion garments are produced, most of which are only worn a few times before they are discarded. This means a lot of textile waste is in landfill sites worldwide.

On top of this, fast fashion garments are often made from low-quality materials that are not designed to last. This means they fall apart easily and end up as waste even sooner.

All of this textile waste has a serious environmental impact. It takes up valuable space in landfill sites and can release harmful chemicals into the environment.

How much waste does fast fashion create?

The fast fashion industry creates a lot of waste. Every year, billions of fast fashion garments are produced, and most unwanted clothes are thrown away. It is estimated that somewhere around 10,000 items of discarded clothing, are being sent to landfills every five minutes.

Human rights violations, Environmental injustice, & poor working conditions in fast fashion

The fast fashion industry has been accused of numerous human rights violations. These include forced labor, child labor, and dangerous working conditions.

Many fast fashion garments are produced in developing countries, where workers are often paid very low wages. This means that they can't afford to live on their own.

Social impacts

The fast fashion industry has are usually involved in non-ethical supply chains. One of the most significant social impacts of fast fashion is how it treats workers.

Most fast fashion garments are produced in developing countries, where labor is cheap, and regulations are lax. This means fast fashion clothing companies can get away with paying workers very low wages.

In some cases, workers are paid so little that they cannot even afford to feed themselves or their families. This often leads to workers being forced to work long hours, as they need to earn enough money to survive.

Child labor

The fast fashion industry relies on child labor to produce its garments. It is estimated that more than 250 million children are involved in the global textile and clothing production industry.

These children often work long hours in dangerous conditions for little pay. They are also at risk of being exposed to harmful chemicals and pollutants.

Dangerous working conditions

In addition to child labor, the fast fashion industry relies on workers to be in dangerous working conditions.

Many pieces of clothing are produced in garment factories that are not up to safety standards. This means that garment workers are at risk of being injured or killed if a fire or other accident occurs.

Why is fast fashion unsustainable?

The short answer is that fast fashion is unsustainable because it relies on a business model of consumption that generates a large amount of waste while also exploiting workers in the garment industry.

The longer answer is that the problems with fast fashion are many and varied. To start, the business model is based on producing large quantities of clothing very quickly and cheaply, which encourages over-consumption and drives down the prices of clothes. This leads people to buy more clothes than they need, most of which are thrown away after being worn only once or twice.

In addition to generating waste, the fast fashion industry also harms the environment. The production of synthetic fibers like polyester requires a lot of energy and water, and the chemicals used in these processes can pollute the air and water. Fast fashion is also responsible for deforestation, as trees are cut down to make way for crops used to produce textile fibers.

Why we need to focus on changing the way people think about fashion

The fast fashion industry is not sustainable, and it needs to change. But the way we think about fashion also needs to change. We must move away from the idea that clothes are disposable and that we must constantly buy new things.

Instead, we need to focus on buying fewer and better-quality clothes that will last longer. We also need to think about how our clothes are made and their impact on the environment and the people who make them.

As more consumers become aware of the dramatic environmental costs associated with textile fashion, they have begun taking steps towards more sustainable options. Many have chosen to shop second-hand or invest in quality items made from recycled materials that will last longer than their disposable counterparts. By committing to these small changes, we can work together towards reducing the negative impacts of fast fashion on our environment.

Change begins with education. Whether in the classroom or at home, encouraging our youth to ask questions about these kind of environmental hot potatoes will only help to produce a more environmentally conscious and responsible generation of consumers.

Some excellent questions for young people to consider and discuss are:

  • Is fast fashion bad for the environment?

  • What are the long lasting effects of fast fashion on the environment?

  • Where does fast fashion end up?

It is never too late to initiate good habits! A good thought process and approach about such key issues can be the first steps to creating a brighter and greener future! 

fast fashion materials

How do I help in the movement for change?

Many things can be done to address the problems with fast fashion.

On an individual level, people can begin to ask themselves What is fast fashion doing to the environment? and thus choose to buy less fast fashion and instead invest in higher-quality, sustainable clothing. Learn about slow fashion and how it's impacting the fashion world.

People can also support companies working to improve the fast fashion industry, such as those using sustainable materials or fair trade practices.

Knowing the materials used to make clothing, such as organic cotton, and where they come from is also important.

How organizations can help in the movement away from fast fashion

On a larger scale, governments and businesses can work together to create policies that will help reduce fast fashion's harmful environmental and social impacts.

Governments can create incentives for companies to use sustainable materials, or they can set standards for working conditions in the garment industry.

Businesses can do their part by sourcing sustainable materials, paying workers a livable wage, and ensuring that their factories are safe.

The Fashion Industry's Call for Change

Recognizing the urgency of the situation, the fashion industry has started taking steps towards sustainability and combating the environmental impact of fast fashion. Various initiatives and movements have emerged to address the pressing challenges.

Sustainable Materials and Manufacturing Processes

Fashion brands are increasingly exploring sustainable alternatives, such as organic cotton, hemp, and recycled fabrics. Furthermore, innovative manufacturing processes are being developed to reduce water consumption, energy usage, and chemical pollution.

Circular Economy and Recycling

The concept of a circular economy aims to minimize waste by keeping materials and products in use for as long as possible. Brands are implementing recycling programs and creating new clothing made from recycled materials to reduce the environmental cost and burden.

Ethical and Transparent Supply Chains

Consumers are demanding transparency regarding the working conditions and social impacts of the fashion industry. Brands are embracing ethical practices, ensuring fair wages, safe working conditions, and the prohibition of child labor throughout their supply chains.

Consumer Awareness and Conscious Fashion

As consumers become more aware of fast fashion's environmental impact, there is a growing demand for sustainable and ethical fashion options. Many individuals are adopting mindful consumption habits, opting for quality over quantity and supporting brands that align with their values.

How State of Matter Apparel is leading the way in sustainable fashion

We at State of Matter Apparel felt that we could not follow the same old fashion industry practices. It's well known by now that the industry has had and continues to have a major negative impact on the environment.

We could not in good conscience bring more apparel into the universe without helping lead the industry into new practices. Like they say, "Be the change you want to see." 

We decided to use sustainable materials in all of our products. We also participate in fair-trade practices and pay our workers a livable wage.

In addition, we are constantly working to improve our environmental footprint by reducing the amount of water and energy we use and by investing in renewable energy.

We believe that fashion can be sustainable and are working to lead the way.

Final thoughts

These fast fashion environmental impacts are extremely damaging to our planet and its inhabitants, including us. We need to be aware of the fast fashion industry's impact on the environment and take action to reduce its negative effects.

We can do this by supporting sustainable fashion brands like State of Matter, and demanding change from the fast fashion industry.

The fast fashion industry is not sustainable, and it needs to change. But the way we think about fashion also needs to change. We must move away from the idea that clothes are disposable and that we must constantly buy new things.

FAQs about Fast Fashion's Environmental Impact

1. What are the main factors contributing to fast fashion's environmental impact?

Fast fashion's environmental impact is primarily driven by excessive resource consumption, pollution and chemical usage, carbon emissions, and waste generation.

2. How can consumers contribute to reducing the environmental impact of fast fashion?

Consumers can make a significant difference by adopting sustainable fashion practices. This includes buying less, choosing quality over quantity, opting for second-hand or vintage clothing, and supporting brands that prioritize sustainability.

3. Are there any regulations in place to address the environmental impact of the fashion industry?

While some regulations exist, they are often insufficient. Governments and international bodies are working towards implementing stricter policies to hold fashion brands accountable for their environmental and social practices.

4. Is fast fashion the sole contributor to the fashion industry's environmental impact?

Fast fashion is a significant contributor to the fashion industry's environmental impact, but it is not the sole one. Luxury fashion and traditional retail also have their share of environmental challenges, although in different ways.

5. Can sustainable fashion be affordable?

Yes, sustainable fashion can be affordable. With the rise of conscious consumerism, more affordable sustainable fashion brands are emerging, offering reasonably priced clothing that considers both ethical and environmental factors.

6. What can the fashion industry do to mitigate its environmental impact?

The fashion industry can take several actions, such as adopting sustainable materials and manufacturing processes, embracing a circular economy, ensuring ethical supply chains, and educating consumers about the importance of conscious fashion choices.