An Introduction to the Impacts of Fast Fashion

An Introduction to the Impacts of Fast Fashion


As fun and exciting as it may be to order new clothes from Pretty Little Thing and every weekend for your Friday night out, unfortunately there’s a catch: fast fashion is a major contributor towards environmental degradation and harm, as well as numerous social issues which it also directly causes.


Just to be clear, when referring in this blog post to ‘fast fashion’, it means clothing which is produced and bought cheaply, on a large scale. Often, these clothes are then only worn a couple of times, before being discarded for various reasons. The pressure over the last decade for those in younger generations to constantly be showing off new outfits (because god forbid being seen in the same top within close succession, right?) is one cause, as is the garments becoming unwearble due to their poor quality because of how cheaply they were made.


The social issues of fast fashion may not seem that hard to unpick - if the clothes are being sold so cheaply (even for ‘free’ in some cases as seen on Black Friday 2021), then it is clear the workers must not be being paid fairly. Whilst it may be more easily ignored that workers in lower income countries, in offshored factories, for example Vietnam and Bangladesh, are paid poverty wages (equivalent to around $2 US dollars per day), the arguably more shocking reality is that workers in the United Kingdom are also paid illegally low wages. In fact, an undercover investigation found workers to be paid as little as £3.50 an hour in 2020 for companies owned by Boohoo, compared with the legal minimum wage of £8.20 for workers 21-24 and £8.72 for those 25 and over. Boohoo is the owner of various other fast fashion outlets, as well as its own website, including Pretty Little Thing and Nasty Gal, and so it is clear that those at the top of the franchise have little care for their workers living in blatant poverty. And not to mention the awful working conditions, long hours and overall violation of human rights that come alongside these shockingly low wages for many workers in the fashion industry.


Ok, so we’ve briefly established the social and economic issues surrounding fast fashion, but why is this such an issue for the environment, you may ask? There are numerous reasons as to why fast fashion contributes to the ongoing environmental degradation which the world is experiencing, with one of the main reasons being because all those cheap clothes which are worn just a couple of times before being discarded have to end up somewhere, and normally this is in landfill sites. The synthetic fabrics which are normally used in the mass production of cheap clothing take centuries to biodegrade, and their degradation contributes to harmful gases being released into the atmosphere by overflowing landfill sites, affecting air quality and contributing to air pollution.


Lots of synthetic clothing produced in countries with lax regulations lead to untreated water being released into rivers, which can contain harmful toxins such as lead, mercury and arsenic. Additionally, fertilisers used to aid the growth of cotton can also contaminate water sources. This intoxicated water is a great health risk to many marine animals, as well as humans who rely on this water for drinking sources and for those who don’t have access to consistent clean drinking water. Eventually all intoxicated water ends up in the sea, and so this is an issue globally as well, as opposed to just affecting those in the lower income countries where this intoxicated water is allowed to be released into water bodies. Countries in Europe, for example, do have stricter regulations on how water must be treated before being released, and organic materials without the use of fertiliser are much less problematic for the environment too. Another way in which water is polluted by clothing is through the washing of synthetic materials - when these fabrics are washed they release microplastics which end up accumulating in the oceans, causing harm to marine life and increasing concentrations up the food chain, ending up in human food. The ingestion of these microplastics has been linked to various health concerns, including cancer.


Additionally, the production of clothing is very water intensive, which is a concern considering water is already a scarce resource; it has been calculated that around 10,000-20,000 litres of water are required to grow 1kg of cotton. There are other fabrics which do not require as much water, however the best option is to simply stop over-consuming and buy second hand to stop the vicious cycle of huge amounts of clothing being constantly produced. Alongside the emissions released from degrading clothing, there are also the emissions produced by their production; the IPCC estimated in 2020 that the fashion industry accounts for 10% of global carbon emissions. Carbon dioxide is one of the main greenhouse gases, which is directly leading to global warming, a global risk to the world as we know it in the coming decades.


To sum up, I hope it’s been made clear why constantly buying cheap new clothes is harmful in many ways, with environmental degradation one of the worst consequences. Hopefully this has somewhat convinced you to try shopping second hand, such as the broad range of unique vintage pieces that can be found on, or at least encouraged you to be more mindful of the origin of your clothing and the amount that you are supporting the culprit companies by contributing to their demand. Not only are secondhand clothes much better for the environment and do not support unfair working conditions for many, but they will often be much better made and of a much higher quality, meaning they will last much longer and can go on between different owners for years to come, helping to break the vicious cycle of fast fashion.









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