(Un)sustainability & Fashion: The True Cost of Fast Fashion


H&M, Zara, Topshop, ASOS – what do all these clothing retailers have in common? They are all in the business of fast fashion. That is, the business of rapidly mass-producing cheap clothing to keep up with new, fast-moving fashion trends. The clothing produced is low-cost and highly disposable -allowing consumers to purchase and dispose of high amounts of clothing submitting to the pressure to keep up with whatever looks are trending at the moment. While this seems like a win – having access to “affordable” clothing as it comes off the runway – it comes at a greater cost. The trend of fast fashion has many negative implications for the environment and the overall sustainability of the planet.


The clothing and textile industries generate a very large carbon footprint and impact the planet through their globalization, the way they acquire their materials and their manufacturing/distribution processes. Some examples of the many things that harm the environment are mismanagement of farmlands, waste of natural resources, pollution from dyes and pesticides, the release of greenhouse gases from transportation methods, waste material production and exploitive labour.  

Another negative impact the fast fashion industry has is the cycle of waste clothing produced once a trend moves out of style. One method to improve sustainability is the “Circular economy”, that is, a focus of keeping clothing “in a loop” and out of landfills for as long as possible to get the most value out of them. Fast fashion clothing has a more linear lifetime: created, used, disposed of. The problem lies in the fact that the clothes are being produced too quickly, not used enough then mostly disposed of in landfills – making for a very unsustainable process


With knowing the negative impact that fast fashion has on the sustainability of the planet, here are some tips to help reduce the impact your clothing has on the environment:

  • Buy less: even the most sustainably produced clothing uses resources and is transported, creating a significant impact- be on the lookout for excessive consumerism
  • When you do buy- purchase from sustainable brands: consider the environmental and social impacts of the production process of where you buy your clothes. This is a lot easier said than done, but with a rise in demand for sustainable clothing, comes more availability
  • Buy better quality: cheaper clothes are often of lower quality. When these cheaper and lower quality clothes go bad quickly, we are forced to purchase more clothing continuing the fast fashion cycle.  Better quality clothes will last longer, which in the long run is better for the environment, as well as your wallet 
  • Don’t immediately throw out your clothes: instead try –
    • repairing/redesigning them
    • donating your clothes
    • recycling them so they can be made into new clothes
  • Buy second hand/swap/rent clothing: things like thrifting or renting clothes are becoming more popular – check out the organizations your city has to offer!

These are the questions you should try to ask yourself: How often do you buy new clothes? Where do you buy your clothes? How long do you use your clothes? How often do you throw out clothes?  As we move forward, we need to hold ourselves and the clothing brands we use more accountable to the effects that our clothes and fast fashion have on the sustainability of the planet

By Ugochi Ebisike


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