Trendy, affordable clothes. What’s the problem? With the world at our fingertips, it is increasingly easy to access endless amounts of goods. Increased consumerism and access to products through the internet has influenced the consumption of cheap, trendy clothes that come with a hefty cost. Our increased access to goods has caused the demand for new products to be delivered on a continuous basis. The fashion industry has been catapulted into a new era of fast fashion in which a new “season” happens every week.
While increased accessibility to goods through the internet has provided global reach and tons of opportunity, it has distanced us from the products’ place and impact on the world. Cheap clothes carry a heavy price tag for the workers and the environment. To meet our high demand, retailers like H&M, Zara and Fashion Nova churn out low quality, trendy pieces without regard for their impact on people or the planet.
Unsplash via @theburbgirl
Worker conditions in the fast fashion industry
Garment factories around the world are responsible for producing most of the clothes we consume in North America. Production workers in the fashion industry are often severely underpaid and are likely to be exposed to dangerous and unfair conditions that negatively affect their health and safety. For example, many garment factories do not have emergency exits and lack basic access to drinking water and bathrooms. Workers are often denied sick leave and access to proper training and safety precautions. Factory fires, building collapses, and lack of protection from dangerous chemicals are not unheard of in garment factories around the world. Through continuing to purchase such products, the consumer is reinforcing this supply chain and the conditions of factory workers.
Unsplash via @yer_a_wizard
Environmental Impact of Fast Fashion
The sheer resources required to manufacture a single garment of clothing is unsustainable. It takes 2,700 litres of water to produce the cotton to make a single t-shirt. According to the Ellen Macarthur Foundation, five trillion litres of water are used each year for dyeing fabrics alone. Aside from extremely detrimental levels of water use, most of the waste created from this process is improperly disposed of in waterways and landfills. Toxic chemicals for fabric treatments and dye are often dumped in streams and rivers, to be absorbed into the Earth, causing irreparable damage and decay to the planet and its inhabitants. Each year, through improper disposal of textile waste, half of a million tons of plastic microfibers are dumped into the ocean. This is the equivalent of 50 billion plastic bottles.
Unsplash via @marianne_krohn
So, what can you do?
Upcycle. Thrift. Swap with a friend. Shop sustainably for new pieces. Rent garments for special occasions. There are many ways to stop supporting the damaging practices of the fast fashion industry. It is most important to use your dollars wisely, and not provide further support for irresponsible garment production.
Finding fashionable and trendy pieces that won’t damage the planet is entirely achievable. There are many apps and companies dedicated to sustainable fashion, including ThredUp, Poshmark, and Tulerie. Creating a capsule wardrobe is another option to reduce your consumption of new clothing pieces. You can invest in timeless classics and thrift shop for trendy, seasonal items that won’t go the distance.
Unsplash via @sarahdorweiler
Ultimately, the value of fast fashion items are not worth their cost to the planet and its inhabitants. Choosing alternatives to fast fashion is an easy and affordable way to mitigate the impacts of climate change. Consider the value and implications of fast fashion items before you support irresponsible and unethical garment production in the fashion industry.