Is Fast Fashion Causing a Slow Death for the Planet?

Did you know it takes a staggering 1,800 gallons of water to make a single pair of denim jeans?

While it’s been long-known that plastic and fossil fuels are major contributors to polluting the earth, Ecowatch suggests fashion is the world’s second largest consumer of water. It’s also the second-biggest planet killer, with clothes accounting for more than 1 million tons of wasted materials each year.

According to research, there has been a significant boom in women’s e-commerce fashion brands, with the ‘Fast Fashion’ industry growing 21% over the past three years.

Photo by Bruno Nascimento

But the growth isn’t just specific to the industry. With the exception of 2008-09, consumer spending has increased every year since 2005, and clothing is the number one area in which consumers spend money. Findings by the Great British Wardrobe Report suggest Brits spend a staggering £1042 per year on their wardrobes.


What is fast fashion?

The term ‘fast fashion’ was recently born to describe the immensely quick turn around of producing low-cost, highly fashionable garments, sold by giant brands. It’s society’s obsession with relentless consumption. Whereby consumers’ hunger creates an unsustainable demand, and big brands have to cut corners to deliver huge quantities at ridiculously low prices.

Instead of waiting for new seasonal collections consumers can get their hands on a continuous cycle of trend-led clothing, all-year round. People don’t keep their clothing anymore. Worn once, discarded forever.

Sounds familiar right? Recognisable brands that you’ve bought clothes from, such as boohoo, Prettty Little Thing and Missguided, are just a few with a high turnover of cheap new stock for sale every single week online.

The original online fashion giant ASOS stocks over 60,000 items at any given time. This allows the e-commerce retailer to constantly update its inventory with ‘new in’ products, offering the consumer their most recent items.

Whilst Gen Z and millennial consumers care about getting ‘unicorn delivery’ or when 20% student discount will drop, do they even know or care about sustainable fashion? Or are they more concerned about the latest trends and being “here for a good time not a long time.”


What impact does this have on our planet?

The end result of ‘fast fashion’ is environmental pollution. It is estimated that Britons send 235 million items of clothing to landfills each year. Synthetic fibres, harmful chemical dyes and rising air freight trips all take a toll on the planet.  Add to this that the majority of these workers are paid below minimum wage and stripped of their human rights then you have the ugly consequences of fast fashion. Fastcompany suggests that less that two percent of women working in Bangladeshi sweatshops for fast fashion retailers earn a living wage.

Photo by Hermes Rivera on Unsplash

It’s simple. According to greenmatch, “cheap labour + cheap materials = cheap clothes.” And the way in which these clothes are made, cause significant impact to the world. Natural fibres have largely been substituted for synthetic ones. For example petrol-based polyester has replaced cotton as the number one fibre in clothing production.

Let’s consider polyester for a minute. You’d probably find that the majority of your wardrobe is made out of this versatile material. But, did you know it’s non-biodegradable and can take between 20-200 years to break down? A single polyester garment sheds thousands of microplastic fibres per wash, ending up in the ocean, to be consumed by fish.

So, are we killing our planet by constantly buying new clothes?

EcoWatch has outlined that corporations have to held accountable for the environmental damages. But the consumer holds the power; to seek out clothing made in an environmentally-friendly manner and cut back on their consumption.

Esquire believes that along with demand, the biggest issue regarding consumers of fast fashion is our throwaway culture. The combination of wearing items once, not keeping clothes and the increasing amount of production to meet demand levels, creates a plethora of environmental and human rights issues. In short, manufactured trends, greedy shoppers and hazardous textiles, all connected to fast fashion, is damaging our earth.

What can be done to help improve this situation?

There are some brands out there attempting to soothe our consciences with recycling campaigns and 100% cotton ranges. But the simple fact is, that such moves are doing very little to help clean up the industry’s mess.


Less demand will reduce clothing production, which in turn decreases environmental pollution.

Recycling old clothes helps to a certain extent. But gallons of water are still needed to reproduce new clothes from the old. There are plenty of great apps that allow you to buy second-hand, take Depop for example. Or head down to your nearest charity shop or vintage fair to grab a bargain – and be kind to the earth.

More importantly, buy items you actually need and really wear your clothes! Wearing a dress for a few hours at a party, to never wear again, might make an impact on that guy you’re trying to impress. But, what about the impact it’s going to have on the planet long after you’ve gone?

Post Author: Rebecca Miller

Rebecca Miller
I'm an accredited multimedia journalist currently working freelance across London. A lover of gin and food, I'm a passionate traveller and keen writer, across comments, lifestyle and fashion.

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