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09 Jul What is fast fashion and why is it bad?


Fashion has got a problem. And it’s nothing to do with the age old debate of pairing blue and black, or orange and pink. The problem centres on fast fashion. We only need to look at some of the horrifying statistics to sit up and pay attention to fast fashion and its issues. 

In 2014, people on average bought 60% more clothes than they did in 2000. In 2018, this meant that each person in the UK bought an average of 26.7kg of clothing, making us the worst ‘offender’ in Europe. This shift in fashion comes with significant downsides. It causes serious environmental and ethical issues. For example, fast fashion comes in second behind oil as the world’s largest polluter.

So, what is fast fashion, why is fast fashion bad, and what can we do about it?

What is fast fashion?

Not so long ago, we consumers went clothes shopping a couple of times a year, replacing items with seasonal changes, or because it was worn out or no longer the right size. Then, there was a shift in the fashion industry. Clothes were suddenly produced more cheaply and available more easily through internet shopping. Brands and retailers responded by creating faster trend cycles. Shopping for clothes became a regular hobby. Clothes became readily disposable.

This is fast fashion. Those items which are never designed for longevity, quality or classic style, but instead are designed to be bought cheaply, worn a handful of times, and replaced quickly – that’s fast fashion. Tied in closely to social media trends, encouraged by influencers, fast fashion moves as quickly as you can scroll through your news feed.

Why is fast fashion bad?

It’s understandable that the average consumer may not be clear about why fast fashion is bad. The information about the problems of fast fashion tend to get lost behind the mega adverts for fast fashion itself, not to mention the pressure caused by fashion trends.

However, fast fashion impacts the environment and other people enormously. The problems of fast fashion include:

High use of synthetic fibres

Fast fashion relies on synthetic fibres like polyester. In fact our use of these fibres has doubled since 2000. We use oil to make these fabrics. The result is that the carbon footprint of these fabrics is well over double that of a natural fabric, such as cotton. What’s more, washing these fabrics can ensure plastic particles from micro fibres end up in our oceans, which is harmful to sea life.

Harmful production of natural materials

Even producing the amount of natural materials needed for fast fashion is harmful to the environment. Use of water and pesticides in cotton production in developing countries causes drought and shortage of resources, as well as land clearance and soil damage. Organic cotton doesn’t use polluting pesticides, and uses rain water and ensures healthier soil. Leather production has animal-cruelty considerations, even before additional environmental concerns due to the chemicals used in the tanning process. There have been scandals, such as real fur being passed off as faux fur.

High wastewater production

After agriculture, fast fashion is the biggest water polluter. The chemicals combined with water in the production of garments ends up in the rivers, streams and oceans of the world, usually in developing countries. Staggeringly, it takes 200 tonnes of water to make just 1 tonne of dyed fabric, most of which is synthetic and coloured using synthetic dyes. 

High amounts of landfill waste

85% of textiles that are produced end up in landfill. We have increasingly become a disposable society, and fast fashion is an integral part of that.

Poor wages and conditions for workers

In Bangladesh alone, more than 1800 people have died producing fast fashion since 2005. 1000 of these workers were killed when a manufacturing complex, Rana Plaza, collapsed. The industry is known for low wages and human rights infringements, so much so it’s been exposed in the documentary movie The True Cost.

How can you make a difference?

There are some wider shifts beginning to emerge which are showing a kick back against the tide of fast fashion. For example, Fashion Revolution raises the profile of the problems with fast fashion. Younger generations are increasingly questioning the rampant consumerism of the generation above them. In time, these individuals will become the biggest spenders, and if they make environmentally and ethically sound fashion choices, then this will force fashion brands to rethink how they operate.

However, it’s a tall order. And we need the power of individual consumers to start making more conscious choices.

As iconic designer Vivienne Westwood has said: “Buy less, choose well, make it last.” This is the approach we need to take, as well as avoiding retailers and brands of fast fashion.

How can you tell if a brand is fast fashion?

There are some tell-tale signs to look out for when identifying a fast fashion brand:

  • Are there hundreds or thousands of different styles?
  • Are items very trend conscious rather than classically styled?
  • Are garments manufactured overseas in countries where wages are low and health and safety requirements aren’t as stringent?
  • Are items made using cheap and low quality fabrics and materials that are not designed for long-term wear?
  • If you answered yes to these questions, then the fashion brand in question is most likely involved in fast fashion.


Making the right fashion choices

The antithesis of fast fashion is making ethical fashion choices. It is possible to buy fabulous garments, outfits and accessories, which don’t contribute to the fast fashion problem. Choosing items from any of the fashion brands we showcase at Wearth is an active choice for sustainable, ethical and environmentally friendly fashion. We don’t compromise on principles, and we don’t compromise on style. It is possible to have both.

You can browse our affordable sustainable fashion, which supports slow fashion designers and manufacturers, at ease online. Many are made in the UK. Some are even made to order. For each item we share the brand story, as well as details about the product, so that you have insight into the decisions you make.