The fashion industry is currently booming, with a predicted growth rate of 6.2% in 2020. People all over the world are attempting to stay up to date on current trends. Thanks to the connection that social media provides to various parts of the world, gone are the days where trends are limited to specific countries or continents. To meet the demand for trendy clothing these trends are creating, companies like Forever 21, Zara, and H&M are supplying more clothes than ever, growing an estimated 21% over the past three years. Some consequences of this increased production are environmental risk and inhumane working conditions. This dilemma of fast fashion cannot be resolved without government intervention and customer rectification as the intentions of clothing suppliers cannot be trusted due to the financial gains involved in the fashion industry.
Increase in Consumerism
The amount of clothing the average consumer purchases has increased by 60% since 2000. However, 85% of textiles end up in the landfill each year. The EPA estimates that only 13.6% of fashion textiles are recycled. While the amount of recycling has improved, the production of textiles has increased. In addition to this, between 1992 and 2002, the amount of time consumers kept their clothes decreased by 50%. Meaning that consumers are buying a surplus of clothing that they do not intend to keep and dispose of it when it is no longer trendy. Fast fashion is causing people to desire more clothing than they actually need. When considering purchasing cheap, trendy clothes, keep in mind the effect they have on the environment.
On top of that, fast fashion contributes to 25% of global water waste. A single cotton shirt requires 2,700 liters of water, enough water for one person to drink for two and a half years. In addition to this, about 20% of industrial water pollution is due to garment manufacturing. Water waste contributed by the industry includes chemicals and heavy metals. These contaminants are toxic to aquatic life and can reduce their lifespan and ability to reproduce. The production of clothing is contributing, in large part, to these harmful water waste practices, and fast fashion is only increasing it.
In addition to harming the environment, fast fashion revolves around harsh working conditions in developing countries. In Bangladesh and Thailand, workers are underpaid and overworked to meet the large-scale demands of fleeting fashion trends. In Thailand, workers are pressured into working 10-12 hour days, sometimes 16-18 when deadlines need to be met. This adds up to be 50-60 hours a week or 80-90 hours when deadlines approach. The regulation clearly states the maximum amount they are allowed to work is 48 hours a week with limited over time. Bangladesh has 4,825 garment factories, in which 85% of the workers are women, 83% of which work the lowest-paying jobs. These jobs pay an average of 2,861 Taka, Bangladeshi currency, (about $33) a month, a little over 6,000 Taka (about $71) below the average monthly household expenditure. Fast fashion is not only detrimental to the planet but also tears into the quality of life of its inhabitants. In 2013, a garment factory in Bangladesh collapsed, killing 1134 workers. On top of that, workers regularly face verbal abuse from supervisors and face inhumane conditions (i.e. not being allowed to take breaks, drink water, or go to the restroom). Workers are being put in, not only, physically dangerous situations, but mentally exhausting ones.
Most people agree that fast fashion is not a sustainable or ethical business, but are attracted to the low prices and trendiness of the clothes. Fortunately, there are sustainable options that offer affordable and stylish clothes. Some options are Patagonia’s Worn Wear shop, local thrift shops, and online thrift shops, like Posh-mark. These shops offer cheap, trendy clothes through recycling that will not leave a negative impact on the environment or the workers. Another strategy is investing in quality staple pieces for your wardrobe. Such as a neutral-colored blouse or a simple pair of jeans. Consumers should, also, consider donating their clothes or selling them when finished, so that others can get valuable wear out of them. Brands like American Eagle and Levi’s offer recycling programs for used clothes. In addition to this, fast fashion brands need to be held responsible for their actions. These businesses are still using money – pinching practices, despite companies like Inditex, which owns Zara, bringing in $4.2 billion dollars.
Impact On Consumers
To many consumers, fast fashion seems like a cheap alternative to more expensive brands, like J. Crew, for example. While the initial cost of these clothing items is substantially cheaper, these items are made to be worn less than ten times. In the long run, consumers are paying more than they would have if they had initially bought a quality item. There has been a 60% market increase since 2011, and it is ignorant to believe the rise of fast fashion has nothing to do with it.
Overall, fast fashion, while trendy and cheap, comes with immense risk to human welfare and the environment. The only way this dilemma can be successfully combated is by consumers deciding to spend money on clothes that are made through sustainable and ethical processes. If consumers make more informed demands, producers may also start valuing ethical and environmentally-conscious practices.