Not everyone is familiar with the term “fast fashion.” Fast fashion is a relatively new word that refers to clothing produced by mass-market retailers focusing on speed, reduced costs, and current fashion trends. These retailers often cut corners when acknowledging sustainability and ethicality. The growing fashion industry is now one of the world’s biggest polluters. Popular brands often turn a blind eye to many important and relevant environmental issues.
As the fashion industry continues to grow, consumers need to be aware of eco-friendly sustainable shopping. Sustainability concerns the environment and its impact on communities near the manufacturer. For brands, the challenge is to produce in a way that takes the environment into consideration and does not leave a negative footprint. The term “ethical” is an umbrella term that covers not only the fair treatment of workers but also describes fashion design, fair trade, sustainable production, retail, and purchasing. Worker conditions include no forced or underage labor, reasonable hours of work, right to freedom of association and collective bargaining, respect for community values, safe and healthy working conditions, living wage payments, the guarantee of women’s rights, no harassment, abuse, or discrimination, and a minimized impact on the environment.
The definition of ethical production is debatable, but there are generally three main categories: the reduction of negative environmental impacts in the garment production, the fair treatment of workers, and the transparent relationship between consumer and manufacturer, including consumer knowledge and awareness. Exhausting nonrenewable resources, consuming huge amounts of water, destroying rainforests to make wood-based fabrics, and releasing greenhouse gas emissions and energy are only the tip of the iceberg.
Fast fashion’s environmental impact range from water pollution to the accumulation of microfibers in our oceans. Many of the vibrant colors, textures, prints, and fabrics are produced with toxic, untreated chemicals, which are often dumped directly into bodies of water. Huge amounts of water are used in the growing of materials, the manufacturing process, and the dyeing of fibers. In fact, the average American throws out 81 pounds of clothing each year, which accumulates to 26 billion pounds of textiles, garments, and synthetic polyester — which take up to 200 years to decompose — that end up in landfills. It is estimated that textile waste in the United States has increased by 811% since 1960.
Fortunately, the fashion industry is making efforts to slowly become more sustainable and eco-friendly. Zara has pledged to only sell sustainable clothing by 2025, Adidas has used recycled plastic waste to produce over five million pairs of shoes, and H&M has partnered with Better Cotton Initiative, a clothing-recycling program. As the fashion industry is taking small steps toward sustainability, consumer knowledge is just as necessary. Let’s strive to add “fast fashion” to everyone’s vocabulary.