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The environmental consequences of fast fashion

Among the environmental impacts of fast fashion are the depletion of non-renewable sources, emission of greenhouse gases and the use of massive amounts of water and energy


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Muskan gupta

3 months ago | 6 min read
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What Is Fast Fashion?

In today’s age of the internet, fashion fads (trends) swing around faster than ever before. One day we’re posing for social media in oversized graphic tees, and the next we’re opting for striped cottonAccording to the Merriam- webster dictionary, fast fashion is the design, creation, and marketing of clothing that is done in a cheap and quick manner. Fast fashion companies are very profitable due to how they mass-produce clothing quickly enough to fit the latest fashion trends. Many fast fashion companies can be found in stores, as well as online . The term ‘fast fashion’ refer to cheap garments that are mass-produced and pumped out quickly to consumers in order to maximize the latest trends. The fast fashion model is a streamlined system involving rapid design, production, distribution and marketing, allowing retailers to pull smaller quantities of a greater variety of styles sold at a low price point.

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There are many well known fashion companies that are considered to be Fast Fashion

➢ Some of the most notable fast fashion companies in the USA are H&M, Forever 21, Urban Outfitters, Fashion Nova, GUESS, and GAP.

➢ Fast fashion companies based in other countries can also be found internationally.

○ UNIQLO - Japan

○ Stradivarius - Spain

○ Topshop - United Kingdom

○ Primark - Ireland

➢ Other fast fashion companies that sell their products online only are Shein, Rowme, and Wish.

How Does Fast Fashion Impact The Environment?

1. The Use Of Toxic Chemicals: We are floored by the bright hues of the fabrics and prints appeal to us. However, have you ever wondered how much toxins to these colors and dyes produce? Here’s news for you: Toxic dyes, are the second-largest water pollutants. Yes, after agriculture, if there is anything that is polluting fresh water, it is dye. They release toxic fumes, which are hazardous to all living beings.

2. Water Contamination: Many studies have proved that wastewater supremely toxic and hazardous to the ecosystem. A lot of these chemicals used in producing garments are carcinogenic and can disrupt hormonal levels in both humans and animals. 

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3. Polyester Is Not Your Friend: While shopping, you will notice that most of the clothes hanging from the racks have one thing in common, and that is Polyester. Polyester happens to be the most popular fabric in the world of fashion. It tends to shed microfibers which add to the level of plastic in the oceans. These microfibers, though extremely minute in size, pose a huge threat to aquatic life. Planktons eat the microfibers and then they make their way up in the food chain. To do your bit, it is important to divert your attention from polyester garments and switch to other fabrics. Cotton may be biodegradable, but, it requires a lot of water during the growing stages.  In such a case scenario, it is always better to embrace fabrics like hemp. Hemp is, hands down, the most environmentally friendly fabric. It is durable, comfortable and does not require a lot of natural resources to grow. Brands like B-label, have made hemp clothing fashionable and accessible to common people. 

4. Water Crisis: With the amount of clean water being depleted by the fashion industry, we might soon face a water crisis. A lot of water goes into producing textiles, especially during the manufacturing phase. To make matters worse, a lot of manufacturing work is done in smaller countries where environmental laws are not stringent enough. This means that untreated water from factories is dumped into freshwater bodies like rivers and lakes.

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5. Landfills, Landfills, And Landfills: You may be buying a lot of clothes, and you also may be discarding a lot of them to make room for new ones. Ever wondered where did all those old clothes go? Well, they find themselves in landfills. When you toss your clothes and throw them away, chances are that they may be sitting in landfills for very many years! As per the news, 8% of the clothes sold in the USA, find themselves in garbage dumps. Did you know that Polyester can take up to 200 years to decompose? So while the fabric is sitting in landfills, it releases microplastics in the soil, to pollute the nearby area. 

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6. Unethical Treatment Of Factory Workers: Ever wondered why fast fashion is so cheap? How is the brand being able to sell you something so pretty, for 50% off? This factor is a very hush-hush topic in the fashion industry. Clothes are being produced at the lowest cost possible. The people who work hard to mass-produce your clothes are most probably being paid the lowest wages. These people work in bad conditions which are often dangerous. 

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7. Animal Livestock Damage For Fashion: Ever wondered what the stylish tan, leather bag that you carry every day was once a cow’s skin? Tanneries pose a huge threat to the environment. Not only does leather tanning require a lot of water, chemicals, and other resources, but it has a huge impact on the lives of cat.

8. Carbon Footprints: Like all other industries, the fashion industry pollutes the air. With factories mass-producing so many products, they give out fumes which pollute the environment like no other. Plus, all those clothes which are produced but not sold lie wasted. Some of them are compressed into 1000-pound bales and exported to third-world countries or they become solid waste with the potential to clog different spaces. 

9. Microplastics

Furthermore, brands use synthetic fibres like polyester, nylon and acrylic which take hundreds of years to biodegrade. A 2017 report from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) estimated that 35% of all microplastics- tiny pieces of non-biodegradable plastic- in the ocean come from the laundering of synthetic textiles like polyester.

According to the documentary released in 2015, The true cost, the world consumes around 80 billion new pieces of clothing every year, 400% more than the consumption twenty years ago. The average American now generates 82 pounds of textile waste each year. The production of leather requires large amounts of feed, land, water and fossil fuels to raise livestock, while the tanning process is among the most toxic in all of the fashion supply chain because the chemicals used to tan leather- including mineral salts, formaldehyde, coal-tar derivatives and various oils and dyes- is not biodegradable and contaminates water sources.

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10. Energy

The production of making plastic fibres into textiles is an energy extensive process that requires large amounts of petroleum and releases volatile particulate matter and acids like hydrogen chloride. Additionally, cotton, which is in a large amount of fast fashion products, is also not environmentally friendly to manufacture. Pesticides deemed necessary for the growth of cotton presents health risks to farmers.

To counter this waste caused by fast fashion, more sustainable fibres that can be used in clothing include wild silk, organic cotton, linen, hemp and lyocell.

How can fast fashion be prevented ?

From shopping less to buying secondhand clothes, everyone can promote sustainable fashion.

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There are many ways we can fight fast fashion at home and take action to defend the planet.

1. Shop from sustainable and ethical fashion brands.

2. Buy less often and buy high quality.

3. Donate or sell gently used clothing.

4. Buy or rent secondhand clothes.

5. Recycle textiles and garments.

💡CONCLUSION :

We know that every coin has two sides and if social media is the coin then it has a good and a bad, heavy or empowering side. Clothing has never been more accessible and affordable than it is today. City slickers and suburban inhabitants alike don’t have to go far to acquire mass-produced garments from prominent, fast fashion companies. The fashion industry is one of the most polluting industries in the world. Rapidly producing garments in high volumes additionally generates textile and chemical waste in equally high volumes. To power this global industry at the lowest costs requires outsourcing labor from developing countries, often times where lax regulations allow for companies to get around quality control restrictions concerning both material and labor. This unsustainable industry will only continue to grow as long as consumers are ignorant or continue to turn a blind eye to the environmental and societal impact it leaves on the world. They need to be conscious of their actions and the kind of industry they are supporting. 

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