Over the past few years, social media has made the world a much more connected place. This is particularly true for younger generations like millennials and Gen Z. These generations are now at the perfect age to determine buying and manufacturing trends, and this is a major responsibility. Being more connected has meant that fashion is now global as well. While this may bode well for designers and manufacturers, it can have adverse effects on the environment if not handled properly.
The best way to handle this is by making better and more sustainable buying decisions. This will automatically push fashion houses to go down the environmentally-friendly route as well. Otherwise, most companies these days are mass-producing clothes and shipping them all over the world, leading to a massive carbon footprint. A simple pair of mens khaki pants could have more of a negative impact on the environment than anyone realizes. However, this occurs due to fast fashion. Fast fashion basically refers to replicating high-end and runway trends at much lower costs and mass producing them for a wider audience. It may seem like a democratizing industry, but it has an adverse effect on the environment, in the following ways and more.
Generating Greenhouse Gases and Pollutants
First of all, mass production leads to significant amounts of greenhouse gases being produced. When clothes are being produced in factories, and then shipped all over the world, Carbon Dioxide is produced. Fossil fuel emissions from the shipping routes lead to ozone layer depletion and to oil leaks. Even if things are being shipped by air, the carbon footprint is immense due to all the fossil fuel required.
Leading to Widespread Plastic Usage
We’ve all received those packages from companies like Shien and Wish. They come wrapped in multiple layers of plastic and bubble wrap. This is one of the worst features of fast fashion, the widespread usage of single-use plastics.
Apart from clogging up landfills, plastics are hazardous for wildlife, and also are not biodegradable. Their toxic chemicals also leech into the soil and into water sources, and have been linked to numerous health issues all over the world.
Furthermore, fast fashion doesn’t really have a focus on natural, sustainable materials, but largely uses synthetic materials such as nylon and polyester. These materials have nearly the same impact as plastic, so are quite harmful for the environment.
Crowding Up Landfills
Fast fashion is called fats for a reason. One season, something may be a must-have for all the influencers and their fans out there, the next season it may be clogging up landfills because it’s passe. Due to the low-grade materials used, these clothes also get ripped, faded, and just don’t hold up well after a wash or two.
This means that massive amounts of clothes are thrown away every year, with none of them being worth recycling or donating either. Landfills all over the world are already quite clogged with non-biodegradable materials and fast fashion is just making this situation worse.
Using Up and Polluting Water
It takes hundreds of gallons of water to produce one t-shirt or one pair of jeans. Turn this number into hundreds of millions of gallons used every year, and it sounds astounding. This water is often not even reusable anymore for agriculture or anything else due to the toxic chemicals involved.
Pair this wastage with the water scarcity in communities around the world, and you cannot support fast fashion with a clear conscience. Its dyes and other chemicals also leech into the soil and pollute potable water sources as well.
Exploiting Vulnerable Communities
Fast fashion is not exactly known for sourcing its materials ethically. It exploits vulnerable communities with minimal wages, and also takes their resources at extremely low costs. It uses massive amounts of cotton and other such materials, leading farmers to ignore crop rotations practices and grow more of these, at the expense of other sustainable crops.
After all, if you’re getting a t-shirt for $2.50 after it has manufactured and produced thousands of miles away, how much do you think the manufacturer paid its workers? Fast fashion is highly profitable, and usually has its production hubs in other countries with lax labor laws, leading to community exploitation and even slavery.
How To Stop This Impact
The onus of this falls on all of us as consumers. Everyone needs to make smarter buying decisions. Instead of buying a cheap jacket or pair of shoes that’ll only last a couple of months, invest in more sturdy and sustainable options which will last you years. They often look timeless and elegant as well. In addition, when you find out about such fast fashion practices by a brand, call them out, and make others aware of their practices.
If possible, advocate for better regulations with your local and federal governance to be tough on fast fashion brands and have them be more transparent. One of the best ways, though, is to buy locally made clothes by small businesses who focus on ethical sources and production. You can also support handicraft artisans, and that will make you look fashionable as well. All it takes is a bit of research and a conscious effort to leave behind a better world than the one you came into.