Fast fashion is all about getting you the latest trends from the catwalk, fast. This means designing, creating and transporting garments to retailers as quickly and cheaply as possible. But what environmental impact does this have?
What’s the problem with fast fashion?
Fast fashion has a huge impact on the environment. Since the main objective here is speed, the environmental impact of production is pretty low on the list of priorities.
The problem begins with the production of raw materials. Cotton (which is found in 40% of garments) requires a huge amount of water as well as some scary quantities of pesticide – before it’s even reached the sewing machine. And, once the raw materials are in a fit state to be used for making clothes, we encounter our next problem: water pollution. The chemicals used during the fabric dying process are toxic and they are regularly disposed of in nearby rivers causing havoc to the ecosystems.
What’s all this I heard about polyester and plankton?
The dangers to acquatic life don’t stop with toxic chemicals. Fast fashion’s textile of choice tends to be polyester – it’s strong, stain resistant and cheap. The problem with that? Plastic. Polyester clothes shed microfibres when washed in the washing machine, which easily pass into our waterways. These tiny fibres end up in our oceans where they are ingested by sea creatures – posing a real threat to marine life.
How does fast fashion create textile waste?
Picture your wardrobe for a second. Is it beautifully organised with loads of extra space? Nope, didn’t think so. Our wardrobes are so packed to the brim that brands must constantly tempt us with new trends that we absolutely must have. This means that we’re less likely to ‘make do and mend’ as was the norm for generations before us. It’s often cheaper to buy something new than get something repaired, and with the added temptation of having something ‘straight off the catwalk’ it’s no wonder that sewing and mending skills are almost completely extinct. Although some people make an effort to donate items or take them to a recycling bank, sadly this is not the majority. Almost three-quarters of the British population bin their old clothes. This creates huge amounts of textile waste (not to mention the additional plastic and packaging that comes with buying new clothes).
What can we do to combat the effects of fast fashion?
There are a number of ways to shop more sustainably. Keep an eye out for ethical brands and make an effort to mend old clothes rather than heading straight for the shops. Think about buying quality pieces that are more likely to last as opposed to cheap and cheerful one-wear-wonders. Commit to shopping second-hand too – buying pre-loved clothes directly helps combat textile waste (as well as a whole host of other benefits).
We know that it’s probably not realistic to completely boycott brands that engage in fast fashion. What we can do, however, is speak up about the problem. Let’s let our favourite brands know about our concerns and the importance of ethical fashion. Let’s give them a reason to do better.
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