Harmful Impact of Fast Fashion

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Fast fashion: a haven for big fashion corporations and those wanting affordable, trendy fashion and a hell for those whose lives depend on a corrupt industry. For the latter, fast fashion is just another a word for livelihood, and for the former, fast fashion is a short, catchy alliteration that sounds pretty good. Trendy, accessible, and most importantly, cheap fashion does in fact sound pretty good, but at what cost? The origins, growth, and impact of fast fashion must be fully understood in order to propose a solution to its harmful effects on the environment, women, and ethical fashion.

What is fast fashion? Fast fashion is used to describe cheap, trendy clothing that very quickly goes in and out of style. Every week fast fashion corporations put out something new with an unbeatable price. With all the focus on wearing the next best thing, the demand for fast fashion grows, leading to the drive for corporations to produce even more. These corporations get their love for their low selling costs, and in order to profit they must make their production costs even lower. This means finding cheap labor to work at the ridiculously low prices asked for.

Most developed countries have strict labor laws that put a limit to how low production costs can get, so underdeveloped countries with horrible labor laws that prevent labor unions and safe working conditions are perfect candidates for the job. Proof of fashion companies outsourcing jobs can be found by simply grabbing the closest piece of garment and inspecting the tag. Most likely it will say Made in Bangladesh, South Korea, Pakistan, India, China, Vietnam, or Mexico. The fashion industry has not always been this way. The 1960s was the first time American people participated in fast fashion as young people looked to cheaply made clothes to follow trends. Now in 2018, the industry is the same but at a much faster, dizzying speed.

Clothes are constantly being bought then quickly going out of style. Where does it all go? Every year 150 billion new garments are made to be used a couple times then thrown out to make up five percent of all landfills (Claudio). The fashion industry’s toll on the environment is global, stretching from landfills to water pollution to greenhouse gases. Fashion is the world’s second largest air polluter after oil, contributing to ten percent of all greenhouse gas emissions, which is more than aviation and international shipping combined (Conca).

Synthetic materials used to make clothes are not biodegradable and release nanoplastics that pollute the ocean. On top of that, toxic chemicals used for dyes in poorly regulated factories are dumped into streams and rivers polluting water and soil of nearby areas. Companies like H&M have even resorted to burning unsold clothes to mask their wastefulness and uphold their image (Paton). Fast fashion’s impact on the environment is undeniably large, but only part of what makes it revolting. Another immensely tragic effect of fast fashion is sweatshop labor. Factory workers are employed at very low wages for long hours and under poor working conditions. For example, in Bangladesh, sweatshop workers will earn 37 dollars a month despite their living wage of about 60 dollars a month (Enloe).

The average workday consists of 14 to 16 hours of cramped and hazardous working conditions that have often lead to work injuries and factory fires. These exploited workers are mostly made up of women, and the reason for this explained by Cynthia Enloe, an author and professor in gendered politics, is the “manipulation of ideas about girls and women, and notions of femininity, that empowers those who try to cheapen women’s labor.” Degrading, patriarchal views allow people to believe that women’s labor should be cheap. With these beliefs, young poor women are targeted for the jobs to make it seem desirable. Many women become dependent on the jobs as working in a garment factory is one of their only options.

A women named Marie who left her family in Guatemala to work in Mexico in the maquilas shared her hardships in a testimony discussing her maltreatment and extreme low wages. She describes how the workers put up with bosses exclaiming they were “useless” and “not worth of a salary” in addition to clothes being thrown in their faces (STITCH). Regardless of it all she had to continue working because of her financial hardships. Women like Marie are working to improve working conditions and protect the rights of factory workers with organizations such as the International Textile, Garment, and Leather Workers Federation (ITGLWF).

Organizing workers and forming unions are a way to combat fast fashion’s effects, but what can consumers do to contribute? Solving fast fashion seems unachievable when it exists everywhere and is in the hands of very powerful people, but taking steps like raising awareness, boycotting unethical brands and supporting ethical brands can make a difference in the effects of fast fashion. Admittedly, with most global issues, the change needs to be done at a political level with lots of force behind it. Raising awareness and pointing people towards resources such as documentaries like The True Cost to learn more on the issue of fast fashion can assist consumers in making an impact.

Most are unaware of the detrimental effects their investments in companies like Forever 21, ZARA, Old Navy, Victoria’s Secret, and so many more have on the planet. Another way to fight fast fashion is choosing to buy less and only purchase clothes that are well made and made to last. While ethical clothing is of course more expensive than fast fashion brands, keep in mind that ethical clothing brands are up against a business that master finding the people’s desires and making it questionably cheap. The solution to ethical brands being out of your price range is renting clothes or purchasing from second hand stores. This way all of the garments that were made by factory workers that end up getting donated do not go to waste. Also, purchasing from a secondhand store does not contribute to the company on the tag, but more than likely to a good cause.

Making the switch from fast fashion to ethical fashion is definitely not an easy one, especially with many companies attempting to find loopholes and claiming to be ethical, but a lifestyle change is worth it to stop contributing to an industry filled with exploitation. Through exploitation and mastery at upholding a false image, fast fashion apathetically induces harmful, in some cases even deadly, effects on the environment, on women, and on ethical fashion. The speed at which the industry moves makes a solution seem almost impossible, but alternatives to fast fashion provide hope for an eventual end. By simply being aware of who and what your money is invested in, immense change can be effected.

Works Cited

  1. Claudio, Luz. “Waste Couture: Environmental Impact of the Clothing Industry.” NBCI, Environmental Health Perspectives, Sept. 2007.
  2. Conca, James. “Making Climate Change Fashionable – The Garment Industry Takes On Global Warming.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 3 Dec. 2015, 13 Dec. 2018.
  3. Enloe, Cynthia H. Bananas, Beaches and Bases: Making Feminist Sense of International Politics. University of California Press, 2014.
  4. Morgan, Andrew. The True Cost. The True Cost, Life Is My Movie Entertainment, 2015.
  5. Paton, Elizabeth. “H&M, a Fashion Giant, Has a Problem: $4.3 Billion in Unsold Clothes.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 27 Mar. 2018. 13 Dec. 2018.
  6. STITCH and the Maquila Solidarity Network. “Women Behind the Labels: Worker Testimonies from Central America.” 2000.

Cite this paper

Harmful Impact of Fast Fashion. (2022, Mar 14). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/harmful-impact-of-fast-fashion/



How does fast fashion affect humans?
The rise of fast fashion has had a number of negative consequences for both workers and consumers. Poor working conditions in garment factories have been well-documented, as have the harmful environmental impacts of the fashion industry.
What are negative impacts of fast fashion?
The negative impacts of fast fashion include the exploitation of workers in the fashion industry, as well as the environmental impacts of the production of fast fashion items.
What are the impacts of fast fashion?
The impacts of fast fashion are twofold. First, fast fashion creates a throwaway culture in which consumers purchase inexpensive clothing, wear it a few times, and then dispose of it. This contributes to environmental pollution and wastefulness. Second, fast fashion often relies on exploitative labor practices in order to keep costs low. This means that workers in the fashion industry are often paid very low wages, work long hours, and have few protections.
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