The Real Cost of Fast Fashion

Fast fashion is a term that is regularly used and connected with the negative environmental and ethical aspects of the fashion industry. Recently, there has been an increased interest on the environmental impacts of our consumer behaviour. What is fast fashion and what are its environmental impacts?

Fast Fashion is term used to describe the cheap high fashion clothing, usually sold by high street retailers. Traditionally retailers would tend to stock new trends or lines each season, with fast fashion, they stock new trends each or even week. This change is consumer buying behaviour is driven by both the reduction in the price of clothing and increased marketing of new trends and fashions. Fast fashion clothes are generally only worn a few times before being replaced by the latest trend.

The environmental impacts of fast fashion are well reported with the green house gas emissions, chemical pollution and landfill waste all being key issues. The growth of cotton, the most widely used natural fibre uses huge amounts of chemicals that are damaging to the health of the workers, the surrounding environment. Synthetic fibres like polyester which are regularly used for making ‘fast fashion’ clothes, require the use of vast amounts of petro chemicals and releasing all sorts of polluting chemicals that also present health risks for workers in the industry and those living in the vicinity. The manufacture of most textiles is an energy intensive process, this combined with the transport of textiles of products around the world produces even more green house gas emissions.

As if that wasn’t enough, there is also the problem of disposing of unwanted clothing. Landfill in the UK is a huge problem with textiles accounting for an estimated 30% of UK landfill waste each year. Synthetic textiles simply stay in the system and do not break down naturally. Even natural textiles pollute water systems with chemicals and dyes that are washed out by rain water. They also produce methane, a powerful greenhouse gas as they breakdown.

Recycling of clothing is a great idea but the quality of many fast fashion items makes them less desirable second hand. In March last year Allan Wheeler of the textile recycling association reported in the House of Lords on how “the quality of the clothing that is coming through to our members is on the decline, which makes it harder to reuse”.

Whilst there are a variety of eco textiles and brands with excellent environmental credentials now available, it is consumer behaviour that will need to change in order to reduce the impact of fashion and clothing on the environment. Fashion retailers are primarily led by customer demand and will change their products and marketing strategies in response to a change in consumer behaviour. We are starting to see a move in the right direction with key retailers such as Marks and Spencer’s and Next all stocking organic and eco lines.

How to change from fast fashion to sustainable style

– Choose clothes in classic styles that will last more than one season

– Store clothes carefully to make them last, where possible, mend and repair instead of replacing them.

– Swap your second hand clothing at a swishing party or on a clothes swapping website

– Develop your own style, instead of following the latest trends.

– Buy vintage or second hand clothes

– Read fashion and style blogs for inspiration on timeless style

– Update last years look by adding a few accessories to your existing wardrobe rather than replacing everything.


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