Trendy, convenient and affordable might be a few words used to describe fast fashion. The concept of having new apparel readily available in countless styles from your local mall to your favorite website or app, has been woven into the fabric of our very fast paced modern lifestyles. We’ve been conditioned to want everything now, so we can enjoy it today, and discard it tomorrow when something new catches our eye at what would seem to be priced as a great deal. FOMO, or “Fear of Missing Out”, as coined by Patrick McGinnis in 2004, is very real, and whether you identify as a fashionista or not, most of us try our hardest to avoid the shame and self loathing that comes along with FOMO even if we might not be fully aware of FOMO or not. FOMO is tricky like that.
I have to confess, I have been guilty of all of the above. I would stroll through the mall for a little “retail therapy”, and be lured into a shop that advertised “2 for $20 tanks” in the window. If a new trend came out, I had to get it, even if it didn’t quite match my body type...like those petal pushers from the mid 2000’s. My little legs looked a little sad in them which meant I had to buy another pair of skyscraper heels that I didn’t need to balance things out. It was a vicious cycle for me that came to a hard stop in 2013 when the Rana Plaza collapsed in Bangladesh killing over 1,100 garment workers. My personal and professional relationship with fashion changed overnight which coincided with the global outcry of consumers and fashion industry professionals everywhere. Shook to our core, we wanted answers, we demanded transparency, and we understood that the fashion industry as we knew it, needed a massive makeover with close attention to the human and environmental impact of the entire supply chain from cradle to grave.
I promise you, young Leilani didn’t know that those peddle pushers were most likely linked to enslaved labor and pollution. I feel horrible about that but all I can do now is move forward with fierce compassion and an unwavering curiosity about the impact of the apparel industry at large and what role it plays in my world. If you are feeling overwhelmed by the topic like I did, (and still do at times), please find comfort in the fact that you are not alone and know that we all start somewhere. The first step is having the awareness, (and you are now officially aware, so you can check that off!) and understanding of the definition of fast fashion.
Fast Fashion, is commonly referred to as “inexpensive and trendy apparel that is mass produced by large retailers”.
I invite you to take a pause and really soak that in. Think about a popular store at the mall and how quickly styles rotate in and out. Styles are typically not replenished once they are sold out because a new trend will take its place on the shelves within a short time, sometimes within days. I can confidently say that because I worked at a popular fast fashion retailer when I was in high school. I didn’t know that term back then but I did acknowledge that our shipment of new merchandise rapidly sped up within my first four months of employment. We received shipments of 5-6 boxes three times a week, then 8-10 boxes five times a week, which turned into massive bins, six to seven days a week. Even as an uninformed teenager, I knew that something seemed off. How were these clothes being made and shipped so quickly at such “affordable” prices? The thing is, in fast fashion, we do end up paying the real price eventually.
We could go down a very long rabbit hole here but I think this is a great place to start. If you are reading this, chances are you like your fellow humans and the planet like I do and you want to be a part of the collective solution. Here are a few things to keep in mind about the atrocious impact of fast fashion.
Three Reasons Why Fast Fashion is Horrible for Humans
1- Garment Workers are Abused
Fast Fashion companies often work with garment factories that do not treat their workers with dignity and respect. This means that they are often forced to work extremely long hours, in unhealthy, and unsafe working conditions without proper government protections. Some facilities do not have restrooms, some factory buildings are literally falling apart and compensation is often well below the poverty line. It is not uncommon for garment workers to be fired or physically abused for simply speaking up to their managers.
2- Buying Synthetic Clothes Means Wearing Toxic Chemicals
Acrylic, Rayon, Polyester, Nylon and Acetate are all human made fabrics. Carcinogens and other harsh chemicals have been found in all of these materials and some have aquatic toxicity. Scientists are still learning about the long term effects on the human body from synthetic fibers but if our skin is our largest organ, then it seems pretty scary to wrap our bodies in harsh chemicals day in and day out.
3- Mass Consumption Will Lead to an Unsustainable Lifestyle
We can’t keep moving forward as we are. Something will give. Landfills are rapidly filling up with our discarded clothing. (Not everything we donate to thrift stores gets repurchased - 84% of our clothing in the U.S. goes straight to a landfill.) There is no doubting that dopamine rush that we get when we make a purchase.
But do we really need to keep consuming at this rate? I say this as a lifelong fashion lover. That instant gratification is alluring and powerful. We literally get a neurological surge in our brain when we shop for pleasure. Shopping when we are bored or looking for a little “retail therapy”, will always leave us wanting more. It’s an unnecessary mind game that we play on ourselves that we will never win.
How You Can Help:
Research your brands and buy less. Shop your values. Make meaningful purchases. It’s as simple as that. The cheap supply will not be there if we don’t demand it. Together, we can hold brands accountable. We have the buying power to change the narrative by investing our money in companies and brands that promote a healthy environment and planet.
Three Reasons Why Fast Fashion is Awful for the Environment
1-Fracking for Fashion
Fracking refers to a process formally called, hydraulic fracturing. It is a process that involves fracturing rock formations deep below the earth’s surface, then injecting them with a special fluid along with large amounts of water to open them further to extract natural gas and crude oil. The water that is used with these harsh chemicals become toxic once they are released back into the earth damaging local water resources. Amounts vary, but on average 2-10 million gallons of water are used each time a well is fractured. Fracking is a controversial topic because some scientists say that the chemicals used during this process harm wildlife and humans when chemicals are released into the atmosphere. Trade secret laws make it difficult to fully investigate. Remember, fossil fuels are needed to make polyester.
2-Chemicals in Crops
The U.S. along with Pakistan, Australia, Brazil, India and China are responsible for approximately 80% of the world’s cotton production. Cotton is considered to be the dirtiest crop as 16% of all global pesticide sales come from cotton producers. Cotton is the most popular textile as 75% of apparel across the globe is made from cotton or a cotton blend. Pesticides include insecticides that kill bugs, herbicides that kill weeds, and fungicides that kill fungus and are all considered to be toxic. Long term use of these chemicals has led to resilient bugs and weeds forcing the pesticide treadmill to continue, meaning that farmers need to use even more chemicals in an attempt to control the crops. Pesticides can be absorbed into the earth's soil and contaminate entire plant systems including roots, flowers, fruit, and developing seeds. “Spray drift”, from cotton farms has also been linked to beehive losses. Ultimately, these chemicals can end up in our food chain, causing widespread health problems.
3-Toxic Waste Water
The textile industry uses massive amounts of water. It takes 2,720 liters of water to make just one tee shirt. That’s one part of the problem. The other problem is what is actually going into the water. There are about 8,000 synthetic chemicals used around the world to turn raw materials into usable fabric. It is technically illegal for Dye Houses to discharge waste water into rivers after dyeing fabrics, however, many companies do it anyway because of the expensive costs involved in filtration. According to the Fashion Institute of Technology, the fashion industry contributes to 20% of the world’s industrial water pollution. Toxic waste water affects local ecosystems. This can be harmful for fish and plants, and once these chemicals enter the food chain, it can harm people as well.
How To Support Change:
Companies, such as Patagonia, have implemented the use of recycled polyester into their collections which helps sustainability initiatives while avoiding additional fracking to make new apparel. Organic farming practices are on the rise which uses non GMO cotton seeds and excludes the use of harsh pesticides. Pact has been a long time ambassador of organic cotton and they have inspired other brands to follow their lead. It is difficult to fight the mass production of synthetic fibers that contribute to waste water pollution. There are companies that are using natural plant based dyes and they need your support to grow.
Another thing we can all do is shop second hand. Thrifting is a great way to give a second life to something that is already made which is a huge aspect of fashion sustainability. Washing Bags have become extremely popular for laundering synthetic apparel as it helps to extend the life of your clothing while also helping to prevent microplastic pollution. One of the other big benefits of shopping second hand is that it gives us the opportunity to create more wealth for ourselves by saving more towards our financial goals. A healthy planet = a healthy wallet.
Please Don’t Be Discouraged!
Disclaimer, I don’t know everything and I would never pretend to say that I do. No one does. I just try to do better everyday and really, I geek out over this stuff. I want to learn all that I can so I can do my part. There are over 7 billion people on this planet and we all wear clothes. We might live vastly different lives, have different belief systems, and personal interests but we have this one thing in common. We all wear clothes.
Consumers are demanding transparency more than ever before. People want to know where their clothes came from, how they are made, what’s in them, and what happens to them once they leave our lives. We need to keep the conversation moving forward. Ask questions, research, and most importantly, please share your discoveries with your family and friends. We need to circulate this information so everyone has the chance to be a part of the change.
We have the buying power to give this industry a well needed and long overdue makeover and we simply can’t wait any longer.
Leilani Angel is an ethical fashion and beauty enthusiast who works with socially responsible brands that are mindful to people, animals, and our planet.
She has a strong background in image design, merchandising, event production and education. She enjoys wearing many eco-friendly, fair trade, and vegan hats. When she’s not planning, writing, presenting, or creating, you can find her volunteering with rescued farm animals at a sanctuary or teaching Bunny 101 with the House Rabbit Society.