How to Stop Fast Fashion, and the Environmental Cost

Insights on Fast Fashion: What It Is, How It’s Harming the Environment, and What You Can Do To Help

By Amanda Winstead

We are living in a consumer-driven society. The more consumers buy, the more companies produce. And clothing, in particular, is one of the most produced products. Unfortunately, this mass desire for more clothes has led to a growing market of cheaply made items, otherwise known as fast fashion.

While fast fashion initially seemed like a good solution to a growing problem — more and more people wanting more affordable clothes — it has now turned into an environmental disaster. The fast fashion industry is one of the top producers of waste, pollution, and carbon emissions, all of which contribute to climate change.

However, despite the growing concern surrounding fast fashion, there is an answer: sustainable fashion. And not only can fashion companies and manufacturers themselves partake in this green movement, but consumers can also make more sustainable fashion choices to help as well.

In this article, we’ll take a closer look at the fast fashion industry and how it is harming the environment, as well as offer tips for how consumers can make more eco-conscious fashion choices to help stop fast fashion from destroying the planet. We’ll explore fast fashion problems and solutions, to help you play a part in the mission to stop fast fashion.

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What is Fast Fashion?

So what exactly is fast fashion, and why is it so detrimental to the environment?

As the name suggests, fast fashion is essentially cheap clothing made in bulk as quickly as possible. This model or movement stemmed from a growing desire for clothing items that mimic the latest high fashion trends but at a much lower and more affordable price point for the everyday consumer.

As a result, tons of fast fashion companies started popping up all around the globe with the sole purpose of mass producing cheap, simple fashion that can be pumped through retail stores quickly to capitalize on current trends. And this is naturally how the market works consumer demand equates to more product development — but with fast fashion, it creates a serious environmental problem.

When you seek to produce clothing as quickly and cheaply as possible, you obviously cut corners and use methods that are more about quantity than quality, which naturally means you are doing things in a way that is not good for the environment.

Why and How to stop fast fashion: Sorting through hundreds of tons of clothing in an abandoned factory for a social mission called Clothing the Loop.
Sorting through hundreds of tons of clothing in an abandoned factory for a social mission called Clothing the Loop.
Photo by Francois Le Nguyen on Unsplash

The Environmental Impact of Fast Fashion

There are numerous ways in which the fast fashion industry is impacting the environment:

  • Landfills: Of all the textiles that are manufactured and purchased globally, 85% end up in landfills each year. Ghana, in particular, is suffering massively from the fast fashion movement, with 15 million used and dumped garments flooding the city of Accra every week.
  • Water: Creating fast fashion textiles also consumes a significant amount of water — 700 gallons for one simple cotton shirt and 2,000 for a pair of jeans. And the dying process for clothing consumes enough to fill 2 million Olympic-sized pools every year. As a whole, 20% of industrial water pollution comes from the fashion industry.
  • Microplastics: A significant amount of fast fashion items are made from cheap materials that are made up of microplastics, and when those items get dumped or washed, it releases those microplastics into the environment. For example, 31% of plastic pollution in the ocean comes from microplastics.
  • Carbon Emissions: Of course, manufacturing clothing also consumes a significant amount of energy. 10% of global carbon emissions come from the fashion industry. And if fast fashion continues on its current path, that number could increase to 26% in the next several years.

How Consumers Can Make More Sustainable Fashion Choices

Despite all of the harm that the fashion industry has already done, there are solutions to fast fashion, ways we can work to reverse the negative impacts — or to at least mitigate further damage to the planet. And as consumers largely determine how the market works and how much clothing is produced, it is partially up to them to start making more eco-conscious fashion choices.

Support More Sustainable Brands

To start, if you are going to continue buying clothes, you should at least shop with brands that are more sustainable and doing their part to help save the environment. Zero waste brands, for example, are clothing companies that seek to create clothes while producing as little waste and pollution as possible.

Simplify Your Wardrobe

Buying less and working with a more pared-down wardrobe can also help. Again, the more you buy and consume, the more waste you produce, and the more companies will continue to manufacture fast fashion in bulk.

So instead of constantly buying new items, opt for a capsule wardrobe with fewer pieces that can all work well together to create many different outfits. Capsule wardrobes, in addition to helping you reduce waste and pollution, can also help you cut down on your styling time as you already know, which pieces work well together and have less to pick and choose from.

Take Better Care of Your Clothes

Poorly maintained clothing items will also result in you having to toss them out sooner, which further contributes to the landfill problem. So, not only should you buy higher quality items, but you should also take better care of them to ensure they last for years instead of months.

Learning how to sew and repair damaged clothing, for example, such as a torn seam or a lost button, can help you extend the life of your clothing. It will also save you from having to spend more money on replacing it or taking it to a tailor.

Donate or Upcycle

When it does come time to get rid of a piece of clothing, instead of tossing it out, try donating it to a second-hand store or to a charity. Or you can even give it away to someone you know if it’s still in decent condition.

You can also reuse and upcycle your old clothing items for other purposes to avoid them ending up in a landfill. You can make rags for cleaning out of old t-shirts, for example, or even turn other old pieces into a craft project, such as making a patchwork quilt.

Choose More Eco-Friendly Materials

Some textiles are more eco-friendly than others. Fast fashion makes use of a lot of cheap materials that use microplastics, for example, such as polyester and rayon. So instead, opt for items made from sustainable fabrics that are more durable, require fewer resources to produce, and are made of little to no microplastics. Options include hemp, linen, bamboo, organic cotton, silk, wool, and recycled synthetics.

Go Thrift Shopping

When you need to purchase something new, thrift shopping is another great way to consume fashion more consciously. By purchasing items from the thrift shop, you help keep those items from eventually getting dumped, and it helps reduce the number of new items that manufacturers need to make to keep up with demand.

Be Mindful of Washing

Not only does manufacturing clothes consume significant amounts of energy, but how you take care of them in your own home can produce energy as well. And the more energy you consume, the more you contribute to carbon emissions.

Washers and dryers, for instance, use up a lot of energy. So you could try hand washing and hang drying instead. Using cold water also helps use less energy as it doesn’t require the use of your water heater.

Final Thoughts on How to Stop Fast Fashion

If you aren’t used to living sustainably, making all of the above changes can seem overwhelming. So don’t try to do everything at once. Instead, take it one step at a time until sustainable fashion choices become more of a habit. You can even encourage friends and family to make these changes as well to make a bigger impact.

About the Author

Amanda Winstead is a writer focusing on many topics including technology and digital marketing. Along with writing she enjoys traveling, reading, working out, and going to concerts. If you want to follow her writing journey, or even just say hi you can find her on Twitter.