Forever 21. ASOS. Zara. H+M. MISSGUIDED. The list goes on. These companies have one thing in common: they are all classified as fast fashion.
Fast fashion, by definition, is the term used by retailers to describe designs that move quickly from the runway to capture current fashion trends. From the environmentalist standpoint, fast fashion retailers are companies that are unethical and non-environmentally friendly. They often include companies that are not sweatshop free and import their clothes from overseas.
But why is fast fashion bad for the environment? And why should I care?
Well first, textile waste is immense. In 2016, 84% of unwanted clothes in the United States were burned or incinerated. While naturally occurring fibers, like silk and cotton burn easily without harming the environment, synthetic fibers- which have been utilized more and more in the fast fashion industry- are more destructive. These textiles are essentially plastic, making them difficult and, in some cases, even toxic to burn. And when placed in landfills, they take hundreds of years to break down. However, even cotton and other natural fibers release methane, a carbon gas, when they burn or deconstruct in landfills.
To continue, many fast fashion companies use artificial dyes in their clothes. These dyes are essentially chemical waste and are often not disposed of properly. Factories will usually dump these dangerous chemicals into nearby streams, rivers, or lakes or allow for chemical runoff to reach surrounding farm lands. This polluted water can infect people’s water sources with lead, ammonia, or mercury. Furthermore, it can create dead zones in bodies of water where no living thing can survive.
Lastly, fast fashion retailers will often base their merchandise factories in countries such as China, Indonesia, and India. From there, these clothes need to be shipped overseas. The transportation of these thousands of tons of apparel everyday contributes to a mass release of carbon into the atmosphere.
Many people are ignorant of these facts, and even when they are presented with the truth they refuse to stop shopping fast fashion. People think it is impossible to look cute and trendy while on a budget without shopping at fast fashion retailers. This, however, is simply not the case. There are plenty of companies that are environmentally friendly including American Apparel, Reformation, and Alternative Apparel. These companies are not as budget friendly as stores like Forever 21. But, they are ethical and clean. If you are looking to shop while on a budget, then thrifting and shopping second hand is your best bet. Thrifting is often much cheaper than shopping at major retailers and will let you find original, one of a kind pieces. If the thrift stores around you seem to be lacking in cute merchandise then check out websites like Depop, Poshmark, Mercari, or Ebay. People sell used clothes on these sites for cheap. They’re budget and environmentally friendly!
It is entirely possible to serve looks while still fighting for the environment.