Updated: Feb 3
In 2016, it is estimated that 107 billion units of clothing were purchased. That statistic is five years old and has only increased as the years have gone on.
Companies like Shein and H&M are worth billions of dollars and are producing millions of pieces of clothing each year. The reason this is so impactful to the environment is that most of these clothes will end up in landfills and the clothes themselves are often produced in sweatshops and then transported long distances across seas to reach their destination. On average, the fashion industry is producing around 80 billion to 150 billion garments every year, this has a similar knock-on effect on the number of clothes ending up in landfills.
The question prevails: Why is there such a high number of production? Fast fashion is a growing industry and one that requires a change in order to have a better focus on sustainability and the environment.
-Image by the VOU-
Low Barrier to Entry
A 2020 study showed that 67% of consumers are looking to consider sustainable materials in their purchases. However, in reality, that figure is not translating into impact.
-Organic cotton, a photo by Just Style-
The issue is consumers are usually forced to hunt to find sustainable brands and then there is the issue of 'Greenwashing'.
Fast fashion brands are easy to find, offer accessible price points, and are constantly adding new styles to keep up with the ever-evolving cycle of trends. They make it easy for the consumer to buy from them and to buy into what society convinces them is 'in' right now.
The barrier to entry to the fast fashion world is non-existent, providing an easy option to buyers. Whereas it is often found sustainable brands have a high barrier to entry due to their higher cost margin which is reflected in their costs.
Lack of Transparency
Most of us don’t actually know the whole story behind brands. Assessments like the "Fashion Transparency Report" can give you a basic understanding of how companies are run and what they value for the average consumer.
However, unless you are looking for these reports, they are not readily available and easy to find. Brands alone are not transparent. For instance, H&M’s Conscious Collection is one that promotes sustainability but when doing a deep dive, there is really little information on how they are treating their workers and the impact that their mass production has. The issue with a lack of transparency is the potential for 'green washing':
Greenwashing also called "green sheen", is a form of marketing spin in which green PR and green marketing are deceptively used to persuade the public that an organisation's products, aims, and policies are environmentally friendly.
On the legal side of greenwashing, The Norwegian Consumer Authority (CA) accused H&M of greenwashing in 2019, saying it provided insufficient information on the actual sustainability of its "conscious collections". It is possible that the conscious collection could have implemented more eco-friendly materials in the production of their clothes, however, H&M did not mention this at all, creating ambiguity around its 'ethical' nature.
The confusion arose to the amount of recycled material that was actually being used in their garments, in 2010, a lab analysis revealed that only 30% of the material used in a single garment was organic cotton. Legally, this breached Norwegian marketing laws for 'fraudulent marketing'.
In a recent statement from the brand, they confirmed 'At least 50% of materials used are sustainable'.
Therefore, 50% of the materials used are not sustainable. This is something that needs to be worked on rather than sticking an 'environmentally conscious' label on it. Though, arguably, it is better than nothing.
On average people don’t wear 50% of what they possess in their closet. The number of clothes that are not only being produced but also being purchased is at a rate that cannot possibly be sustainable in any way, shape, or form.
When applying this notion to the 'greenwashing' H&M example, many critics have mentioned that no level of recycled fabrics could make the process sustainable purely due to high consumption rates.
Though, the brand anticipates demand rather than caters to it (fast fashion manufacturing approach) which led to $4.1 billion in unsold inventory which likely will end up in the landfill.
Additionally, influencers for Shein and other fast fashion companies are helping fuel the fire of mass consumption by frequently promoting 'trendy' clothing hauls on social media to only go "out of fashion" the next month. This content is commonly broadcasted on apps like Tik-Toc with trends that are dictating what styles are 'In' and what is 'Out'.
On the other hand, there are sustainable influencers who promote personal style building and long-lasting fashion items to keep and reuse throughout the years. With the mindset to keep and reuse, we can combat over-consumptive behaviors and help mitigate the unpalatable over-production fast fashion imposes on the environment.
One of the most endorsed arguments for fast fashion is its affordability.
In the grand scheme of things, embracing ethical and eco-friendly fashion means altering the way you view consumption and partake in trends. Consider repairing, repurposing, and reusing your older items, or simply take the time to think about if you really want or need those boots from nasty gal before you purchase.
Of course, more sustainable brands have a higher price point, because they are often made to order to reduce waste and use completely organic materials that bio-degrade rather than synthetics that will remain to loiter in the earth far longer than we will. But when you change your perspective on consumption, you don't need to spend £500 on a haul from Shein, instead, you could save it or if you really want to buy more clothes, invest in quality pieces or simply go thrifting for even better affordability than fast fashion... just saying.
the fact is: we are buying more than we need. This adds to textile waste and further hurts the environment. The impact that our consumption in fashion and also in many other capitalist areas is one that must be addressed and soon.
Fast Fashion is one of the leading environmental issues we have today. The fast fashion industry has a complete disregard for the environment and for the most part, the people working in the industry.
It is an easy-to-access industry that is promoted as a fun, luxurious lifestyle. It is important that we pay close attention to where our clothes are coming from and how they are being made in order to make a significant impact on the environment.