Fast fashion is clothing which is produced cheaply and wears out quickly. According to Investopedia, retailers often introduce new products multiple times a week to stay on trend. The cost of this conduct may look kindly on the consumer, but behind the scenes it’s wreaking havoc on people and the planet.
Let’s dive into what really makes fast fashion so fast.
Low pay and dangerous conditions for garment workers
The last decade is strewn with stories of garment workers bearing the brunt of the fashion industry’s dark side; from growing hunger and food insecurity due to falling incomes, to gross neglect of basic health and safety standards.
In a survey of 396 garment workers in September 2020, 88% reported that they’d had to reduce the amount of food consumed each day by their household, due to diminished income. (Hunger In The Apparel Supply Chain, WRC)
Tragically, it was a horrific disaster – when a factory in Bangladesh collapsed, killing 1,133 garment workers – that shocked the world into action. In 2013, trade unions banded together to produce the first-of-its-kind, legally-binding Bangladesh Accord. It essentially held brands accountable to building inspections, workers’ rights training and safety standard reviews at their supply chain factories in Bangladesh.
In August 2021, the Accord was expanded to include other garment-producing nations, where workers’ lives are put at risk daily. It’s now called the International Accord for Health and Safety in the Textile and Garment Industry and is believed to have saved countless lives. You can track which brands have and haven’t signed the Accord here.
Intensive use of resources
A report published in the journal Nature Reviews Earth & Environment puts the fashion industry’s annual water consumption at 79 trillion litres. To put this into perspective, that’s 13 times more water consumed than by the whole of the UK per year. (At Home with Water, Energy Saving Trust)
Water is a natural, finite resource. In the UK, it might be hard to imagine experiencing water scarcity, but it’s a real-life threat to frontline communities around the globe - 2.7 billion people find water scarce for at least one month of the year, according to WWF. By 2025, two-thirds of the world’s population may face water shortages.
So just make clothes that use less water, right? There are many companies out there doing just that, but of course fast fashion – which relies on cheap production – is lagging far behind. Fabrics and processes that require less water typically cost more, you see.
Then there is the issue of waste; where fashion gobbles up water, it spits out waste. 90 - 100 tonnes of textiles end up in landfill every year, ‘equivalent to a full rubbish truck of clothes getting dumped on a landfill site every second’. (BBC).
The good news (phew - there’s good news!) is that secondhand/thrift stores and apps are popping up everywhere. ‘Resale has the power to reduce fashion’s accelerating impact on the planet, moving us one step closer to circularity.’ (ThredUp) By buying secondhand clothes, we’ll drastically reduce the demand for new – saving water, waste and (as you’ll learn in the next section) oh-so-important CO2e emissions.
Moral Fibres has compiled a handy list of some of the best places to buy second hand garments: check it out!