by Trey Anthony Owens, Summer Intern

In recent weeks you may have seen a Levis commercial briefly explaining the environmental impact of fashion and the steps we can take to fix it. This may have made you think about how fashion and the environment intersect or if they do at all. However, these two topics very much intersect. In recent decades a new business phenomenon called “Fast Fashion” has appeared and it is having a major negative impact on the environment in various different aspects.

Fast Fashion is a business model based on the concept of Quick Response Manufacturing. Quick Response Manufacturing is a technique that is used to match the trends of the time in a fast way by using cheap material and cheap labor to sell the product as quickly as possible. This allows companies to make large amounts of profit off of continuous changes in their consumers’ taste. However, this process of making large amounts of clothes quickly has a significant negative impact on the environment.

The business model of fast fashion produces massive amounts of waste each year, extremely hurting the environment. According to Rachel Bick, Erika Halsey, and Christine C. Ekenga, 80 billion pieces of clothing are bought worldwide each year, with the United States consuming the most. A staggering statistic provided by the EPA is that in 2018 11,300,000 tons of clothing went to landfills in the United States. Fast Fashion enables these habits by providing trendy clothes quickly. Also, most clothes produced use polyester, a fabric that is made from oil, or cotton, a fabric that requires a large amount of water. National Geographic estimates that to make one cotton shirt it takes 2,700 liters of water.

Another negative aspect of fast fashion is the poor working conditions for those who are making the clothes and the impact it has on those individuals physically and mentally. After clothes are used and thrown away, they usually go to landfills or go to low-income to middle-income countries where they are sometimes used but mostly become solid waste that is not managed in an effective way. 

Lastly, the dyeing of textiles in the process of making clothes can cause toxins to be released into the environment at a very high level. The business model of fast fashion creates all of these negative effects that are having a major impact on the environment. 

The fast fashion business model of recent times has accelerated the process of making clothes, however this has led to extreme negative impacts on the environment. While fast fashion is happening on a very macro level, there are still things you can do on a daily basis to go against this business model.

6 Actions to Improve Fashion & The Environment

    • Buy Less, buying less clothing is the most effective way to improve the fashion industry and help the environment. Buying less clothing decreases the demand for new clothing, slowing the production of new clothing.
    • Buy Durable, buying durable clothes allows you to wear clothes longer, decreasing your need to buy new clothes, and similarly to buying less it decreases the demand for new clothing. Buying durable clothing also decreases the amount of clothing thrown away, decreasing waste.
    • Research Where You Buy From, researching who you buy your clothing from allows you to know if they are contributing to fast fashion or doing unethical practices, and can help you avoid those businesses to try and help fix this aspect of the fashion industry.
    • Repair Clothing, if an item of clothing is damaged, look into options to repair it before throwing it away. This is an extremely helpful way to help us waste and buy less.
    • Buy Second Hand, buying second hand is another way for us to waste less. Buying clothing from second hand stores helps clothing not be wasted by presenting those clothes another opportunity to be worn.
    • Donate Clothing, Although clothing that is donated does not always make it to another person’s hands, it still provides an opportunity for those clothes to not be wasted.

Similar to other topics in sustainability, the negative impact of fast fashion can seem scary, disheartening, and distressful. However, there are things we can do to improve our fashion industry and make it a sustainable part of our society. Together we can make actions that can make a better and sustainable world for all of us.