Fast-Fashion Endangers Lives, Environment

Mindy Luo, Staff Writer

Generations ago, clothing was hand-sewn, custom-made, and very expensive–most people could only afford to buy new outfits once a year or so. Nowadays, in an affluent community such as Lamorinda, we can afford to pick and choose what we wear. But are we choosing correctly? 

In our fast-paced, modern world, you can walk into H&M or Forever 21 and find the shelves stocked to the max with clothing that is both cheap and trendy. According to Harvard Business Review, the clothing store Zara can design and distribute a garment to market in just 15 days. 

Clothing stores that produce fashion trends at these breakneck speeds follow the “fast fashion” business model. The phrase “fast-fashion” refers to clothing that mimics luxury brands, yet can also be produced much quicker and cheaper. Fast-fashion’s popularity has boomed greatly among young consumers in the past decade because it allows them to “stay trendy” at a cheap price.

However, there is a sad truth: while we, as consumers, can enjoy the latest affordable trends, fast-fashion has deadly drawbacks on both the environment and on its factory laborers.

In exchange for affordable clothing, consumers have to deal with the decreased quality of the products they are buying. Clothing now falls apart quickly as a result of cheap fabrics and loosely sewn hems. According to MSNBC, most clothes are worn, on average, only 7 times before they are discarded as a result of the poor quality. 

Consumers then need to buy replacements. This promotes a “throw away culture” that leaves landfills piled up with clothing, creating unneeded trash. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Americans throw away an estimated 12.8 million tons of textiles a year.

As a way to cut production costs, companies are also now preferring to use plastic fabrics such as polyester over eco-friendly fabrics such as linen or cotton. According to Forbes, 85% of human-made material found along ocean shores come from the plastic microfibers shed from our synthetic clothing after doing our laundry. These microplastics pollute the ocean, threaten marine wildlife, and end up in our own food supply.

Garment factories are also polluting the air. According to Forbes, the apparel industry accounts for 10% of global carbon emissions, indicating that fast-fashion contributes to climate change.

It’s ridiculous that the clothes we wear contribute to the planet’s demise.

And like our environment, the workers that make your clothing are also being mistreated. Although according to Forbes 1/6 of the global population works in the fashion industry, many of these people are being exploited for cheap labor because they live in poverty-stricken places like Bangladesh and India.

Brands as mainstream as Nike and Victoria’s Secret have been known to buy into sweatshops that don’t provide their workers with a safe work environment just to cut down on costs. Workers slave away for factories that completely ignore health and safety regulations.

This greed comes at the cost of human lives. In 2013, the Rana Plaza, a garment factory in Bangladesh, collapsed, killing over 1,100 people. The reason for this disaster was that fashion companies completely ignored the building regulations because it was “too expensive” and continued to let workers work in a deadly environment. The event was even referred to as an “industrial genocide.”

When their lives at work aren’t threatened, their livelihoods are. Laborers in Bangladesh must work 100 hours/week in order to afford basic necessities like food, shelter, and water. Cheap labor may lead to cheaper clothes for consumers who are lucky enough to have a comfortable life, but for workers in poverty, being provided a reasonable wage or a safe work environment could split the line between life and death for them and their families.

Fast-fashion is a driving force behind child labor in these poorer countries. According to the International Labour Organization, 11% of the world’s children are in a situation that deprives them of their right to go to school without interference from work and many of these child laborers work within the fashion supply chain.

The child laborers exploited by the garment industry probably made your shirt instead of going to school.

If you want to protect the environment and support impoverished workers, stop shopping at brands like Forever 21, Topshop, Zara, and HM. Instead, choose alternatives such as thrift shopping. There are also sustainable brands that make sure their clothing is made ethically, such as Patagonia and Reformation. You can even mend your ripped clothing that might otherwise be thrown away.

Fast-fashion businesses do not provide a good service for the world. Instead, their motives are purely driven by greed. We have the choice to stop supporting fast-fashion brands. Something as simple as deciding what clothes to buy could have a big impact on the world.