Is fast fashion worth the price?

Illustration by Roe | The Signal

We have all shamefully ignored the devastating effects the fast fashion industry has had on the entire world. It has done irreversible damage to the environment and taken advantage of cheap labor worldwide. The industry uses wide profit margins and our culture’s quickly changing taste in trends to create a trillion-dollar industry. Here we have provided information to inspire you to wear sustainable, ethical clothing.


The journal Laws published that “the fashion industry’s very raison d’être is inherently diametrically opposed to sustainability,” as they rely heavily on “the fashion paradox.” This relationship exists between consumers’ insatiable need to own the most exclusive and latest trends and the trend’s subsequent loss of desirability as more people buy the same garments. 


This dichotomy creates massive amounts of waste and pollution. Garments continuously come in and out of style, with many ending up in landfills once the trend has passed.


The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that in 2017 alone, 8.9 million tons of clothing were disposed of in landfills. Additionally, synthetic microfibers make up an estimated 85% of human-made debris on ocean shorelines. Unlike natural fibers, such as cotton or wool, they may take 200 years or more to decompose.


Water pollution from synthetic polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic microfibers has entered the human food chain through our consumption of aquatic animals and our drinking water. In addition to microfibers, water pollution from chemical dyes is a growing concern within the scientific community.


The Journal of Natural Science reports that the textile dyeing industry contributes an estimated 17% to 20% of global industrial water pollution. The use of synthetic dyes that contain highly toxic chemicals should concern you.  These chemicals include chromium compounds, acetic acid, arsenic, lead and mercury, all of which appear on the CDC’s Immediately Dangerous to Life or Health (IDLH) list.


In addition to water pollution, the global fashion industry accounts for 10% of the world’s carbon emissions, which arise from both the production and supply chain processes.


Unfortunately, global pollution is only some of the crimes the fast fashion industry has committed against humanity. The ethics of labor, or lack thereof, are well known and horrifyingly overlooked within the fast fashion industry. 


The low cost of the clothing comes at the workers’ expense, as they are underpaid and exploited. Among them are children, who should have no business working in hazardous conditions. Fast fashion contributes to the 73 million children in dangerous work reported by the International Labor Organization in 2019


Three years ago, popular British retailers were in the hot seat when The Guardian reported their clothes were made by children in Myanmar who were paid what equates to 17 U.S. pennies. Child labor may not be entirely illegal, but it contributes to halting education and developmental growth. 


The health risks, both mentally and physically, that child workers face are staggering. The Journal of Public Health compiled a systematic review of child labor’s detrimental health effects, including malnutrition, poor growth and drug, verbal, physical and sexual abuse. The study primarily focuses on low and middle-income countries. Fast fashion’s involvement cannot be ignored. 


“School attendance, family income and status, daily working hours and likelihood of abuse, in its different forms, were found to be associated with the mental health outcomes in working children,” according to the journal. 


The featured study of child labor in Turkey concluded that “62.5% of the child laborers were subjected to abuse at their workplaces; 21.8% physical, 53.6% emotional and 25.2% sexual.”


In the same journal, it was reported in Brazil that manufacturing workers had a “significantly increased risk for musculoskeletal pain and back pain, while child workers in domestic services had 17% more musculoskeletal pain and 23% more back pain than non-workers.” 


How would you feel as a child to endanger yourself every day for people who do not have your best interest? This world is built on modern-day slavery, where the humanity of millions is disrespected and disregarded. Many people are aware that this is happening, but the fashion industry hides it from the public. 


Empathy is sorely lacking for child laborers, especially in the United States. A lot is happening globally, and many people’s lives are worse than they were eight months ago. But the well-being of these children has been ignored for what feels like an eternity. All of this suffering occurs just so the rich become richer.


The U.S. also has its own child labor issues, but adults primarily make clothing. Adults work below minimum wage in their own backyard. Over 90% of workers in the global garment industry cannot negotiate their wages or working conditions, according to the global trade union IndustriALL.


Several movements fight to protect laborers and the environment. Fashion Revolution has compiled a list of organizations that fight against the effects of fast fashion. To make a difference, you should be aware of the retailers who participate in these heinous crimes.


Unfortunately, sustainably-made clothing costs increase because proprietors do not cut corners. Having a sustainable supply chain means that they have to produce less and charge more. Buying clothes with ethics in mind is difficult when shopping for cheap and quickly-produced clothes is best for you financially.


No brand is entirely ethical, but brands such as ABLE, VERLOOP, People Tree, and PACT have taken strides to alleviate the carnage done by fast fashion. Amour Vert and The Conscious Outfit have local stores in Atlanta for your post-COVID visitation. Popular brands like Levi’s, Patagonia and Columbia have varying degrees of ethical practices as well.


If you want a more comfortable and affordable way to take a stand, thrift shopping and buying fewer clothes can make a difference. If you’d like to diversify your style while remaining sustainable, consider doing a clothing swap with your friends. 


For a more adventurous, do-it-yourself approach, learn to sew and repair your own clothing. You can use fabric or old garments you’ve lost interest in. This way, you can regain interest in your wardrobe without purchasing new items. 


Professor Dilys Williams from the London College of Fashion believes that the fashion industry’s current trajectory must change soon for the good of our planet and its people. 


“Do we want to sustain the fashion industry as it currently is, or do we want to live within planetary boundaries and [honor] human equality? If we do, we do need to take a more eco-centric perspective.”