By: Alisha Bhogal
Fast fashion refers to the area of the fashion industry that is geared towards producing the latest trends at relatively low prices. Many individuals relish being able to stay on top of the newest trends and not go over their spending limits. However, these large fashion companies have done an excellent job concealing the truth from us consumers. Fast fashion companies can mass-produce clothing items and have low-profit margins since they cut back on other expenses. For instance, poor working conditions for employees, insufficient pay, and outsourcing from countries with few environmental policies are highly unsustainable. Most notable examples of fast fashion companies include Zara, Shein, H&M and Urban Outfitters. All of these companies are highly successful, as they cater to providing buyers with precisely what they want for a fraction of the price.
The reasoning behind why fast fashion is raising concern amongst activists across the globe has to do with its detrimental environmental impacts. According to the Ellen McArthur Foundation, the fast fashion industry is responsible for nearly 10% of annual greenhouse gas emissions . And has stated that it is more than international flights and maritime usage. You may be wondering, where exactly are these emissions coming from? Well, from the very beginning of when an item is manufactured, transported to stores and the consumer, and then typically thrown away, there are many opportunities to negatively impact the environment. Nearly 1.2 billion tonnes of carbon emissions annually result from fast fashion. Many individuals believe that clothing articles can be worn a few times before it is deemed “waste” and ultimately takes space in a landfill . A report from Carbon Literacy found that companies have increased the number of new clothing collections from 2 per year to 24 since 2000 . We need to step back and reconsider the impacts of our everyday choices and make a change.
A prime example of the severity and consequences of supporting fast fashion companies was the 2013 Rana Plaza collapse, which supplied garments to companies including the Canadian-based Joe Fresh and many others. Nearly 230 workers were killed, and many others severely injured. Improper building maintenance, management and not providing workers with proper working conditions lead to the collapse. Before the collapse, workers recalled seeing “cracks” forming along the walls of the building. However, management deemed the conditions “safe to work in” and failed to address the issue adequately. Following the collapse, families were given compensation, and Joe Fresh made press releases, etc. However, the company continues to outsource goods from Bangladesh to this day. Although this incident shed light on the negative impact of the fast fashion industry, these companies remain to manufacture goods and supply goods at lower prices. Some may say to prohibit companies from outsourcing from less developed countries entirely. However, it is vital to recognize that it would render many individuals jobless without these manufacturing plants. These companies provide individuals with a source of income. However, further pressure needs to be placed on these companies to ensure that workers are paid adequately and are in safe working conditions.
Some companies have addressed their environmental impact and presence in the fast fashion industry. For instance, H&M created a line of clothing labelled “Conscious,” which claims that “at least 50% of each piece [clothing article] is made from more sustainable materials”. Similarly, they have a policy by CanopyStyle (a company that encourages sustainable fashion practices) that will prevent deforestation in some areas of its supply chain, along with many other guidelines to make H&M more sustainable. While it is true that companies as such are publicising their efforts to become more sustainable, creating new and improved policies and new clothing lines, there is hardly ever any actual evidence of them following through. This is the case for many companies we blindly support and never actually stop to think of the harm they are causing to our environment. It is up to us to, instead of buying conscious products, to instead become conscious consumers.
It is up to us as a society to educate ourselves and others around us to create a brighter future. We need to start taking action and pay attention to our purchasing habits. For starters, the easiest way to stop fast fashion is to stop purchasing goods from these brands entirely or buy new items less often. This concept is beautifully summarised in a quote by Patagonia’s Chief Product Officer, “The most environmentally sustainable jacket is the one that’s already in your closet…” . Since fast fashion companies thrive off consumers and their bizarre purchasing habits, eliminating that would raise concern for these companies. It is crucial as consumers to realize that our actions do impact the environment, and our failure to recognize that has led to our earth suffering the consequences.
Another way we can become more sustainable buyers is to shop from sustainable and ethical brands. Companies such as Patagonia, an activist company, and IKEA, which manufacture products from sustainable materials, are prime examples of sustainable companies (Check out the link at the end of the article). When society begins to support more sustainable companies, this can pressure companies to also engage in sustainable practices and create a cause for action.
Buying items from thrift stores or other second-hand shops is a great way to improve our carbon footprint drastically. Thrift stores acquire nearly all merchandise through donations and help to reduce garment waste significantly. According to an article published by The Recycling Council of Ontario, the average Canadian throws out 81 pounds of textiles annually . So, when you think that your choices will not leave an impact, it’s important to realize they do!
Lastly, we can shift to purchasing locally made goods and supporting small businesses. This will contribute to the betterment of your community, but it is much more susceptible than buying from fast fashion companies that pay little or no regard to the environment. Many small businesses purchase raw materials, manufacture goods themselves and take care of shipping themselves. It is up to us as consumers to decide whether to continue supporting companies willing to put our environment at risk or make a change.
Sometimes, buying sustainable or more ethically sourced items can become costly; fast fashion companies have expedited shipping times and often charge a fraction of the price a sustainable company would impose. However, the only way that we will see a change is if we as a society choose to make it happen. We need to decide if we are willing to put our environment at risk or help create a better world to live in by reflecting upon our purchasing habits.
To get brand sustainability ratings check out the link below:
This website provides brands with a sustainability rating score and rates brands on three main categories: Planet, People and Animal ratings.
This website also is a great resource to find more articles about sustainability and the impacts of fast fashion, be sure to check it out!
 comms. “The Average Person Throws Away 37 Kilograms of Textiles Annually.” Recycling Council of Ontario, 2019, rco.on.ca/the-average-person-throws-away-37-kilograms-of-textiles-annually/#:~:text=In%20Canada%2C%20the%20average%20person,Waste%20Reduction%20Week%20in%20Canada.. Accessed 29 May 2022.
 “Fast Fashion’s Carbon Footprint – the Carbon Literacy Project.” The Carbon Literacy Project, 17 Aug. 2021, carbonliteracy.com/fast-fashions-carbon-footprint/. Accessed 30 May 2022.
 How. “SustainYourStyle.” SustainYourStyle, 2014, http://www.sustainyourstyle.org/en/reducing-our-impact. Accessed 29 May 2022.
 World Bank Group. “How Much Do Our Wardrobes Cost to the Environment?” World Bank, World Bank Group, 8 Oct. 2019, http://www.worldbank.org/en/news/feature/2019/09/23/costo-moda-medio-ambiente#:~:text=The%20fashion%20industry%20is%20responsible,more%20than%2050%20%25%20by%202030.. Accessed 29 May 2022.