Fast Fashion: A clothing calamity

by Julia Kinghan


Fashion is a form of self-expression and is considered to be an art. Unfortunately in the last 20 years it has become increasingly prevalent that fashion comes at a cost. The phenomenon of Fast Fashion is increasingly putting our environment and lifestyles at risk, begging the question:


“Is it even possible to save the world and look good doing it?”

What is Fast Fashion?

According to an Investopedia article Fast Fashion is defined as a response to an increase in market and spending power of consumers and their desire to have access to mainstream, trendy clothing often based on high fashion and celebrity culture.The growth of the Fast Fashion Industry has increasingly produced vast amounts of mass-produced, low-quality garments for wide-spread retail stores using quick and cost-effective production of clothing elaboratesThe Good Trade.

How is Fast Fashion Produced?

Statistics from FashionUnited show that the global Fashion Industry currently accounts for approximately 2% of global Gross Domestic Product (GPD) making it one of the largest industries in the world. Fast Fashion specifically is a recent phenomenon, but one with a rapid rate of expansion.


The University of Queensland states that from 2010-2015 alone, a period of 5 years, Fast Fashion Retailers grew by approximately 10%. According to the United Nations Development Program it produces up to 100 Billion garments a year, the equivalent of 14 items of clothing for every person on Earth. A Statista analysis estimates that [1] [2] [3] in 2020 alone the Worldwide Fashion Revenue equated to 717,993 Million dollars. The United Nations calculate it to be a 2.4 trillion-dollar industry.


With the insurgence of Fast fashion came a change from the traditional seasonal release of clothing-lines. Fast Fashion “micro-seasons” began producing up to 52 new clothing-lines a year per retail store. The new access to variety and shorter garment lifespans spurred a huge increase in clothing consumerism.

Infographic 1 Source: Textile World

In The True Cost, a documentary on the effects of Fast Fashion, investigations revealed that the current global consumption rate is about 80 Billion items of clothing annually. That’s 60% more clothing consumption than in 2000, only 20 years ago. In 2015 it was estimated that our textile consumption had increased by 400% since the 1980s.


Wrap analyses show that statistically, a single shopper in the United Kingdom will throw out about 70 kilograms of clothing annually and will only ever wear approximately 70% of their wardrobe most of the time. In Australia, the 2nd largest consumer of new textiles after the US according to Textile World, about 27 kilograms of clothes are bought per person annually. 85% of all clothing bought ends up in landfills.

It is estimated Nature that with its current trajectory Fast Fashion will have increased its current resource consumption by 60% by 2030 and more than tripled it by the year 2050. A publication by the UK Government estimates that usable supplies of water are being depleted at a rate that the world will be unable to support by 2030 and a 35% increase it’s land consumption, equivalent to 115 million hectares, is expected by 2030. A report by Pulse of the Fashion also anticipates the Fashion Industry to use over 25% of the world’s carbon budget by 2050.


[Infographic 2 Source: ellenmacarthurfoundation.org]

Why is it bad?

As stated by the United Nations there are approximately 60 million people employed in the garment industry to provide clothing for Fast Fashion brands and retail stores. WorldBank statistics show that of these 60 million, about 15 million are based in Asia and 80% of them are estimated to be women. These women are usually young and from rural or impoverished backgrounds. They are often exploited, paid far below minimum wage and often made to work in unhealthy or even structurally dangerous environments.


The business model of Fast Fashion relies on cheap material and cheap labour, often from economically struggling countries.This enables the production of mass amounts of clothing at a marginal profit. The result is large profits for the companies to the detriment of their workforce.


[Infographic 3 Source: ellenmacarthurfoundation.org]


Fast Fashion is also environmentally damaging and unsustainable.


After Oil pollution, the Fashion industry is considered by the UN Conference on Trade and Development to be the 2nd largest producer of toxic waste and pollution in the world.


According to Common Objective it depletes non-renewable resources, produces huge amounts of greenhouse gas and relies on synthetic fibres such as polyester, nylon, and acrylic for 63% of its material. All of these fibres are petroleum plastics that take up to 1000 years to biodegrade.


The Nature Magazine reports the textile industry produces 1.2 billion tonnes of CO2e (Carbon Dioxide Equivalent) annually which is more than maritime shipping and International flights combined making up to 5% of Earth’s total emissions from the fashion industry alone. Of all clothing produced annually, almost 60% of it will be disposed of within a year either by incineration or landfill. This equates to one garbage truck of clothes being thrown away every second.


Nature continues to report that less than 1% of material is recycled within the clothing industry as the process of breaking clothing down into its base fibres is expensive and time-consuming and only about 13% is recycled for use in other areas. Globally 85% of clothes end up in landfills and in the US alone 11 million tonnes of textiles a year are thrown away or disposed of often leading to water and soil contamination.


Clothing production often involves the use of toxic chemicals, dyes and synthetic fabrics that can pollute nearby water sources when they are being made and being washed, warns the United Nations Developement Program. A 2017 Study by Pulse of the Fashion Industry shows that in 2015 alone the clothing production industry used up to 80 billion cubic metres of freshwater.


This is comparable to 32 million Olympic sized swimming pools. It subsequently produces 92 million tons of wastewater annually, making clothing production one of the largest water-consuming industries in the world. With about 8000 chemicals being used in clothing manufacturing, up to 1.7 million tons of harmful microfibres end up in the waste-water and find their way into the oceans annually according to Science Direct: Science of the Total Environment.


Lucy Siegle, The Guardian Journalist, concludes that with the amount of textile waste produced by the Fashion Industry, it would take our latest technology approximately 12 years to recycle the amount of material made in just 48 hours.


But there is hope!

Environmental and Global Organisations worldwide are coming up with solutions and there are ways for you to help as well. Even if it just means that you don’t throw out that shirt that you just got a year ago! By buying clothes from ECA-accredited clothing companies, choosing quality over quantity and reusing or donating old clothing you can make a difference.

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Rhodes University (UCKAR), Makhanda (Grahastown), Eastern Cape

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