Special exhibition in the Museum for European Cultures on fashion production. Fast fashion is an outlet for cheap and trendy clothing. MEDEA7/CC BY-SA 3.0

The fast fashion industry serves as an outlet for cheap and trendy clothing. It’s seemingly an ideal resort, but one fostering many environmental hazards. It has caught the attention of all seeking affordable options for fashion expenditures, with fast fashion stores like Shein and Uniqlo being heavily popularized in recent years. The industry operates through international business, exploiting underdeveloped countries and workers by demanding excessive labor among poor conditions for minimal pay. 

Accused of modern slavery by their workers, fast fashion factories all over the world have been reported for violating labor rights. The industry ensures maximum profit by taking their work overseas to third world countries, where they hire and pay workers a significantly low paycheck for excessive and overtime labor. The labor, forced mainly onto women and children, is conducted almost only in sweatshop environments — hundreds of hours a week are poured into work that people in countries like India, China and Bangladesh are desperate for. Due to low manufacturing costs and high poverty rates, people are coerced into taking jobs for fast fashion companies and are left to experience poor living and working conditions, gender-based harassment and exploitation. 

Waste and excessive consumption of clothing have also proved to be an issue. With a significant increase in global consumption, millions of acres of low-quality clothes find themselves in landfills. This is not only because of human negligence and refusal to donate but because of the poor fabrics becoming quickly worn out. Waste is also attributed to the number of materials that are thrown away in the process of production, which — once incinerated — release and expose nearby communities to toxic substances through greenhouse gas emissions.

The fast fashion industry also contributes to about 20% of global wastewater by consuming a 10th of the water used for factories and product cleaning. Each cotton shirt demands a considerable 3,000 liters of water and a kilogram of cotton requires 10,000. Additionally, the use of plastic microfibers found in low-quality materials such as polyester further the carbon emission rate, and by moving production to developing countries without fixed environmental regulations, our oceans become tainted with toxic water and synthetic materials. 


In the addition to environmental hazards and a disregard for human rights, fast fashion also takes away from brands who sacrifice the proper time, money and tools to enhance production. It was reported that Shein, one of the more popular fast fashion outlets, appropriated a design from the Black-owned brand, Elexiay, and sold it for a significantly cheaper cost. The designer took to Twitter, stating that they had “Spent hours designing and brainstorming this design and it takes days to crochet each sweater. It’s quite disheartening to see my hard work reduced to a machine made copy.”

Concurrent with its environmental effects, fast fashion maintains a drastic influence on economic status. The apparel industry has seen a growth of nearly 5% because of perpetual shopping in upkeep with the latest trends. Marketing cheap and fashionable clothing has fueled shopping culture worldwide, thus contributing to the economy. 

I would argue that at such a significant risk to global wellness, fast fashion, despite its convenience, affordability and accessibility, has outweighed the cons. Its detriments on human health, oceans and marine life, air quality and the development of poor nations have been, while recently more acknowledged, too overlooked to see a difference. Donating should be more commonly practiced, excessive consumption and production should be hauled, working conditions and wages in foreign countries should be reformed and the wellbeing of our planet should be prioritized over the obsession with continual fashion trends.


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