Fast Fashion Is Harming the Environment

by Claire Hsu

Opinion

May 31, 2021

The fashion industry plays a part in all of our lives. It is constantly evolving, and the more it grows, the more it ravages our environment, making the industry the second largest polluter in the world.1 Even though the industry is producing millions of tons of waste and polluting our air, water, and earth, so-called “fast fashion” companies continue their wasteful but successful methods, and consumers, pressured by social standards and these companies, can’t change their habits of buying and throwing out an abundance of clothes. 

Fast fashion is one of the most disastrous problems of the fashion industry. Fast fashion is the mass and rapid production of inexpensive clothing, replicating various trends based on runways and high-end designs. Trends today change very quickly because of the growing culture and media we are exposed to, so the fast fashion industry is releasing more and more clothing in a shorter span of time, each brand averaging fifty-two micro-seasons a year; previously, two seasons were the usual.1 The rapid release of these multitudes of collections makes consumers feel like their clothing is out of date, and they continue purchasing from fast fashion companies to keep up. Because of this cycle, the fashion industry produces a whopping eighty billion garments a year, around 400% more clothes than twenty years ago. Quickly changing trends are only part of the problem — the quality of these garments has declined so much that an average of thirty-five kilograms of textiles per person are thrown out every year in the United States.1 This colossal amount of textile waste is very damaging to our environment, especially since 72% of our clothing is made of synthetic fibers, such as polyester, rayon, and nylon.2

Synthetic fibers are a common man-made clothing material, and although they are cheap to make, they are very hard to dispose of. These fabrics produce poisonous chemicals when burnt, can leach these chemicals into the environment, and are non-biodegradable. Instead of biodegrading, the fabrics break down into small microplastics, known as microfibers. One load of laundry can release 700,000 microfibers.2 These fibers then travel everywhere; they sink to the bottom of the seafloor and can travel through soil and air to all parts of our Earth, composing up to 35% of primary microplastics, microplastics that are less than five millimeters in size upon entering the environment, in the marine environment.2 They are very harmful to the environment because they can harm fish and other marine organisms that accidentally consume them and can even injure humans and animals that consume these marine organisms, in turn.

Even though only fast fashion companies have the power to truly solve this problem, there are still some things that we, as consumers, can do to help our environment. Perhaps the best thing we could do for our environment is to buy less clothing, since buying any piece of clothing, no matter how green it claims to be, will create a negative environmental impact. Buying second-hand clothes or donating old clothes are other good alternatives. We can also reduce our environmental impact by buying better quality clothing, which will likely last longer, reducing the amount of waste created. And if we all refrain from buying poor quality fast fashion clothing, it will push fast fashion brands to produce better quality clothing.


1 M. Charpail, “What’s wrong with the fashion industry?” Sustain Your Style, 2017,
https://www.sustainyourstyle.org/en/whats-wrong-with-the-fashion-industry#anchor-fast-fashion.

2 Catie Tobin, “How Plastic Pollution Is Being Woven into Fast Fashion Culture,” New Security Beat, July 30, 2020,
http://www.newsecuritybeat.org/2020/07/plastic-pollution-woven-fast-fashion-culture-2/.

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