It’s Time to Slam the Brakes on Fast Fashion
Fast fashion doesn’t have a speed limit.
That needs to change.
The clothing industry is dominated by predatory brands now, which rely on the practice of constantly setting new trends in order to drive demand for cheap goods. They churn out tons of clothing every year, and most of it ends up in landfills months or even weeks later.
High profile celebrities operate at the center of this industry, and they’re complicit in the damage.
Now we’ve even got ultra-fast fashion, with companies like H&M and Zara adding somewhere around 4,000 styles to their websites every single year. They make these outfits as cheap and fast as possible, with zero regard for the waste they produce. People get hooked on the cycle of buying new clothes to fill the void in their lives, wear them a few weeks, then either hide them in their closet or just throw them away before ordering more. Some of these companies, like Shein, are valued at $100 billion.
Look, I’m not saying we should be walking around in burlap bags, but this is getting ridiculous. You should feel angry.
It’s killing us.
We’re crashing our carbon budget.
There’s this thing called the carbon budget.
It refers to the amount of carbon, in theory, we’re allowed to produce to avoid crossing over crucial temperature thresholds (like 1.5 degrees Celsius) that make global warming irreversible. That assumes we drastically cut our emissions by 2030. Some scientists believe we’ve already overshot our budget, and now we’re adding to the damage.
We’re not doing very well.
Carbon emissions reached their highest level ever in 2021, rising by 6 percent to 36 billion metric tons. So while politicians and the media cheered the strong return of consumer demand after the pandemic, they were actually applauding the destruction of our species.
You can give a slow clap to the U.S. and other developed countries for a tiny drop in our emissions, but that’s because we’ve relocated all of our dirty coal burning industries overseas.
In my book, you don’t get credit for saving the planet when you simply hire other countries to make all your cheap plastic crap, then have them ship it back across the ocean for you.
Here’s where fast fashion comes in:
If you believe we have a carbon budget left, fast fashion alone will consume up to 10 or even 20 percent of that budget by 2050. At 2.1 billion tons, it already makes up 4 percent of total carbon emissions. That’s a lot of carbon for something so fleeting and superficial.
I’m sorry, it is.
It takes 5,000 gallons of water to produce a single cotton shirt or a pair of jeans. The dyeing process for clothing produces 20 percent of the world’s wastewater, most of which can’t be treated. We can never use that water again, at least not for drinking or bathing. Experts predict the fashion industry will be using 50 percent more water by 2030.
Fast fashion produces incredible waste.
The entire industry depends on young people constantly buying new clothes, producing anywhere from 50 to 60 million tons of apparel every year. More than half of that winds up in landfills, or it gets incinerated. A lot of these clothes don’t even last more than a few wash cycles before they start falling apart. These companies use toxic materials like viscose to make their clothes, causing even more damage.
Basically, we’re killing the planet.
For disposable jeans.
Fast fashion acts like an addiction.
Like so many other companies, fast fashion outlets get their customers hooked on dopamine hits from shopping. They use social media to create a universe of escapism for miserable young people.
These young people retreat from reality into their web of apps and influencer media, and start buying stuff.
They go into debt.
There’s a term for this, and it’s called retail therapy. People shop to relieve the stress from their daily existence and to find some sense of purpose and belonging. Fast fashion exploits it.
They know what they’re doing.
To make things worse, some of these companies even engage in green-washing. They toss in words like “sustainable” to help consumers feel less guilty about what they’re doing.
It’s sinister stuff.
You can slow down fast fashion.
Not every company is out to kill you, or the planet.
Some companies are embracing genuine sustainability. They’re sourcing alternative materials that do less damage to the environment, and they use fewer resources. They make clothing that lasts longer, and they don’t use manipulative influencer marketing.
They just sell clothes.
Politicians are actually starting to show some interest in regulating the fast fashion industry, and I’m all for it. Two senators from New York recently introduced the Fashion Sustainability and Social Accountability Act, which would compel big brands to curb their carbon footprints and ensure safe working conditions for their employees.
You can help in two ways:
- Support legislation like this, and push for it where you live.
- Buy from more sustainable clothing companies and give them a shout out. Change your mindset and change other people’s by encouraging them to buy clothes that last.
- Buy used, thrift, and consignment.
- Join a Buy Nothing group.
You can also help by fighting the toxic and somewhat sexist cultural pressure on women to constantly parade themselves around in new outfits all the time. Seriously, there’s no excuse for buying something if you’re hardly ever going to wear it. There’s also no excuse for berating women who wear the same shirt twice in one week.
You don’t necessarily have to break your budget on trendy sustainable apparel brands. You just have to buy things you’re going to wear, and then wear them for a long time. Resist the urge to buy a piece of clothing simply because it looks good on someone else. Help create a society where we don’t feel the need to escape through retail therapy.
It’s worth a shot.
Remember the point of clothes.
Clothes have always been a status symbol.
Fast fashion turned them into a cheap disposable one that’s now one of the biggest threats to our future.
That should stop.
You can celebrate clothing without producing tons of waste. You can buy clothes that look good and also last a long time. None of us need to be filling closets with useless stuff anymore.
Fast fashion has gone far enough.
It’s time to hit the brakes.