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The Impact of Fast Fashion on the Environment

The Impact of Fast Fashion on the Environment

First of all, I would be remiss if I didn’t point out how much we all love fashion. We all want to keep up with trends, but fashion is the second most polluting industry in the world. Fast fashion’s main critique stems from pollution and sweatshops. The pollution contributes to climate change, and sweatshops do not treat employees fairly with the working conditions. Brands are becoming increasingly conscious about how their businesses are affecting the bigger picture.

You may be thinking, why do these issues arise, and what role does fashion play in damaging the planet? Our commitments to eco-friendliness are hindered by fast fashion and constant changes in trends. We as consumers are always looking for ways to cut costs while remaining loyal to our desires. Updating one’s wardrobe frequently usually culminates in clothes that are no longer used. Moreover, a clothing’s life cycle ends when consumers make a purchase that is considered either mature, out of style or no longer wearable. Consequently, people tend to throw away perfectly good clothing which contributes to the global waste concern.

Sustainability & Fashion

Today, mass-market clothing brands are pushing their newest collections out every month in order to keep up with consumerism. Customers usually purchase on a whim and consequently thrive off affordable clothing. These high-street brands maintain their low prices by exploiting the cheap workforce in third world countries like China, India, and Indonesia. 

Fast fashion relies on materials such as cotton and polyester to create comfortable clothes, which can be resold repeatedly. Such issues have huge impacts on the environment. Synthetic fibres like polyester can take up to 200 years to decompose, adding to the landfill problem. Alternatively, cotton uses more water than any fibre in the industry, causing global water shortages in some countries. Farms also use a lot of fertilizers and pesticides to help produce natural fibres, which damage soil and land. These chemicals can wash into the little water they have, making it unsafe to drink or wash in. Finally, the pesticides, chemicals, and fabric dyes get washed into rivers from textile factories which can poison local residents.

What Can We Do To Reduce Fashion Waste?

So what can we do to reduce the problem? We all enjoy fashion. From using the trends to express ourselves with style, fashion has its cultural uses. It would be silly to say stop buying into fashion. However, we can still make small changes to avoid harming the environment whilst staying on-trend. 


Instead of throwing away clothing, you should donate, sell, or swap an item with a friend to extend its lifecycle. Recycling existing clothing in good condition helps a piece of clothing live on and reduces unwanted waste. Platforms such as Depop, eBay and Vinted specialise in these services. For designer items, Vestaire is a great way to sell pre-loved luxury goods.

Alternatively, you can carry your formerly loved goods to your local charity shop. You never know what steals you can get, or give to someone.


 On the other hand, if the clothing is preloved and getting a bit worse for wear, try upcycling. Upcycling is a growing trend where you can turn old garments into fresh new items. Take for example the Versace jungle dress from the years 2000 and 2020 respectively. The same fabric is being used, and modern technology has changed the dress into something powerful and of its time. Comparatively, an oversized jumper dress is a go-to for many fashionistas.

If you get fatigued from old jumper dresses, turn it into a co-ordinate of a crop top and bottoms? The world is your oyster when it comes to upcycling.


Another way to help increase sustainability is by making conscious votes with your money. Specifically, purchasing from sustainable brands that adhere to strong ethical and environmental principles. Increased demand for sustainable clothing leads to an increased supply of sustainable clothing.

Many brands are shifting towards providing ethically sourced clothing. A few of the largest retailers are ASOS, H&M and Zara. You can also flip the label of the tag when you go shopping. If the garment is ethically sourced, there will be an indication of this.


Lastly, buy clothing you need and do not want. A capsule wardrobe filled with staple pieces gives you endless outfit combinations at your disposal. These pieces can be worn many times over, and matched with new and mature wardrobe garments. You won’t spend a fortune in the long run due to your investments in good quality basics. These investments will stand the test of time, compared to that one shirt that you repurchase regularly from Primark.

While sustainable clothing can be more costly in the short term, it will pay for itself over time with durability.

There is no doubt that we are all guilty of buying fast fashion. High-street brands are very adept at keeping up with the latest trends that mass markets love to follow. Nevertheless, these small changes can contribute greatly to the quality of life on Earth and increase global sustainability. 

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