The Human Cost of Fast Fashion: Fast fashion has widely been acknowledged as one of the leading causes of, and solutions to, the environmental crisis.
It’s an industry that moves at lightning speed, with new trends emerging every few weeks and new designs being produced in response to those trends at an equally frenetic pace.
As a result, fast fashion is cheap and accessible for consumers.
The market is worth more than $300 billion annually, with some analysts predicting it could reach $450 billion by 2023.
But fast fashion also comes with serious human costs.
This article explores the social, environmental, and economic implications of fast fashion and why you should think twice before purchasing clothing from these brands in the future.
Table of Contents
What is Fast Fashion?
Fast fashion is clothing that is produced quickly and cheaply in order to stay on top of trends.
It’s clothing that is often made at a very low price and made in a very low-cost country.
It’s not made to last a long time; its life cycle is often less than six months.
Fast fashion is generally characterized by a focus on low-cost production as well as a constant stream of new products.
Cheaper production methods often employ less sustainable practices, including the use of child labor and a reduced focus on quality that can lead to increased waste.
Fast fashion brands often source their materials from low-cost countries like Bangladesh and Vietnam where wages are significantly lower than the average cost of living in the U.S.
The cheap production of fast fashion has a devastating impact on the environment, workers, and the global economy.
How Does Fast Fashion Impact the Environment?
The low quality of materials and production methods used in fast fashion means clothing will often fall apart long before it needs to be replaced.
Studies have estimated that Americans throw away 69 pounds of clothing per person per year, and only about 15% of that clothing will be recycled.
The rest of the clothing ends up in landfills where it takes more than 500 years to break down, creating a significant environmental impact.
Some of the environmental impacts of fast fashion include increased greenhouse gas emissions, water pollution, and soil erosion.
Beyond the environmental impacts of individual consumers, fast fashion also has an impact on the garment industry.
Workers in the garment industry often face dangerous working conditions, inadequate health and safety standards, and low pay that fails to provide a sustainable income.
These conditions are exacerbated by the low cost of production in countries like Bangladesh, where garment workers earn a yearly wage of less than $3,000.
The Human Cost of Fast Fashion
While the environmental impact of fast fashion is significant, the human cost of this model is often overlooked.
Beyond the health and safety issues plaguing garment workers, there are social and economic factors to consider as well.
Some of the human costs of the fast fashion industry include poor working conditions for garment workers, unsafe conditions for consumers, and the exploitation of natural resources.
One of the most serious human costs of the fast fashion industry is the exploitation of garment workers.
While specifics vary from country to country, many garment workers earn low wages, work in dangerous conditions, and lack adequate health insurance.
The lack of safe working conditions can lead to serious injuries and even death, while low wages make it difficult to support a family without government assistance.
Fast fashion has also proven to be unsafe for consumers.
The low cost of production, coupled with the constant need to produce more products, leads to shoddy materials and poor quality control.
The American College of Emergency Physicians estimates that in the U.S., more than 15,000 people are injured by clothing or jewelry each year.
The Economic Cost of Fast Fashion
Beyond the environmental and human costs of fast fashion, the industry also has significant economic implications.
One of the most significant economic costs of fast fashion is its impact on the global economy.
Fast fashion has been shown to seriously disrupt the economies of the developing world, particularly in Asia.
The low cost of production in Asian countries has made it a hub for garment production for decades. However, increasing demand for and consumption of cheap clothing has led to overproduction in these countries.
This has contributed to serious economic problems, including inflation, reduced competitiveness, and unemployment, particularly among young people.
How Does Fast Fashion Impact the Economy?
Because it’s produced cheaply, fast fashion has a significant impact on the economy.
The low cost of production means companies can sell garments cheaply, which makes them more affordable to consumers.
This has helped transform the fashion industry.
The percentage of women who buy clothing each year has nearly doubled in the past five decades, rising from 31% to 60%, and apparel spending has increased by 234% during the same period.
The ever-growing demand for fast fashion has changed the way people view fashion.
Consumers no longer expect their clothing to last as long as it used to. Rather, they expect to buy new clothing more frequently, impacting the economy in terms of increased spending and reduced savings.
When consumers decide to purchase clothing often instead of purchasing fewer but higher-quality items, it has serious implications for the economy. The increased demand for apparel means consumers are purchasing more clothing and spending more money on it.
The apparel industry is worth $1.7 trillion annually, with fashion accounting for more than a third of that amount.
How Expensive is the Fashion Industry?
All of these issues have serious implications for the price of fashion.
The apparel industry is worth a staggering amount of money each year, with total sales reaching $1.7 trillion in the U.S. alone.
That’s a lot of money that’s going towards producing new clothing for consumers every year.
The fashion industry is surprisingly expensive, with top brands employing large teams of designers using a wide range of fabrics, materials, and production methods.
While specific costs vary depending on the brand and type of garment, some estimates show that producing clothing costs $10,000 on average.
A recent analysis puts the cost of producing a single T-shirt at $4.72, including the cost of materials, labor, and marketing.
That’s just for a single T-shirt, not an entire fashion collection.
Signs How You Can Tell a Store is Fast Fashion:
- Trends that are already out after a few weeks
- Poor quality that tears, threads, stretches, or discolors after a few washes
- The items are often characterized by a strong chemical smell
- Low transparency & poor working conditions
- Mainly synthetic materials
- Disposable consumption
- High environmental impact due to pesticides and water consumption
How Does Fast Fashion Affect Humans?
Chemistry from clothing accumulates in our organs
Constant exposure to the toxic chemical cocktail contained in most clothing adds up, the toxins accumulate in our organs, and over the years serious illnesses can occur, such as cancer.
However, direct proof that the disease comes from one or more textile auxiliaries and has no other cause is virtually impossible.
Nevertheless, how can you tell that your clothes such as underwear, shirts, blouses, or pants are heavily contaminated with toxic chemicals?
- The clothing smells strong of “chemistry”, i.e. pungently sharp – an indication of considerable contamination.
- The note “wash separately” on the label with the washing symbols means: better consider the purchase. Then the laundry stains and this happens especially if risky chemicals were used to dye the fabric.
- Beware of the indications wrinkle-resistant, dimensionally stable, and non-iron. Only by adding chemicals could the laundry be upgraded in such a way.
- The same applies to weatherproof, water-repellent clothing. Their special membrane or coating was usually made using perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA).
How Can We Reduce our Fashion’s Environmental Impact?
Explore Second-Hand Stores
Thrifting is probably the first thing that comes to mind when you think of the word “sustainable,” but you’d be surprised to know that the second-hand scene has really exploded in the last decade.
And we’re glad to see this trend in the right direction.
While in many countries, e.g. also in Germany where I live, thrift stores per se are rather reserved for the big metropolises, there are more and more options to browse for second-hand clothes online as well.
So if I don’t have a thrift store nearby, which is quite different in the U.S., I like to search online for used treasures.
And that’s not only a great thing for the environment, but also for the wallet. Often, with a little rummaging, you can pick up gold treasures at attractive prices. Often even very limited, special unique pieces.
It’s all worth a try!
Rent Your Closet
Renting an outfit, an expensive designer brand bag, or renting your next pair of sneakers is a common method used today, especially by many people when they are on a budget.
Renting here means you can wear an expensive outfit for a fraction of the cost – and let’s face it, when it comes to a big night out, we only put on most special dresses or jumpsuits once anyway – especially when the clothes are so short-lived anyway.
And while the sharing economy is thriving with car-sharing, co-working and co-living, sharing clothes isn’t that far-fetched.
Rent the Runway was the first company to launch a rentable closet, and now companies like Urban Outfitters and American Eagle have launched their own affordable subscription services. Urban’s new service, Nuuly, offers customers the ability to rent six pieces of clothing per month for $88.
Tulerie, for example, is a peer-to-peer company where users can borrow each other’s clothes, shoes, and accessories, with the app serving as a medium for borrowers and lenders.
Buy Clothes from Sustainable Brands
When you buy a new piece, you should find out how it was produced and what materials were used before you click the “buy” button.
And here’s where caution is needed: The popularity of the word “sustainable” has sparked a trend of “greenwashing,” with more and more brands claiming a product is from sustainable production when in fact it is not. So it’s up to you to do your own research.
For one thing, there’s the matter of the materials used. A garment made of synthetic fibers such as polyester always contains chemicals – even if the label says “recycled polyester”. That is nonsense. In addition, every time you wash these fibers, microplastics are produced, which contaminates the groundwater and thus the sewage treatment plants, oceans, and your skin.
Rather invest in natural fabrics like cotton, linen, silk, viscose, and wool.
And if you’re not entirely sure about the brand’s commitment to sustainability, email their customer service.
You can also check out the Fashion Transparency Index, which assesses the transparency of each brand and gives them a score based on their performance. The index also shows how much information a brand shares about their suppliers’ human rights and environmental plans.
Fast fashion is an industry that moves at lightning speed, with new trends emerging every few weeks and new designs being produced in response to those trends at an equally frenetic pace.
As a result, fast fashion is cheap and accessible for consumers.
But fast fashion also comes with serious human costs.
The low cost of production, coupled with a constant stream of new products, has a devastating impact on the environment, workers, and the global economy.
The industry has also proven to be unsafe for consumers and expensive for the economy, creating significant costs for consumers and governments.
Fortunately, there are ways to fight back against the negative impacts of fast fashion.
Consumers can reduce their impact on the environment by shopping secondhand or trying to hold onto their clothes for as long as possible.
They can also fight back against the economic costs of the fashion industry by shopping conscientiously.
*Disclosure: We only recommend products we would use ourselves and all opinions expressed here are our own. This post may contain affiliate links that we may earn a small commission at no additional cost to you.
If you liked this blog article about the Human Cost of Fast Fashion, don’t forget to follow us on Pinterest so you don’t miss any more fashion and beauty news!