Why 2022 is The Year to Ditch Fast Fashion
When the cost of making a new item is less than the cost of processing the return of
another, you know that the industry is broken. Over the last 15 years, the average consumer’s expenditure on clothing has increased by a huge 60%. Meanwhile, Earth.org has identified that 80 billion new pieces of clothing are purchased each year – a 400% increase in consumption over a twenty-year timeframe.
Simultaneously, in comparison to 1970, the average household in Britain now spends 1.1%
less of their annual income on clothing. In short, we are each buying exponentially more for
less. But how does this occur, and why is it so problematic?
The fast fashion industry’s association with cheap and forced labour is not a new topic; in
fact, it is a topic that has circulated in my household since I was a child. But whilst its
discussion lacks novelty, its longevity in the media and its seemingly diminishing importance
– or perhaps more accurately, its apparent acceptance as the mere dark side to the industry – strikes me as increasingly disturbing.
According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), approximately 260 million children
The fast fashion industry (along with others) benefits from this exploitation across all
aspects of its supply chain. From cotton picking to weaving, to garment manufacturing,
children globally are being enslaved in harsh working conditions with little to no pay and
stifled access to education. This makes this exploitation not only a contemporary issue but
one that strides far into the future. By hindering the academic development of millions of
children, this industry hinders the economic development of the poorer nations in which
these children predominantly work.
However, the exploitation conducted by the fast fashion industry extends beyond the labour
forces of its own brands. The environmental destruction caused by companies such as H&M,
Zara, Urban Outfitters, and Boohoo make the fast fashion crisis one that exceeds borders
and communities. And unsurprisingly, the first to suffer the consequences are again those in
the poorer, less economically developed countries of the global East and South.
In 2019, UNEP stated that 'the fashion industry is the second-biggest consumer of water and
dyeing and finishing process contributes to 36%, yarn preparation 28%, and fibre production
The excessive depletion of the earth’s resources required for the production of fast
fashion garments however is not limited to extraction alone. Large factories belonging to
the industry’s big brands emit vast amounts of pollutants into the waters of surrounding
regions – waters that local communities sometimes bathe and drink from.
Business Insider, for example, highlights that the dumping of the water leftover from the dying process into local rivers, ditches, and streams makes textile dying the world’s second-largest water polluter. What exasperates the horror of this eco destruction is that 85% of all textiles then end up in landfills each year.
Why? Because companies like H&M build clothes intended to withstand only a short life span and manipulate their consumers into believing that they are constantly out of trend. No longer are there 4 seasons to each year; by 2014, the fashion industry had managed to create and market ‘52 “micro seasons” per year.
However, whilst the West is not the most immediately affected by the cancer of the industry and its environmental destruction, it is only a matter of time until our consumer habits and
participation in this industry catch up with us. Generating ‘20% of the world’s wastewater
industry is a pollutant of our ethics, our ecosystem, and inevitably, our food. For example,
Meanwhile, a UN report published in 2017 identified there to be 500 times more microplastic particles in our oceans than there are stars in the milky way. Through every t-shirt, big brands promise you the potential to be fleetingly on-trend whilst simultaneously destroying your home and your potential to see the trends of future decades. By 2019, scientists had predicted that in line with current trajectories, the Earth and its civilisations will be destroyed by 2050.
So, what can you do to help? An important start would be to ditch fast fashion. Refrain from
buying from corporations like H&M and ASOS and avoid their clever yet misleading
marketing and greenwashing stunts. Take H&M and their Conscious Collection. In 2019,
H&M announced plans to start using fruit peel as a way to create more (supposedly)
sustainable clothing. However, what they did not announce was that it takes around 480
pineapple leaves to produce a single square metre of Pinatex. This is a classic example of
greenwashing, and the conscious, sustainable lines of all fast fashion brands are riddled with
misleading or unsubstantiated claims like this one.
Secondly, hold brands accountable. Use social media to highlight your acknowledgement of
their performativity and surface-level sustainability. The fast fashion industry is quite
literally counting on cretinous consumers to keep themselves afloat, a marketing scheme
that only adds insult to injury. ASOS, for example, introduced a pair of men’s jeans into their
line as a ‘recycled product’ that, in truth, was merely leftover stock from an old season.
Their prayers for superficial consumers can only last so long, and their attempts to
masquerade their injustice with further lies is a testament to the ethics at the very core of
Ultimately, whatever your clothes are made from and however they are made, a brand
cannot be sustainable without fair living wages and working conditions. Perhaps instead of
buying clothes made from fruit we should buy less, buy better, and buy second-hand.