As a result of the rush to produce cheap and trendy clothing that matches runway and celebrity styles, people are put at risk. Whether it’s the workers in textile factories or the consumers who buy and discard clothing that’s out of style, there are many negative effects.
Some growing concern about sustainability includes using cheap fabrics like polyester derived from fossil fuels, which contributes to climate change. It also sheds microfibres that enter waterways and are ingested by wildlife.
The production of fast fashion garments often requires large amounts of water and chemicals that are harmful to the environment. These toxic materials seep into the surrounding environment causing pollution and harming animals, people, and plants. The industry also produces massive amounts of carbon dioxide during manufacturing and shipping. It uses 1.5 trillion liters of water annually, especially concerning today’s global water crisis.
Brands may use cheap labor in factories and sweatshops to keep prices low. This causes workers to be exposed to caustic chemicals and work in hazardous conditions. Workers may also violate their basic human rights due to their poor wages. Even some supposedly eco-conscious brands are breaking EU environmental regulations by using caustic chemicals in their fabrics.
For the last two decades, garment manufacturers have relied on cheap labor from developing countries with lenient regulations. In the process, workers face toxic chemicals, dangerous working conditions, and even physical abuse. This race to the bottom for cheap clothing has created a global social justice issue.
Consumers who buy and discard these clothes leave behind massive textile waste. Only a fraction of this finds a second life through donation or resale. The rest goes to a landfill (which can take up to 200 years to break down) or is incinerated. It is a huge waste of the money spent on these clothes and the time and energy it took to make them in the first place.
This massive waste also hurts the economies of developing countries where clothes are made. This is especially true for those in LMICs that depend on the resale of secondhand clothing. These used garments flood the market, making it harder for local clothing companies to compete.
Many brands are now trying to recycle and resell their clothing to be more sustainable. This can be helpful, but it doesn’t address the underlying issues of the business model. The same issues will persist unless we stop buying fast fashion and demand better treatment of workers along the supply chain.
In addition to climate change, the economic impact of fast fashion includes exploitative working conditions and a lack of wages. Garment production often occurs in developing countries, where the companies aren’t held to strict workplace standards or transparent about their supply chains. This can lead to exploiting workers in unsafe environments, paying them less than they deserve, and leaving them without fundamental worker rights.
The fast fashion industry also wastes valuable resources. The fabrics used in fast fashion garments are usually cheap, which leads to overconsumption and increased waste. This can be especially problematic for synthetics such as polyester, which is made from fossil fuels and contributes to global warming. When washed, it can also shed microfibres that add to the growing plastic problem in our oceans and waterways.
Other fabrics, such as conventional cotton, require huge amounts of water and pesticides to grow, which puts farmers at risk of health issues. This is a major issue, given that half of the world’s population has trouble accessing clean drinking water.
Many fast fashion brands use cheap, toxic dyes to produce clothing that seeps into the ground and water supply. This makes the fashion industry one of the biggest polluters of clean water globally, even giving industries like air travel a run for their money. The waste and pollution from these garments also seep into the environment, harming plants and animals. Even worse, when washing these garments, microfibres, and plastics are released into the water and can be ingested by land and marine life, causing harm that goes right up the food chain.
Garment workers are also exposed to dangerous chemicals and have little control over their working conditions. Many are forced to work long hours and receive low wages, which strains their mental and physical health. Some are even subjected to physical and sexual abuse. Despite the claims of greenwashing by many of these brands, it is clear that their profit-driven approach to business is detrimental to the health and safety of those involved in their production.
The exploitation of garment workers is a huge problem many people are unaware of. While some companies may claim to have a good track record in this area, their supply chains are so massive that it is difficult for them to monitor the health and well-being of their workforce.