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Fast Fashion is an Ongoing Problem, What is Being Done to Fix it?

Author: Edward Smith

Fast Fashion, clothing being produced on mass in a non-sustainable way and then used and disposed of quickly by consumers. This fairly modern phenomenon has become a culturally relevant example of industries and consumer cultures damaging the environment. A 2022 UN study and panel dug into the fast fashion industry and highlighted its leading damages were caused by the sheer scale of landfill it used, as well as mass exploitation of underpaid or unpaid workers.

fast fashion

The way in which the fast fashion industry has damaged the environment is a growing concern, motivating modern pushes for change in the way textile industries manage their production and wastage. Around 20 to 35% of microplastics in the ocean are estimated to have come from these industries. Meanwhile, the industry’s output of carbon emissions will account for 26% of the global total by 2050. Not being one of the heavily publicised carbon emitting industries, fashion and textiles are in serious danger of missing targets for environmental sustainability.

Fast Fashion as a phenomenon is caused by a combination of its rate of production and its rate of consumption. Clothing items produced under the fast fashion model were typically made for extremely low prices by underpaid workers, before being shipped internationally in environmentally harmful ways over long distances. These items of clothing would then make their way into the hands of consumers who would underuse them before disposing of them. These clothing end their life in landfills and incineration systems. Naturally, this contributes to ongoing pollution issues from both disposal methods.

fast fashion

Recycling in the textile industry is lacking, with experts recommending a ‘circular’ economy approach, in which old clothes would be re-used until they begin to break, at which point their base materials would be reused in new clothing. These sorts of efforts are the leading idea of how the fashion industry can be more environmentally conscious without changing its overall business practices, or relying on the public to change its habits.

However, the view from many other experts is that public participation in a number of environmentally conscious activities would be ideal at reshaping the impact the public has on this industry. These changes to behaviour are mostly rooted in buying second hand for casual clothing while buying other clothing less often at a better quality so that it can be used for longer periods. Examples of circular economic solutions in action would be charity shops and organisations like Vinted. There have been efforts to encourage these sorts of changes by promoting greater transparency from fashion companies, with groups like the ‘The Fashion Transparency Index’ pushing for statistics to be more widely publicised.

An additional important step has been considered by other groups, highlighting that fast fashion is largely run on the backs of severely poverty ridden regions. Exploited workers in developing countries make up the backbone of textile industries, and are often overworked for below average living wages. The Sustainable Review mentioned that If workers’ rights internationally are reinforced while companies are penalised for utilising immoral production practices, it would gradually make the business model of fast fashion less and less viable, leading to its phasing out.

fast fashion

At present, consumers are not committed to the changes suggested in the ways that they generally need to be. Estimates say that while 75% of consumers are aware that sustainability is important, only a third are willing to make changes to the brands they buy from to support this, due to a combination of living conditions and cultural trends that emphasise remaining ‘up to date’.

The microplastics issue also continues to be a leading problem. At present, half a million tons of plastics are dumped into the ocean per year, this is equivalent to over 50 billion plastic bottles’ worth. As trends continue, the fashion industry could be responsible for up to 25% of carbon emissions by 2050, up from 10% at present, showing a lack of significant change in practices.

In 2021, the World Economic Forum hosted Safia Minner, a Fair Trade fashion activist and producer. She stressed that change had to be “radical” and immediate, with anywhere from 75 to 95% of the fashion industry’s CO2 production needing to be cut by 2050. She also suggested a drastic change in where textiles are produced, proposing “localising fashion” production on a national basis, and bringing the industry under stricter regional laws to curtail its worst aspects.




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