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What is Fast Fashion? Its Environmental Impact | Cotstyle

by GTN Engineering 20 Oct 2023
What is Fast Fashion? Its Environmental Impact | Cotstyle

Key Takeaways

  • Fast fashion indicates the low-priced fashion that moves right from design to production way too fast to meet consumer demands.
  • Some of the major players are H&M, Zara, Forever 21
  • While fast fashion has a lot of upsides such as the variety of clothes, affordable prices, and instant satisfaction, there are still downsides of the same such as low wages, pollution, and unsafe workspaces.

What is Fast Fashion?


Fast fashion is a very common term that is used to describe some of the clothing designs that are not just cheap but also trendy get their ideas from catwalks or from celebrities and turn these designs into garments at a high speed to meet consumer demands. The idea over here is to get as many fashionable statements as fast as possible. This allows the shoppers to keep steady with the popularity of the clothes and then discard them once the trend is over.

The main motive of fast fashion is to stay relevant by wearing clothes that are trendy and in style. While this does give a sense of satisfaction to a lot of people, there are multiple pros and cons of fast fashion. The environmental impact of fast fashion is unspeakable, especially with such a fast rate of fashion being involved.

Pros and Cons of Fast Fashion

One can see that there are multiple pros and cons of fast fashion, especially with the rate at which fast fashion is rising. Especially in the last few decades, the fashion trends have been changing more and more quickly. With this being the case there are a lot of pros and cons of fast fashion and some of them are listed below:

Pros of Fast Fashion

  • Profitable for shopkeepers and manufacturers: The addition of new products at a very fast rate encourages a lot of customers to be attracted to the store more often which will end up meaning that they tend to buy a lot more. The retailer also keeps these products for a limited time which means that no matter what the price is most people end up buying them. This fast fashion supply chain has led to people buying more and hence shopkeepers and manufacturers earning more profits.
  • Creates affordable clothing: Since clothing is very affordable people can easily buy trendy and new clothes more often which helps them to wear different clothes every day. This also means that you get multiple choices daily as compared to a smaller number of options.
  • Everyone can access easily: One of the main pros of fast fashion is the fact that people can easily access clothing whenever they want it and wherever they want it. This has made clothing not just stylish but also innovative and imaginative.
  • Quicker production: Since the clothes are always in high demand the production rates are higher. This means if you like a particular fast fashion trend you can almost instantly find them in the shops mostly due to the quicker production rates. Another main part of this production would be the fast sale and delivery which means that you can now also get your clothes even through online shopping sites without having to visit a shop. This reduces the time takes to get your hands on an item of clothing.
  • Inclusive of multiple sizes: Since fast fashion brands have a very high budget and can get rid of any unwanted clothing in a few instants, they can also indulge in various size-inclusive clothing trends. This is especially beneficial for people who are trying to find affordable yet size-inclusive clothing without having to pay a high amount. This also means that you can easily access a wide range of options all while sitting at home.

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Cons of Fast Fashion

Here are some of the cons of the fast fashion supply chain:

  • Exploiting workers: Manufacturers only care about the amount of production and the amount of end products that they obtain. Hence, they tend to exploit workers where the fast fashion supply chain has led to bad working conditions, exploitative practices, poor pay, and other abusive environments which tend to make it hard to work. The fast fashion industry leaders have also not disclosed the methods that they have included in the production of these products.
  • Harming animals: Another major con of fast fashion is that it tends to target a lot of endangered animals each year. The trapping and skinning of animals is also quite common when it comes to fast fashion requirements. Some of the most used materials are fur and leather from animals. It is hence seen that fast fashion is threatening the extinction of these wildlife species. Animals also tend to undergo immense pain and are trapped, caged, and even skinned alive to make textiles.
  • Intellectual property theft: Some of the designers tend to claim that their designs have been illegally adapted and produced in large amounts by fast fashion companies which tend to become a part of intellectual property theft crime.
  • Cheap materials being used: Since the clothing is meant to be used for a little while, the materials used in making these clothes are cheap. While this does make the clothing affordable to buy it can lead to a large amount of waste being produced especially with the large amount of shopping done. Using cheap materials, the factories can ensure that they have done efficient cost-cutting and hence save a large amount.
  • Unethical and unsustainable: Finally, the most important downside of fast fashion is that it tends to be damaging not only to workers who are being exploited but also to the planet itself. This is because it is not exactly made for long-term usage instead it is made with the intention of low usage time. This also leads to low profit margins which companies take advantage of by utilizing cheap materials and labor.

The Environmental Impact of Fast Fashion

According to some of the fast fashion facts, fast fashion companies tend to comprise a total of 10% of the total global carbon emissions dries up most of the water resources, and pollutes these sources. Apart from this, there are also multiple other environmental impacts of fast fashion which can be provided as follows:

  1. Microplastics: The fast fashion industry tends to use synthetic fibers such as acrylic, nylon, and polyester which take about hundreds of years to biodegrade. It is also found according to a few fast fashion facts that about 35% of the microplastics in the ocean come from the laundering of synthetic textiles such as nylon and polyester.
  2. Water: The environmental impact of fast fashion also consists of the depletion of nonrenewable resources along with the emission of gases and the use of large amounts of water. The fast fashion industry is among the second largest consumers of water. Textile dyeing has also impacted water resources as it tends to pollute the resources with the leftover dyes from the dyeing process.
  3. Energy: The production of textiles from plastic fibers is an energy-inclusive process that involves a large amount of petroleum and releases volatile material along with acids such as hydrogen chloride. Apart from this, cotton which is a major part of the fast fashion industry is also not an eco-friendly option. Pesticides involved in the production of cotton also pose a health risk for farmers.

How do you make sustainable fashion choices?

With so many cons of fast fashion, you might be wondering how to make ethical fashion choices that will help reduce the carbon footprint and protect the planet’s soil, oceans, and fresh waters. Some of the tips for making ethical fashion choices can be provided as follows:

  • Buying thrift clothes: Buying pre-owned or thrifted clothes from consignment shops, vintage sources or even thrift shops and online resale shops can prove beneficial in the long term. It will help reduce the impacts on the environment and waste the overproduction of new products.
  • Buy fewer clothes: Shopping for fewer yet better clothes is the right way to go to ensure you are making ethical fashion choices. These fewer clothes however need to be of good quality so that you do not keep on shopping for more clothes than you need. These clothes once chosen carefully can give you a great look for a longer time. Fewer and better-made clothes with the right accessories can give you a sophisticated look along with being stylish as compared to the cheaper clothes.
  • Shop locally: Buying from local shops can help local craftspeople to adjust your outfits according to your needs and you can also get altering of your clothes at a minimal fee. This will also support the local economy while reducing carbon emissions.
  • Buy organic: Shop for clothes made of natural fabric fibers as compared to synthetic fibers such as nylon or polyester. The best natural alternatives would be jute, bamboo, linen, wool, and silk. You will hence also contribute to lowering the amount of microplastics in water sources.
  • Shop through sustainable brands: Choosing ethical brands that not only care about the workers and about the environment will help you make the right ethical fashion choices in the long run. Many brands also promote clothes made of renewable materials however use illegal labor practices it is hence important to check for the same while buying.
  • Quality over quantity: High-quality clothing lasts longer than any other cheaper clothing material. Based on the workmanship of your clothes you can judge whether it is of high quality or not. Shopping with durability in mind even if it costs high is the key here. Investing in well-made clothes will also eventually save a lot of money in the long run.
  • Check for certifications: Checking for certification where they claim that they have used sustainable methods to produce the material is the best way to make an ethical fashion choice.
  • Donate your used clothes: If you are not sure what to do with clothes that are of really good quality and are not fitting your anymore? Well then you can just donate them as it can fit others who might need clothes. You can donate it to either thrift stores or even local shelters.
  • Upcycle your old clothes: Tired of wearing the same old clothes? All you need is a pair of scissors and thread to upcycle the entire fit.
  • Sell unwanted clothes: There are multiple resale shops nowadays that can be used to sell your outfits and hence earn some money while doing it. This will help the clothes to be used up rather than ending up in a pile of landfill.

Fast Fashion vs. Slow Fashion: Explained

While fast fashion involves getting the products to consumers as fast as possible while not really caring about the environment and workers, slow fashion does exactly the opposite. Slow fashion is a concept that was initially introduced in the year 2008 where it uses environmentally friendly processes and materials to create “mindful manufacturing”. This is an idea that focuses more on quality rather than on quantity. This also utilizes recyclable materials and packaging.

Frequently Asked Questions


1. Why is fast fashion bad?

Fast fashion has a lot of bad effects on the environmental footprint especially with the rate of production and disposal being considered. Apart from this, there is human trafficking, slavery, poverty wages, child labor, and sexual abuse apart from the overall exploitation of workers.

2. Is fast fashion linked to climate change?

Yes, fast fashion has irreversible effects on environmental damage which can also be a part of the recent climate change. Especially with the amount of greenhouse gases being left out in the production of clothes has surely contributed to the same.

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