Fast fashion has become popular in recent years and has become a topic of moral debate. Fast fashion can be identified as “inexpensive clothing produced rapidly by mass-market in retailers in response to the latest trends” (Oxford Dictionary). Due to their inexpensiveness price tags and quick turnover, these brands are often popular. Fast fashion gives consumers an affordable option to get in on current fashion trends. However, their affordability and quick turnover to keep up with trends come at a high price. Fast fashion companies are known to exploit their workers and release high amounts of pollutants from production. Clothing production contributes heavily to global wastewater, microplastic production, CO2 production, and pollution (Mulhern). Fast fashion also encourages consumers to buy new clothing more often, increasing the amount of clothing waste. Because trends and microtrends change so quickly, production and consumption turnover is rapid. This overproduction and overconsumption lead to an immense amount of pollution. Studies have found that 57% of clothing purchased from fast fashion brands ends up in landfills (Whalen). The clothing that ends up in landfills adds to the trash mass on our planet and contributes to growing carbon emissions. In addition, companies often burn their excess clothing product at the end of seasons when they’re unable to sell everything. As these clothes are incinerated they burn off methane into the atmosphere, further polluting the atmosphere and worsening climate change. Combining all the factors: overproduction, overconsumption, overpollution, and the cost of shipping fast fashion is hurting our planet.
The most noxious example of fast fashion today is the brand, Shein. Though Shein has existed since 2008, the brand has become very popular in past years as the brand has become well-known through Tik-Tok haul videos, where creators display clothes they just bought. Tik-Tok creators began posting Shein hauls, showing huge clothing hauls of current trendy items. Since then, Shein has become popular among American consumers. Their cheap prices and on-trend items have made them attractive to consumers. However, Shein has received widespread backlash due to their negative climate impact and mistreatment of employees. Shein’s main selling points are their low prices and ability to stay up to date on current trends. Between July and December of 2021, Shein is estimated to have added anywhere between 2,000 and 10,000 new styles to their site every day (Rajvanshi). Shein produces the same amount of CO2 as approximately 180 coal-fired power plants due to their unsustainable manufacturing habits. The carbon emissions of Shein add up to about 6.3 million tons of carbon dioxide annually. Shein’s production behaviors and their encouragement of overconsumption are extremely harmful to the environment. Though Shein is the worst of fast fashion, overconsumption, and wasteful production are still common throughout the fast fashion industry. This industry is a large contributor to carbon emissions furthering climate change.
Consumers’ desire to consume will not just disappear because consuming hurts the environment. There are many alternatives to fast fashion to be more environmentally conscious with shopping. In my future posts, I will discuss the debates around alternatives to fast fashion, like thrifting, or sustainable clothing brands.