The Art Behind Sustainable Shopping : A Guide to Fast Fashion and its Effect on the Planet

By Madi Nazemi (Contributor)

Fashion, an ever so changing industry. An industry of exploitation. An industry of unethical production. An industry that strips our planet of its natural resources. An industry that accounts for over 10% of the world’s carbon emissions, making it one of biggest contributors to the global climate crisis. As fashion progresses and new trends become prevalent in today’s society, it becomes difficult for manufacturers and big fashion companies to keep up with the demand, thus creating the idea of fast fashion, “an approach to design, creation, and marketing of clothing fashions that emphasizes making fashion trends quickly and cheaply available to consumers,” (Merriam Webster).

Fast fashion, as described by The Good Trade, can be defined as “cheap, trendy clothing, that samples ideas from the catwalk or celebrity culture and turns them into garments in high street stores at breakneck speed.” In simple terms, fast fashion mimics high-end fashion trends in a cheap and exploitive way, drawing consumers in through their inexpensive prices. There are many things that are morally wrong with this image. Fashion designs are supposed to be special, as designers strive to create unique clothing creations for consumers. Fashion designs are NOT supposed to be cheap and unethical pieces of clothing that mimic the artistry of its original designer. As stated above, the fashion industry is one of the biggest contributors to the global climate crisis, making it important for clothing companies to strive for sustainable practices as they have a crucial impact on the environment. To the planet’s dismay, many of these big clothing companies do the bare minimum to create sustainable and ethical pieces for consumers.

Fast fashion has many detrimental effects on the planet, from the overuse of water and energy to the depletion of non-renewable sources. According to Business Insider, the fashion industry is the second largest consumer of the world’s water supply. Let’s put this into perspective for a second: it takes 700 gallons of water to produce one cotton t-shirt and up to 2000 gallons of water to produce a pair of blue jeans. If you had a t-shirt and a pair of jeans for every day of the week, your closet would have taken roughly 18,900 gallons of water to make. The average human drinks around eight 8-oz glasses of water (about half a gallon of water) per day. The water used to produce your closet of clothes could have provided 37,800 people with a day’s worth of water, or, yourself with a lifetime’s worth of water. That’s a whole lot of water for a mere 14 basic articles of clothing. Now imagine how much water was used for your entire closet of clothes…

Many of the common fabrics used to make fast fashion are non-renewable and not biodegradable, meaning that these fabric textiles that remain untouched will end up in landfills. It is estimated that in total, around 85% of textiles end up in landfills annually, enough to fill the Sydney Harbor in Australia every year (WRI). The fashion industry is moving faster than ever, with retailers putting out new clothing collections every week. It is important to recognize that with this surge of clothing being put out on a weekly basis, the consumption of valuable resources and the overproduction of product are at an all time high.

So… what can we do to stop fast fashion?

There are many sustainable and ethical options to combat fast fashion, from thrifting, to buying from small sustainable clothing brands. Americans alone throw away 10.5 million tons of clothes annually, much of this going to donation centers like Goodwill and Buffalo Exchange where they wait to be bought by consumers. Thrifting allows for the recycling of these clothes, producing less supply and demand from big companies that strip the planet of its natural resources. Many thrift and consignment stores ultimately benefit their communities as well, as many are family owned or run by non-profit organizations. The Ohio Valley Goodwill is a perfect example of this, where the proceeds made go straight to providing job training and employment services for veterans and disabled individuals.

There are thousands of small sustainable clothing brands that are trendy and fashionable while also being easy on the wallet! It is especially important to support smaller businesses during these times of uncertainty with COVID-19. With that being said, here is a list of some ethical and sustainable clothing companies that are worth your money!

Simply switching to secondhand and sustainable shopping isn’t going to solve the underlying problems within the fashion industry, but it is a step in the right direction towards a more ethical industry. By making these small changes in our shopping habits, lifestyles, etc. our carbon footprints are reduced, creating the building blocks needed for a bright environmentally-friendly future.