Author: Penny Salman
Welcome, all, to this little old discussion about the impacts of fast fashion! Just a pre-warning… it is bad BUT, it’s not all bad :D.
Now, where to start? How about at the beginning? The development of a design idea. I use development in the loosest way possible because, you guessed it, fast fashion retailers often steal their designs from celebrities’ looks, runway looks and arguably worst of all – small businesses. Hence, our first impact. The impact of fast fashion on small businesses. Stealing designs from small businesses can be detrimental to their income, as fast fashion retailers likely sell their copies at a lower price (although no doubt at a lower quality). It can also feel violating, and often the only actions small business’ can take is to raise awareness and make noise because, although unfair, copying fashion designs is, essentially, legal.
This leads me nicely onto my next point. The impact of fast fashion on their workers. I am sure you are no stranger to the recent factory scandal in Leicester, where workers were being paid well under National Minimum Wage and working in awful conditions. Speaking of legalities, an independent report concluded that there was no evidence that factory had committed any criminal offences. Yet again, a fast fashion retailer escapes taking accountability. If you thought the treatment of workers in Leicester was bad, let me bring you up to speed on fast fashion retail workers in other countries, such as Bangladesh. Often working very long hours, these garment workers are paid, on average, less than $1 an hour!! This is far from enough to live on. About 80% of garment workers are women, which makes fast fashion a feminist issue.
But what is the impact of fast fashion on feminism? Well, fast fashion retailers are no strangers to performative activism. Their t-shirts with feminist slogans completely defeat the point. How can they claim to be feminists but exploit their, primarily female, garment workers? Fast fashion retailers are not only performative when it comes to feminism, they’re performative when it comes to anti-racism. They make money off the exploitation of people of colour, whilst releasing slogan t-shirts that claim to support the Black Lives Matter movement. Horrific, ironic, upsetting – call it what you may, but there is no denying that fast fashion retailers’ performative activism has a negative impact on important social movements.
These social movements are, of course, central to our society. So, what’s the impact of fast fashion on society? Well, fast fashion has impacted society in some positive ways! Many fast fashion brands have become more size inclusive, which is an incredible and much-needed development in the fashion world. Also, the fact that fast fashion can be so inexpensive provides access to trends for those who may have not been able to keep up with them previously. And yes, trends in themselves are problematic, but that’s another conversation entirely!! You also have to consider that many people may not have time to search for clothes in shops, fast fashion does what it says on the tin: it’s fast and efficient. There is absolutely no shame in buying from fast fashion due to these reasons!
Positives aside, we’re going back to the negatives (sorry). I think it’s time to move on to talking about the impact of fast fashion on the environment. Now, I don’t want to throw a whole load of statistics at you, but I think it’s worth noting that it’s been calculated that the fashion industry produces 10% of the worlds carbon dioxide emissions!! 10%!! The fashion industry alone!! Madness if you ask me. Due to the ‘fastness’ of fast fashion, environmental corners are likely to be cut. On top of this, fast fashion allows for people to buy more and keep less. It’s fueling the capitalist consumerism culture even more and the discarded, under-worn clothes often end up in landfills or are incinerated – which is also bad for the environment. Many materials used for fast fashion, including materials used for the swimwear industry, are not biodegradable and these fabrics shed microfibers. The microfibers are likely to end up in the ocean, where they are swallowed by sea life (harming them) and subsequently end up in our food (harming us). It’s clear that fast fashion is somewhat circular, but not in the way we want and need it to be. Instead it circles harm right back to its consumers, after already hurting the environment.
I think it’s important to note that fast fashion brands play on our emotions and consumer habits. So my last point, fast fashion impacts us, you and I, me and you and takes advantage of us. They have trained (tricked) us into thinking we need a new outfit for every occasion. They have trained (tricked) us into thinking there are more than just two fashion seasons and we need new clothes for each and every one. They use clever tactics such as sales, sale deadlines (nothing makes you panic buy more than a countdown to when the sale ends at the top of the screen, only to find out a new countdown begins instantaneously! FRUSTRATING!) and celebrity endorsements and collaborations. They play on our fear of missing out (FOMO) and influence us to buy, buy, buy! Don’t be disheartened, most of us are influenced by it, and pretty much all of us are very tiny cogs in a machine they call CAPITALISM.
For the record, the blame is absolutely on these fast fashion brands and big companies for these impacts and in order for drastic change to happen, they need to make huge changes. However, I will never be against the notion of each of us doing our bit where we can so, if you can, please consider cutting down on your consumption of fast fashion. Remember, there is no shame in buying from fast fashion retailers - many people have to buy from fast fashion places due to accessibility reasons such as economic situations, size, time and this is OKAY!!!
Anyway, I hope you’ve enjoyed (as much as you can lol) this whistle stop tour of many of the impacts of fast fashion on this world and I hope I’ve left you with some food for thought. There’s definitely more I could have talked about and there’s definitely more to be said on each topic but I think that’s quite enough for now.