A Brief History of Fast Fashion and Its Impact on the Planet

"Fast fashion can be defined as low-cost, trendy clothing rapidly produced by mass-market retailers in response to the latest trends.

The focus of fast fashion is affordability and convenience – largely at the cost of people and the planet."

- Storm Birch, A Brief History of Fast Fashion and Its Impact on the Planet

Fast fashion has become synonymous with cheap, quickly produced clothing that mimics current high-fashion trends. Initially intended as a route to market for affordable, stylish clothing, it now symbolises a broader culture of disposable fashion. While the fashion industry as a whole has environmental implications, the sheer volume and pace of fast fashion exacerbate these impacts.

In our previous blog post, we discussed the principles of slow fashion and its role in fostering a sustainable future. Today, we turn our attention to fast fashion, examining its revolutionary impact on the apparel industry. This model offers consumers affordable and trendy clothing at unprecedented speeds, but it comes with significant environmental and social costs.

"The fashion industry as a whole is a big polluter. Huge volumes of water are used in cotton production and dyeing (it’s estimated around 2,000 gallons of water are used to make a typical pair of jeans)"

-WWF (The World Wide Fund), Fast Fashion Disaster 

Environmental Impact

Water Pollution

Fashion production, particularly fast fashion, relies heavily on water-intensive processes such as dyeing and finishing textiles. Synthetic fibres like polyester, nylon, and elastane, derived from processed fossil fuels, contribute significantly to environmental degradation. Even domestic washing of these garments releases micro-plastics into water systems and oceans. The fashion industry is one of the largest contributors to global water pollution, with hazardous chemicals, micro-plastics, and untreated wastewater contaminating rivers, lakes, and oceans. This pollution endangers aquatic life and poses health risks to communities relying on these water sources.

"Polyester and other synthetic fibers make up almost 70% of our clothing" according to a report by Changing Markets

Carbon Emissions:

The fast fashion model's rapid production cycles and global supply chains lead to substantial carbon emissions throughout a garment's lifecycle. The energy-intensive nature of production, combined with global transportation, results in excessive energy consumption and a heavy reliance on non-renewable resources. From raw material extraction to manufacturing, transportation, and disposal, each stage contributes to greenhouse gas emissions, exacerbating climate change. Embracing sustainable fashion practices can help reduce this environmental footprint.

Landfill Overflow:

Fashion generates enormous waste, with millions of tons of clothing ending up in landfills annually. The culture of overconsumption and rapid disposal promoted by fast fashion worsens the already critical problem of textile waste and landfill overflow. Additionally, many brands discard or destroy unsold stock, further contributing to landfill issues.

Human Welfare

Fast fashion's impact extends beyond the environment, raising serious concerns about human welfare and labor rights. Garment workers, especially in developing countries, often face exploitative conditions, including long hours, low wages, and unsafe working environments. Read our previous post on the 'Rana Plaza Tragedy'. The relentless pursuit of cheap labor and quick turnaround times prioritises profit over the well-being of workers, perpetuating poverty and inequality.

The fast fashion model has undeniably changed how we consume clothing, but its rapid expansion has come at a significant cost to our planet and society. By recognising these concerns, we can work towards being able to address these issues and create a more sustainable and just future for the fashion industry. Watch out for part 2 of this blog series where we will explore addressing these concerns and how we can reduce our overall impact on the environment. 

Join us in making a positive change and embracing fashion that respects both people and the planet. Get in touch with us today at: hello@maeslondon.com