Why is Fast Fashion Unsustainable?

The phrase “fast fashion” refers to low-cost clothing collections that mimic current luxury fashion trends. Fast fashion helps fill deeply held desires among young consumers in the industrialized world for luxury fashion, even as it embodies unsustainability.

Sustainability has many definitions, with the two most common being an activity that can be continued indefinitely without causing harm and meeting a current generation’s needs without compromising those of future generations. Sustainability involves complex and changing environmental dynamics that affect human livelihoods and well-being, with intersecting ecological, economic, and sociopolitical dimensions, both globally and locally.

Fast fashion is not sustainable because it participates in practices that are not sustainable for societies or our planet. Below are some reasons to avoid the fast fashion industry:

Fast Fashion clothing can contain hazardous chemicals

According to the Center for Environmental Health, Charlotte Russe, Wet Seal, Forever21 and other popular fast-fashion chains are still selling lead-contaminated purses, belts and shoes above the legal amount, years after signing a settlement agreeing to limit the use of heavy metals in their products.

An article in The New York Times says the Center for Environmental Health is focusing on reducing the lead content in products marketed to young women because lead accumulation in bones can be released during pregnancy, potentially harming both mother and fetus.

Lead exposure has also been linked to higher rates of infertility in women and increased risks of heart attacks, strokes and high blood pressure. Many scientists agree there is no “safe” level of lead exposure for anyone.

The lead contamination is all in addition to the pesticides, insecticides, formaldehyde, flame-retardants and other known carcinogens that reside on the clothes we wear.

Fast Fashion violates human rights

The fast fashion industry uses sweatshops, home-workers, and even child labor to produce clothing items. Industry estimates suggest that 20 to 60 percent of garment production is sewn at home by informal workers, according author Lucy Siegle in her book, To Die For: Is Fashion Wearing Out the World?

Siegle learned that millions of desperate home-workers are hidden in some of the poorest regions of the world, “hunched over, stitching and embroidering the contents of the global wardrobe … in slums where a whole family can live in a single room.” Often with the help of their children, the home workers sew as fast as they can and for as long as daylight allows to embellish and bedazzle the clothes that end up in our closets.

Poorly made clothing items by the fast fashion industry harms the environment

The fast fashion business models is dependent on the consumers’ desire for new clothing to wear — which is instinctive if the clothing falls apart in one wash. In other words, the clothes produced by this industry is designed to fall apart the consumer has to keep buying more clothes. So, while stores like H&M and Forever 21 are producing hundreds of millions of garments, Americans are throwing away on average 68 pounds of textiles per year. All of those garments end up and landfills, and because most of our clothing today is made with synthetic, petroleum-based fibers, it will take decades for these garments to decompose.

Overall, fast fashion partakes in violating human rights, has various environmental impacts, and contains hazardous chemicals to the environment and people. We can fight the fast fashion industry by being conscious buyers by knowing what materials are our clothes made of, learn where and how our clothes are being made, and by spending a little extra money on an item that is not designed to fall apart.

*hyperlinks are used to view sources for the information provided in this op/ed