I am sure the terms “fast fashion” vs. “slow fashion” are integrated into every eco-conscious fashion maven’s convos. But for those of us who are just starting out our journey to a more sustainabile closet, it is significant to understand why this inevitable debate is so important. Not too long ago, clothing used to be an occasion-only splurge where patterns, fabrics, sewing and mending had an actual significant value. Yet, over the last 20 years, clothes have become cheaper, trends are constantly in rotation, and shopping has turned into an offline and online pastime. 

Exploring the conept of fast fashion, an industry with an estimated worth of $38.21 billion it is crucial to understand what fast fashion actually is? How does it affect us, the planet, and animals?

Grab a chair - the facts might shock you.

What is fast fashion?

The term “fast fashion” was first introduced in the 1990s by The New York Times. It was by the time Zara launched its first store in New York, with a mission to “take only 15 days for a garment to go from the design stage to being sold in stores." In other words, fast fashion is cheap, trendy clothing that mimics ideas from the catwalk and designers with the sole purpose to flood the customers’ wardrobes with as many one-season items as possible - because no one really likes an outfit repeater, right?

Zara's mission statement is to “give customers what they want, and get it to them faster than anyone else.” -which unfortunatly means that millions of clothing get used and thrown away within a year, without any afterthought.

So, what’s the big issue?

Well, the stats below will speak for themselves.... 

The environmental and humanitarian impacts of fast fashion

Fast fashion slowly kills the environment

Based on a recent study, the UN Environment Programme named the fashion industry as the second-biggest consumer of water as well as responsible for 8-10% of global carbon emissions. Basically, it is more than all international flights and maritime shipping combined. 

According to Greenpeace, on average, 2 billion pairs of jeans are produced each year on avarage, and a pair takes up to 7,000 liters of water to be made. For a conventional cotton t-shirt, it takes up to 2,700 liters of water to make one. This amount of water would take about 3 years for an average person to drink. 

And as if that wasn't enough, over 1.5 million tons of toxic chemicals, which permanently impact the environment, are used in the production of these clothing. You might know them with too-hard-to-pronounce names such as formaldehyde, perfluorinated, azo dyes, NPEs. These substances are not only carcinogenic but also more than able to find their way into every body of water. 

Speaking of water, did you know that every time we wash a synthetic garment,1,900 individual microfibers get released into the water? These fibers get eaten by aquatic organisms, which is yet another way to introduce plastic into the food chain.

Fast fashion is modern slavery

Yes, that sounds too dark - but it is a reality in too many cases. In 2013, the world had a tremendous wake-up call when the Rana Plaza clothing manufacturing complex in Bangladesh collapsed, killing over 1,000 workers. Images flooded the internet, exposing the real truth behind the coveted $5 price tag.

In 2021, women and young children make up over 80 percent of textile workers globally. In fact,  workers under the age of 18 constitute 60 percent of those who labor in the global fashion industry. Sewers work up to 20 hours per day for 1€ in countries like China, Bangladesh, and Vietnam.

Do you remember the toxic chemicals we mentioned earlier? A serious lack of regulation exposes millions of workers to hazardous work environments causing allergic reactions, injuries, and death.   

“Between 70 to 80 kids in every village, such as Punjab, they found severe mental retardation and physical handicaps. And mothers and families are patiently waiting for their children to die, as they cannot afford a treatment either,” said Barbara Briggs, director of the Institute for Labor Rights, during her interview in The True Cost documentary.

We understand that it might be a love hate realtionship for anyone into fashion - the cheap price tag and on-trend clothing is attracting. But if you are up for the fight - now when you know what fast fashion is and the damage it is causing - make sure to join us on our journey to a more responsible closet.

Continue reading the "Part 2" of this post, when we explore further the alternatives to fast fashion, why slow fashion is still important and how small actions could actually make a change for a more sustainable future.