Why the Fashion Industry Needs to Change

Lauren Pinder - Teen Aspect - July 6th, 2022
Getty Images

Fashion has existed since the early 19th century, and has been used for nearly two centuries as a symbol of luxury, class, identity, style, and most recently, as a form of self expression.

The existence of fast fashion has broadened the spectrum of consumers in the fashion industry by making “hot” products accessible and affordable to the middle and lower classes, allowing them to participate in fashion trends created by high end brands. This occurs by selling products at a fraction of the price due to cheap labor and material sourcing.

Disregarding the environmental and socioeconomic damage, consumers are driven to buy fast fashion pieces, which, in turn, encourages continued production by global fast fashion enterprises. The increased consumerism is a result of consumer gratification. Consumers are motivated to “spend beyond their means,” on account of credit cards, payday advances and lay away loans.[1] Since fast fashion allows for quick response product delivery, participants of fast fashion are driven to continue to buy something that is cheaper and faster than designer brands that influence the pieces made by fast fashion companies.

Overconsumption is a consequence of conformity, specifically conforming to purchase fast fashion. Fast fashion corporations have applied the results of conformity amongst adolescents and young adults when purchasing clothing through the technique of greenwashing, a practice used to entice consumers to purchase a product and ease their conscience because the clothing line is claimed to be “eco-friendly.”

These contemporaneous developments beg the question: to what extent should fast fashion be tolerated? Both the negative environmental and societal ethical violations outweigh the economic dependency of fast fashion production; therefore, fast fashion should only be tolerated to a small extent as it damages the environment, exploits natural resources, and allows for corporations to profit off of the mistreatment of workers in the fashion industry.

It should be noted that the fashion industry is a valued part of the economy, facilitating trade between highly economically-established countries and industrializing countries that have yet to reach a mature state. At this point in time, the extremity of global damage significantly outweighs the financial gain of fashion companies that abuse the earth and its inhabitants. By shifting current fast fashion production to sustainable practices that conserve an ecological balance by avoiding the depletion of natural resources and exploitation of economically weak countries, the fashion industry will take a large step towards sustainability.

Environmental damage as a result of fashion production contradicts the sustainable production practices many fashion companies claim to have. In countries with loose environmental regulations, untreatable wastewater containing harmful dyes made of toxic chemicals is dumped into the ocean affecting established ecosystems of marine life.[2] Continuation of pollution will lead to irreparable habitat loss and inflict degeneration upon unique species.

Additionally, the synthetic materials that form fashion items are the main source of plastic microfibers that enter the ocean. It can be known that “35% of all microplastics” can be derived from synthetic materials produced in fashion factories.[2] Polyester fibers made of plastic cannot be removed from the ocean once broken down. These toxic microscopic substances end up in the human food chain through aquatic organisms and once consumed and can cause negative health effects.

Not only does fast fashion cause drastic damage to unique environments, but it also exploits Earth’s limited natural resources; if consumers allow for industries to consume all of these resources, there will be a severe global crisis. Since humans are “devouring the planet’s resources at a rate 1.7 times faster than it can regenerate,” the world is in a troubling state.[3]. In order to be able to support the predicted population of 9.8 billion people by the year 2050, companies must focus on preserving precious resources such as water that is necessary to ensure human survival.

A shift in priorities is greatly needed. “It takes 10,000 liters of water to produce one kilogram of cotton,” and “3,000 liters of water for one cotton shirt”.[2] Furthermore, it should be noted that companies opt for cheap materials such as polyester to produce mass fashion lines, a material made of plastic that releases more carbon emissions than cotton.

Chemical pollution from fast fashion contributes to “20% of wastewater” worldwide, and this number is expected to grow exponentially in the years to come (Le, 2020). There is only so much freshwater on the planet, and contaminating that water with toxic chemicals is undoubtedly not the wisest way to use it. Surely, consumers are willing to sacrifice an overstuffed closet for a few more quality years added to the existence of the human population.

It is estimated that the fashion industry will consume the resources equivalent to two Earths, while the demand for clothing resources are predicted to rise by 63%. ”[4]

As efforts towards sustainability increase in the global community, sustainable fast fashion production is attainable. Replacing harmful materials such as polyester and viscose with safer alternatives such as “Spinnova,” a fabric lacking harmful components such as caustic soda, carbon disulphide and sodium hydroxide [2], will promote healthy living by reducing environmental damage in manufacturing.

Reducing material flow of clothing and engaging in sustainable production and consumption is a major resolution to the ethical violations in the fast fashion industry.[5] Less production means less consumption of natural resources, burning of fossil fuels, and air and water pollution.

A major solution to the damage caused by fast fashion is limited product production and replacing materials such as cotton and viscose with alternatives made from recycled fabrics or wood fibers. By doing this, smaller amounts of carbon emissions will be released from garment factories, minimizing the fashion industry’s contribution to global pollution.

However, limiting the production level of the fast fashion industry will have its drawbacks. Countries that rely on the fashion industry as their source of economic prosperity would suffer terribly. The extent of this limitation can be adjusted by increasing the retail price of products produced in the fashion industry. This will create a living wage for factory workers, who are majorly women providing for their families, allowing them to support their livelihood.

While consumers will have to pay a little more for their clothing, they pay with pleasure as they are supporting a sustainable practice that benefits the environment and the workers who make up the industry. By improving women’s access to financial resources, the fashion industry could become a tool of empowerment instead of exploitation.

The creation of policies for factory workers will ensure protection of workers’ rights. Fair treatment and just compensation will benefit not only the workers but also the countries that are economically dependent on a small number of factories.

Fast fashion is unavoidable, and as humans, we must consume in order to survive and thrive. Nevertheless, why not purchase ethically sourced clothing instead of a product that causes an obscene amount of harm to multiple domains including the environment, natural resources, and the manufacturing industry.?

Consumers will make moral sacrifices regarding environmental and societal concerns on ethical practices in fast fashion because of the popular belief that fast fashion is acceptable. Fast fashion is alarmingly popular because of the vast support through social media, a place where ‘cool’ things are noticed and harsh truths are silenced and overlooked.

In this day and age, wrongdoers in the fashion industry are beginning to be held accountable. Emerging into a post-pandemic world allows for increased global focus on the “harsh truths” of the fast fashion industry, placing responsibility on companies to treat their workers and their world justly.

Works Cited:

[1] Dickler, J. (2019). Consumer Instant Gratification Can Prove Risky. CNBC. https://www.cnbc.com/2019/09/30/consumer-instant-gratification-can-prove-risky.html

[2] Le, N. (2020). The Impact Of Fast Fashion On The Environment - PSCI. Princeton University. https://psci.princeton.edu/tips/2020/7/20/the-impact-of-fast-fashion-on-the-environment

[3] Waters, J. (2021, May 30). Overconsumption and the environment: Should we all stop shopping? The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2021/may/30/should-we-all-stop-shopping-how-to-end-overconsumption

[4] McCosker, J. (2021). The Impact Of Fast Fashion On Garment Workers. Good On You. https://goodonyou.eco/impact-fast-fashion-garment-workers/

[5] McGrath, A. (2012). (rep.). Fashioning Sustainability: How the Clothes we wear can support Environmental and Human Well-being (pp. 1–24). Berkeley, California: University of California. https://nature.berkeley.edu/classes/es196/projects/2012final/McGrathA_2012.pdf

Teen Aspect (1)_edited_edited.png