Fast fashion retailers have made their name by giving us a chance to buy cheaply made pieces that look like designer clothes for next to nothing. But their sales techniques are having a drastic impact on consumer behaviour around the world. In particular, it changes our perception of the lifespan of the garments we buy, and tries to convince us that outfit repeating is a faux pas, when we know it’s a sustainability must do.
Let’s take a deeper dive into the industry and see the statistics that lay behind the ever-changing garments that won’t stop flying off the shelves.
1. “93% of brands surveyed by the Fashion Checker aren’t paying garment workers a living wage” (Fashion Checker, 2020)
It is commonly known that fast fashion production facilities are located in countries that are referred to as emerging or developing markets. Fast fashion retailers employ thousands of people from Bangladesh, India, China, Indonesia, and other developing nations as a cheap workforce. Not only do these people have to work exhausting hours, but the payment they get is far from fair.
The 2020 Fashion Transparency Index found that only 5 of the 250 large brands surveyed (2%) “publish a time-bound, measurable roadmap or strategy for how they will achieve a living wage for all workers across their supply chains”.
2. “Clothing production is the third biggest manufacturing industry after the automotive and technology industries. Textile production contributes more to climate change than international aviation and shipping combined” (House of Common Environmental Audit Committee, 2019)
The main goal of fast fashion giants is all about lowering production costs. This is precisely why they neglect the sustainability aspect of production, starting from using non-biodegradable fabrics that are fully processed with chemicals, to throwing production waste into water streams, lakes, and oceans.
3. “More than $500 billion of value is lost every year due to clothing underutilization and the lack of recycling” (Ellen MacArthur Foundation, 2017)
Where does your clothing go when it’s not needed anymore? Statistically, tonnes of fast fashion items are being thrown away every year. This is not only due to customers getting rid of their wardrobe items, but also due to retail stores. Instead of recycling or donating clothing that wasn’t sold, most fast fashion companies are often spotted tossing or burning the unsold stock, which leads to terrifying losses of natural and financial resources.
4. “Fast fashion brands like Fashion Nova, Boohoo, Revolve, Pretty Little Thing and Forever 21 all score less than 10% on the Fashion Transparency Index” (Fashion Transparency Index, 2020)
Sustainable fashion cannot exist without transparency. Transparency is a key precondition for industry action to eliminate human rights violations, treat workers and communities with respect and eliminate or reduce pollution and unsustainable resource use.
You should be suspicious of any brand that is not prepared to fully account for where and how it makes the clothes it wants you to buy. Of course transparency by itself is not enough – we need brands to commit to high standards and effective assurance systems to know if brands and their suppliers are actually delivering on their commitments.
5. “One in three young women, the biggest segment of consumers, consider garments worn once or twice to be old” (The Guardian, 2019)
As the industry of fast fashion grows, our ideas on what is fresh and socially acceptable to wear also face a massive transformation. Life in a world where our wardrobes can be upgraded with a couple of new pieces for the price of breakfast makes us neglect the terrible reality of fast fashion.
6. “Fast fashion brands use open-loop production cycles that pollute water and land” (The New York Times, 2019)
Speaking of the sustainability aspect, it’s also essential to know how brands avoid or dispose of waste products in the production process. As sad as it is, a vast majority of fashion retailers do not clean and reuse water from production facilities, using a so-called “open-loop cycle” method. It means that all of the waste goes straight outside to pollute waters and lands. So, the exact opposite of what we want!
7. “The fashion industry is responsible for 8% of carbon emissions” (UN Environment, 2019)
Some of the main sources of carbon emissions along fashion supply chains are things like pumping water to irrigate crops (like cotton), the harvesting machinery, general transport, and those pesky oil-based pesticides—all of which are inevitably increased in the notoriously overproducing world of fast fashion. By that score, we know that purchasing fast fashion items directly contributes to the global polluting machine that is to blame for 8% of the world’s carbon emissions.
8. “The textile sector still represents 10 to 20 percent of pesticide use.” The State of Fashion, McKinsey, 2020)
Cotton is one of the most commonly used fabrics when it comes to the fast fashion industry. By now it’s probably easy to guess that the conventional cotton fabric most often used in the fast fashion industry is made unethically. Shockingly, over one quarter of the world’s pesticides are being used to grow this conventional cotton. Combined with open-loop cycles, cotton production within the fast fashion industry poses a significant threat to health and well-being for agricultural workers, for eco systems and ultimately for all of us. Looking for alternative, more sustainable fabric options, is integral for improving the impact of the fashion industry.
9. “The average American throws away around 81 pounds of clothing yearly” (Saturday Evening Post, 2018)
Clothing has become more readily available than ever, triggering our consumer behaviors to change for the worse. By thinking of the garments we wear as short term tools rather than long term investments, we contribute to wasteful consumption patterns that inevitably lead us towards drastic climate change.
10. “Emerging markets take the biggest hit from the industry of fast fashion” (Changing Markets, 2019)
Fast fashion retailers save billions of dollars by locating their factories in emerging countries. The high cost of a large fashion industry in countries like India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Cambodia and many more is the impact on the local environment and workers’ rights violations.
11.“68% of fast fashion brands don’t maintain gender equality at production facilities” (Ethical Fashion Guide, 2019)
As we’ve seen, most* fast fashion corporations locate their production facilities in emerging countries. The 80 million workers in the fashion supply chain are overwhelmingly women, but the majority of retailers show no little concern with maintaining gender equality in the workplace. Fast fashion is not just a sustainability problem, but a key feminist issue.
*Boohoo is a possible dishonourable exception – their final production is in Leicester UK to reduce time to market, but they have still been accused of labour rights abuses.