Negative impacts of fast fashion
With fast fashion on the rise, we cannot ignore the negative impacts it continues to create. It’s important to step back and ask yourself, “Was that $5 t-shirt worth it?” We hear fast fashion is bad – but do we know just how bad? To fully understand the impacts of fast fashion we first have to know what it even means.
What is fast fashion?
Fast fashion is the process of producing extremely high volumes of clothing in a short amount of time – it’s all about keeping up with the latest trends, on an extremely low budget. Fast fashion brands replicate trends from fashion icons and influencers to create cheap clothing for consumers at a much lower cost. This has often included plagiarizing indie artists’ designs. Low-quality materials like synthetic fabrics are often used to cut costs, causing the clothing items to only last a few wears.
While we may not be able to stop this global trend today, it's important for us as consumers – especially those who shop often – to take time out from shopping every day and think of the long-term effects of fast fashion.
How did fast fashion start?
There are so many things that led to the rise of fast fashion, but let’s rewind to understand how it truly happened. In the 1800s, way before sewing machines were ever invented, everything was made by hand. You had to source your fabric material, then prepare and weave it to make clothing. So fashion pieces were inevitably made slowly.
As you can imagine, once sewing machines were invented, things moved a lot faster. Clothes were a lot quicker to make, which also slightly decreased the cost of making them.
Fast-forwarding to the 60s and 70s – clothing became a way of personal expression with bright vibrant prints and colours. Fashion was important but the fashion industry wasn’t as bad as it is now.
The 90s and 2000s era is when low-cost fashion was on the rise; it actually reached its peak during this time. The Internet had been around for a while and online shopping took off. Big fashion retailers like Zara and H&M took ideas from designer brands and recreated them cheaply and quickly.
The term ‘fast fashion’ started when Zara landed in New York in the early 90s. Their mission was to create a garment and have it on store shelves in 15 days. They made clothes so fast that in 2005, Madonna fans attended her concert in knockoff clothes that she had worn just a few weeks earlier!
You can see how exciting and enticing this can be for consumers to be able to dress like their favourite celebrity on a budget or buy something they hadn’t seen the week before.
This wouldn’t sound so bad if it didn’t come at a HUGE expense. Fast fashion is not only hurting our planet but our animals too. It even exploits workers and has caused some historic tragic incidents around the world.
Fast fashion impacts
Fast fashion is a billion-dollar industry, but it's not as glamorous as it seems. About 85% of fast fashion factories are violating some law or another. This includes labour laws, federal wages and even hour laws.
Textile workers in countries like India, Bangladesh and Vietnam are being exploited daily. These employees have terrible work conditions, often resulting in abuse from their employers for not meeting production goals or even requesting time off work. Fast fashion production typically means low wages, terrible working conditions and abuse for textile workers.
So why are fast fashion brands okay with this? In today’s world, it’s easier for brands to outsource their supply chain due to a lack of oversight and lack of accountability. They allow their subsidiaries to remain unregulated because it removes any responsibilities from them, enabling them to keep their costs low.
This lack of oversight has taken many lives and has caused historic incidents that not enough people talk about.
The first significant disaster happened in 1911 when a fire broke out at the Triangle Shirtwaist garment factory in New York. It claimed the lives of 146 garment workers. The building only had one fire escape which collapsed during the rescue efforts. Many workers were trapped under heavy machinery as others struggled to open the locked doors that were locked by their managers to prevent theft.
Another horrific incident occurred when an eight-story building collapsed in Dhaka, Bangladesh, killing 1132 garment workers back in 2013. The Rana Plaza incident was one of the worst industrial disasters in history. And it only happened 10 years ago. That day changed fashion forever and sparked a fashion revolution. The aptly named Fashion Revolution organization believes in restoring the environment and valuing people over profit. They campaign for a safe, fair and transparent work environment.
There is no doubt fast fashion impacts our planet significantly. With the constant pressure of producing at a lower cost and a higher speed to beat the competition, corners are being cut and our environment is suffering.
On average, people wear their clothes about seven times before discarding them. We buy about 60% more clothes now than we did in the year 2000 (and we bought a lot back then).
This is why Miik has always chosen to use durable, sustainable fabrics with lower environmental impacts. We also continue to create versatile styles that supersede trends – so they can be worn year-after-year without fading, losing their shape, or feeling out of style.
The fashion industry is the second-biggest consumer of water with approximately 93 billion cubic metres of usage every year!
Did you know it takes 1,800 gallons of water to grow enough cotton for one pair of jeans? Roughly 700 gallons of water are needed for a cotton t-shirt and 2,257 gallons to make a pair of shoes. But it doesn’t just end at fabric production! 20% of the wastewater produced worldwide comes from dyeing and treating fabrics. This untreated wastewater is pumped back into our water system contaminating it with toxins and heavy metals. This pollutes rivers and streams, negatively impacting the health of animals, and us too.
And it doesn’t just end there! You have to wash your clothes, right? That releases 500,000 tons of microfibres into the ocean each year, that’s about 50 billion plastic bottles. The fashion industry is responsible for around 35% of oceanic primary microplastic pollution.
Miik is proud that our fabrics use non-toxic dyes and chemicals, and our manufacturers have implemented water recycling – 95% of our production materials are recovered to reduce energy use and minimize waste. Our contractors also use environmentally-responsible processes for turning the natural fibres into yarn and for dyeing our fabrics. All our fabrics are Standard 100 by OEKO-TEX® certified, meaning they're safer for you and for our planet.
The fashion industry is responsible for about 10% of carbon emissions worldwide and is second only to the oil industry. This percentage accounts for the emissions released during production and transportation. Fast fashion is roughly responsible for 1.2 billion tonnes of carbon emissions alone.
Remember the pair of jeans that we talked about earlier? One pair of jeans take the equivalent of approximately 33.4 kg of carbon to produce. For reference, an average fully grown tree can absorb around 21 kg of carbon dioxide PER YEAR.
Every time you make a purchase on our website, you have the opportunity to reduce your carbon footprint by adding a donation to Carbon Checkout. For every dollar contributed, Carbon Checkout offsets 245 pounds of global greenhouse gas emissions that would have otherwise been released into the atmosphere.
There are 92 million tonnes of textile waste produced annually and it’s expected to increase to more than 134 million tonnes of textile per year by 2030. This number is terrifyingly high since 95% of these textiles can be reused or recycled. The fast fashion trend is creating cheaply made clothes that are thrown away after a few washes because they just don’t last. You buy it fast, you wear it fast, and it falls apart FAST.
What’s more, textiles can take up to 200 years to decompose in landfills. With the average person throwing away about 37 kg of textile yearly, it’s about the same as 111 books or a baby rhino! You can see how problematic this can be.
Miik uses LENZING™ modal fibres for many of our styles. LENZING™ modal fibres have been certified as compostable and biodegradable under industrial, home, soil and marine conditions, and can fully revert back to nature. You can also learn how to make your clothes last and responsibly recycle them from our article on how to apply circular fashion to everyday life.
As mentioned earlier, the dyeing and treatment process of fabric produces about 20% of wastewater worldwide. When the untreated water is pumped back into the water system, it releases toxins and heavy metals. For the animals living in these waters or consuming them, their health is at risk – and so is ours! For instance, when we consume seafood that has ingested microplastics or microfibers we are exposing ourselves to harmful pollutants.
Fast fashion or fashion in general also negatively impacts the welfare of animals by mass-producing leather, wool or fur. Ethical fashion is about prioritizing the well-being of all animals, human or not, before profit.
What can we do to help slow down fast fashion?
There’s a lot that can be done to help slow down fast fashion, but the easiest way starts by changing our habits. The first thing we can do to help is to understand the differences between fast fashion and slow fashion and be mindful of our purchases. Buying good quality clothes will not only make you feel better, but they will last much longer.
The next thing we can do to help is to follow care instructions. It may sound like a strange solution but clothes will last longer if you wash them according to the care guide. And if you don’t want certain clothes anymore, donate or sell them. We need to recycle as much as we can so they don’t end up in landfills.
Buying ethically, responsibly-made clothing may cost more when you purchase it – but in the long run, a well-made Miik tee actually costs the same or less money than its fast fashion counterpart. So, the next time you pick up a $5 t-shirt, ask yourself who made it. And was it worth it?
Miik’s mission is to keep the garment industry alive in Canada with everything being produced within 50km of our Toronto headquarters. Allowing us to oversee everything, ensuring only the highest quality of materials are being used, in facilities with great working conditions that we visit frequently and can confirm they pay their employees a living wage. Sustainability and ethical practices mean everything to us.