Fast Fashion and Impacts on Environment and Labor

Nicolas Boullosa

“clothes everywhere” by nicolas.boullosa is licensed with CC BY 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit

Claire Gibson

Clothing giants like Forever 21, Romwe, and Victoria’s Secret have been harming the planet without repercussion. These companies contribute to a thing called Fast Fashion.

Fast fashion is defined asmarketing of clothing fashions that emphasizes making clothing trends quickly and cheaply available to consumers” Companies mass-produce clothing, exploiting workers to provide lower prices for their products.

Fast fashion is second to oil in harmful environmental impacts. A report done by Quantis International concluded that with apparel and footwear combined they account for 8.1% of global climate impacts which equals 3,990 million metric tons of CO2eq. Quantis International predicts that by 2030 pollution impacts will be up by 149%.

 Washing low quality and cheap clothing in the washer can release an estimated amount of 500,000 tons of microfibers into our waterways. That is equivalent to 50 billion plastic water bottles. To produce the clothes they sell, they use up massive amounts of water and energy. The fashion industry is the 2nd biggest consumer and polluter of water. About 1 pair of jeans can use up to 2,000 gallons of water, and 1 cotton shirt can take up 700 gallons. Leftover water from making and dyeing these clothes are often dumped into rivers and streams. In 2017 13 million tons of clothing in the US alone have been dumped in landfills or burned. 

Besides how it affects our environment, Fast fashion also partakes in unethical worker exploitation and gender-based violence in the workplace. Most garment workers in the industry are women. Companies that supply companies like H&M and GAP have been found to abuse their female workers. According to an article done by GreenAmerica, “The abuse against female workers stems from the way fast fashion meets its bottom line: outsourcing, contract work, and accelerated labor.“. Our clothing is made in countries with little to no worker rights. Companies exploit their workers by taking advantage of their misery and poverty. Their workers have no choice but to work in horrible conditions with little pay. The European Parliament has called this “slave labor” while describing the working conditions of workers in Asia. 

Many believe that they can’t do anything to stop fast fashion or to help their environmental footprint but, they’re wrong. Though you might not be able to do a lot, there are many small things you can do to reduce your environmental footprint, for example, you can recycle or donate your old clothes, Shop at local/sustainable brands, and, in general, buy less clothing! If you want to find more ways to help reduce fast fashion impacts on the planet visit The Guardian for more ideas on how to shop consciously.