People are purchasing more clothes than they need. Compared to 16 years ago, people purchase 60% more clothes but each piece is kept for half as long (UNEP, 2019). This suggests that many choose to discard their old clothes to make space for new ones.
The fast fashion industry designs, manufactures and sells a massive amount of clothes at a rapid pace. In addition, fashion cycles have greatly shortened due to the rise in micro-trends. It is now common to see new styles coming up every week.
Fast fashion has huge environmental and social implications. The fashion industry is responsible for up to 10% of total carbon emissions and fast fashion has heightened the problem (UNEP, 2019). Moreover, the mass production of clothes is resource intensive. Clothes are commonly made in different blends of natural and synthetic materials. These require massive amounts of resources during production. Crude oil, a non-renewable natural resource, is commonly used to fuel production of synthetic materials like polyester, rayon, and nylon.
The fast fashion industry is known to be the second largest consumer of the world’s water supply, behind agriculture. Nearly 5,283 gallons of water is needed to produce 1kg of cotton and 713 gallons to produce one cotton shirt, which is equivalent to 2.5 years of drinking water supply for one person (World Wildlife Magazine, 2014). It further pollutes the ocean by releasing microplastics during production.
Furthermore, toxic wastes are released when producing fabric with synthetic materials. A 2018 study on cancer among residents living near factories found that they often suffer from liver, bladder, kidney, and lung cancer due to exposure to toxic wastes (Yuan et al, 2018). In order to keep costs low, the industry often relies on outsourcing which has aggravated issues such as child labour and underpaid labour. In addition, the health and safety conditions of garment workers are extremely poor (Clean Clothes Campaign). Lack of access to clean drinking water and protective gear, limited or no toilet breaks, and long hours of work with bad ergonomics has resulted in fatigue, injuries and diseases which are often left untreated. Insufficient emergency plans and exits compromises the safety of garment workers at risk.