Sustainability News 2: The Plague of ‘Fast Fashion’

The fashion industry takes a huge – and largely unacknowledged – toll on the environment as well as the one in six human beings around the globe whose work keeps the nearly $3 trillion per year fashion industry going each day. The industry has changed drastically over the past few decades, bringing about detrimental practices rooted in the prioritization of profit above the well-being of ecosystems, economies and individuals. The resulting speedy cycle of producing clothing at any cost, including serious environmental and humanitarian harm, has been dubbed “fast fashion.”

As recently as the 1960’s, 95% of Americans’ clothing was manufactured in the United States. Today, just 3% of Americans’ clothing is made domestically, and 97% is manufactured in developing countries. As the outsourcing of clothing manufacturing increased, clothing prices dropped, driving extreme hikes in the volume of clothing being purchased by Americans, all perpetuating the vicious cycle of fast fashion.

In major retailers’ racing to outcompete one another, the basic human rights of their overseas workers became insignificant, leading to everyday unhealthy working conditions as well as tragedies like the collapse of a building in Bangladesh that left more than 1,000 clothing factory workers dead.

Fast fashion’s toll on the environment is alarming, as well. While Americans are purchasing clothes at a rate 400% higher than that of two decades ago, the bulk of our garments are ending up in landfills, releasing harmful greenhouse gases as they decomposes. Toxic byproducts of manufacturing and farming processes lead to increased rates of health issues that range from skin abnormalities to brain damage in the communities where garments are made and where cotton is grown.

Fortunately, there are choices we can make as consumers to minimize our contribution to the damaging phenomenon of fast fashion. Check out a few ways you can take a stand, below.

Are there ways you routinely upcycle old clothing, or socially responsible retailers you love? Share with us and your fellow readers with a comment!

If you’re interested in learning more about fast fashion, check out the documentary The True Cost, which is on Netflix now. Its website is also informative and shares ways to advocate for social justice in the face of fast fashion if you’re so moved, such as through arranging a screening of the documentary in your community.

- AJ MacDonald