Fast fashion brands cause environmental problems, study finds

Fast fashion is characterized by trendy clothes and affordable prices. However, fast fashion has contributed greatly to the environmental issues associated with building and disposing of mass amounts of clothing. (Made in Canva by Aubree B. Jennings)

Fast fashion has dramatically increased the textiles produced, purchased and discarded over the past two decades, causing environmental and social issues.

According to a textile workshop run by the National Institute of Standards and Technology, companies are producing nearly twice as much clothing as before 2000, with nearly 50 billion items thrown away within a year of being made. The publication also reported that an item of clothing is worn an average of seven times in the United States before being thrown away.

This increase is openly attributed by the NIST to the rise of fast fashion. Fast fashion is characterized by fashionable clothes and affordable prices which are possible due to cheap materials and poor construction.

Dawna Baugh, a BYU professor of fashion textiles and garment construction, said fast fashion garments would have a three-month life cycle, attracting customers to buy and throw away within months. This leads to massive amounts of waste in landfills as well as unsustainable processes of water, chemicals and labor in the manufacture of garments, according to NIST.

“Consumers are all okay with eco-friendly products that are better for our environment, but they’re not okay with paying the extra money,” Baugh said.

The environmental and social issues of fast fashion rose to the forefront of public conversation in 2013 with the collapse of the Rana Plaza building in Bangladesh. This disaster killed more than 1,100 factory workers, according to the NIST publication.

In recent years, the clothing company “Shein” has come under social scrutiny for its illegal labor practices in China.

“When we talk about sustainability, we are not just talking about the sustainability of the land, we are talking about the sustainability of the work. When these companies come into these countries and get really cheap labor, and they expect these people to work six or seven days a week, 12 or 14 hours a day, that’s not not socially sustainable,” Baugh explained.

While these issues remain prevalent, Baugh said there is a movement in the fashion industry and among consumers towards environmentally friendly clothing.

“The big buzzword in fashion right now is ‘sustainable,'” Baugh said.

The trend is positive, she said, but she cautioned against marketing ploys, called “greenwashing”, which manipulate customers into buying items labeled as eco-friendly that do not are actually not.

The International Textile and Apparel Association held a conference last week, attended by Baugh, where Professor Mercan Derafshi of the University of Tennessee at Martin presented on the effects of greenwashing on students.

In the study, according to Baugh, students rated three products based on their durability. The one that was the most sustainable received the lowest grade from the students because it had no ecological terminology on advertising.

In July this year, H&M was sued for misleading customers with their eco-friendly adverts when an independent study proved it was in fact very unsustainable. This included a dress marketed as having used 20% less water on average when in reality it had used 20% more water.

Rather than relying on brands to disclose their sustainability practices, Baugh suggested supporting slow fashion, thrift and clothing donation as eco-friendly measures.

Slow fashion is described as clothing that, although more expensive, is of higher quality and will last a long time.

Amanda Bartholomew, a family consumer science student at BYU, said that while slow fashion is initially more expensive, it could save money in the long run by lasting much longer.

She linked it to buying cookware and said, “I don’t want to buy a bunch of non-stick pans that are going to last me a year,” she said. “I’d rather drop about $300 on an ‘All-Clad’ stainless steel pan because it’s going to last me forever, like it’s so worth it.”

Reusing clothing is another popular way to support sustainable practices.

Provo resident Lexie Burningham started her own business this summer, called “Orange Thrift,” selling second-hand items from pop-up shops in the Provo area. She said she wanted to promote the reuse of clothes, saying, “It’s not just for unique pieces, but it’s also related to helping the world in some way and letting those clothes have a another life. That’s what I want to defend. »

Burningham and Baugh shared that donating clothes is infinitely better than throwing them away. Baugh explained that even clothes that aren’t suitable for resale, like the donation of a single shoe, can be reused and recycled.

The NIST publication states that 85% of textiles end up incinerated or landfilled, and only 15% are recycled or reused.

“I would say my best advice for helping our landfill is to not let your clothes end up in the landfill,” Baugh said.

Printable, PDF and email version

About Author

Comments are closed.