Fast Fashion: An In-Depth Overview, Its Impact, and Solutions

Ever wondered the real cost of the trendy, cheap clothes you bought?

Tugged by the allure of fast fashion, we often neglect its devastating effect on our planet and society.

  • The history of fast fashion
  • The environmental impact of fast fashion
  • The human cost of fast fashion
  • Brands’ roles in fast fashion

Dive deeper into the world of fast fashion to make an informed decision about your clothing choices.

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Historical Overview of Fast Fashion

Taking a stroll (1907) Victorian

It is generally believed the concept of ‘fast fashion’ originated in the Victorian era with the advent of the sewing machine and the rise of factories. Fashion quickly shifted from bespoke, small-scale production to mass manufacturing. With these changes came an increased availability of affordable clothing for the general public.

The introduction of global supply chains during the 1960s ramped up the fast fashion industry. Brands began to produce clothing in high volumes, dramatically reducing manufacturing time and costs. The aim was to keep up with ever-changing trends and consumer demands for novel styles.

The 2000s and beyond witnessed an unprecedented boom in the fast fashion sector, contributing to an economy driven by ‘use and toss’ policies. Low price points and rapid turnaround times heightened consumer appetite for disposable clothing.

Today’s fast fashion models operate on a two-week production schedule compared to the traditional two-season calendar. Brands churn out a constant stream of new products, resulting in over consumption and waste. The whole cycle places a tremendous burden on our environment and economy.

The historical journey of fast fashion gives us insight into how we got here. The next part will help us understand its impact on our planet.

The Environmental Impact of Fast Fashion

blue denim collared top with we see what we want text overlay
Photo by Julia Kuzenkov on Pexels.com

Fast fashion is linked to substantial environmental damage. This results from a cycle of rapidly changing trends and disposable clothing, leading to mountains of textile waste. According to the U.S Environmental Protection Agency, an estimated 17 million tons of textile waste ended up in landfills in 2018.

drone shot of dumpsite
Photo by Tom Fisk on Pexels.com

But the environmental detriments of fast fashion begin long before the clothes are discarded. To understand the full impact, we must look to the production phase. A single cotton shirt requires approximately 2,700 liters of water to produce. This is equivalent to what an average person drinks over three years. This statistic is alarming considering the ever-depleting freshwater sources around the globe. Additionally, due to the energy-intensive production process, the fashion industry is responsible for approximately 10% of global carbon emissions. The UN Environment reports that the industry is on track to consume a quarter of the world’s carbon budget by 2050.

But wait, there’s more! The industry further contributes to environmental pollution through the toxic dyes and chemicals used to treat clothing. An oft-cited example is denim production. Jean manufacturing requires heavy chemical treatment and extensive water usage. This often combines to create colored runoff that seeps into rivers and seas, affecting biodiversity and public health.

This brief overview is but a tiny snapshot of the multifaceted environmental damage caused by the fast fashion industry. However, it helps to underscore the urgency of taking immediate action to lessen these impacts.

The Human Cost of Fast Fashion

woman working on a textile machine
Photo by Pew Nguyen on Pexels.com

The fast fashion industry is not only causing havoc on our environment but is also taking a massive toll on human lives. The production of these inexpensive, trendy garments often relies on poor working conditions, long hours, and meager wages for those in developing nations.

Historically, there have been several incidents which serve as stark reminders of these conditions. The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in New York in 1911 was one such tragedy. Claiming the lives of over 140 garment workers. Iit exposed the shocking lack of regard for worker safety in the pursuit of profit.

More recently, in 2013, the Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh served as a tragic wake-up call to the world. Over 1100 garment workers lost their lives, trapped in a building which had been deemed unsafe. This incident resulted in a global outcry for better conditions and rights for garment workers.

Those are just two examples. Many workers in the fast fashion industry continue to work in precarious conditions. They are often victim to exploitation and poor labor standards. Children, mainly in regions like South Asia, are also caught up in this vicious cycle. They are forced to work in hazardous conditions from a very young age.

All these instances lead us to question – when we buy a piece of fast fashion, who pays the real price?

The role of Brands

Brands, particularly international ones, play a crucial role in driving the trends and mechanics of the fast fashion industry. Many are responsible for propagating excessive consumerism, producing vast quantities of low-quality, disposable garments at breakneck speed.

Brands such as H&M, Zara, and Forever 21 are known for their quick turnaround of trend-led collections. However, this rapid production model often comes at a significant human and environmental cost. Long hours, poor working conditions, and underpayment have been linked to these powerhouses of the fashion industry.

It’s not all doom and gloom. Some brands are taking steps to improve their supply chain practices, while others are disrupting the fast fashion model altogether. Patagonia has a robust commitment to environmental and social responsibility. They demonstrate that financial success and ethical business operations can co-exist.

Conscious fashion brands such as Eileen Fisher, People Tree, and Everlane also have sustainable practices and fair treatment of workers. These players focus on using eco-friendly materials, ensuring their workers are paid fair wages, and safe working conditions.

While some brands are moving in the right direction, there are still miles to go in reshaping the industry. As consumers, it is our responsibility to hold these brands accountable and demand transparency in their production processes.


As we draw to a close, let’s summarize the key takeaways from the exploration of fast fashion. Including its extensive implication on both the environment and human lives.

  • Fast fashion has roots in the Victorian period. It has seen an immense surge in the current era, impacting how fashion is perceived and consumed.
  • The fast fashion industry significantly contributes to environmental pollution and depletion of resources, making it a pressing global concern.
  • Tragic events like the Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire and the Bangladesh factory collapse serve as reminders of the neglect of workers’ safety.
  • Various brands play a role in perpetuating or mitigating the negative implications of this industry.

Each of us as individuals can play a role in combating fast fashion through informed choices and considerate consumption. We can make a positive difference in the harmful effects of fast fashion by supporting ethical brands, recycling clothing, or making more sustainable choices.

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