Why is fast fashion so bad for the planet?

Fast fashion provides us with a convenient way to shop. When clothes are cheap, we don’t have to think too much about whether or not we really want or need them. The issue with this is that it prevents us from thinking about the true cost behind how our clothes are made and who makes them.

The fast fashion industry is one of the the dirtiest industries in the world, and a big contributor to the climate crisis. Every item of clothing in your wardrobe has a carbon footprint. Chemicals, dyes, materials, and transport all contribute to the footprint of a single piece of clothing.

Making more conscious decisions about where to buy your clothes is an important part of living a more sustainable lifestyle, and it helps to understand why.

Folded sweaters from fast fashion brands in a wardrobe

Your clothes are made of plastic

The synthetic fibres that make up a lot of the clothes in our wardrobe are actually plastic. They don’t look or feel like plastic, and they’re not marketed to us as ‘plastic clothing’, but that is essentially what they are. Each time these clothes are washed, they shed tiny pieces of microplastics which are then flushed out into our waterways and oceans.

The most popular synthetic fibre is polyester, but other fibres include nylon, lycra, and acrylic. The next time you do your laundry, take a minute to look at the tags on your clothes. How many items are made of these materials? How many are ‘blends’ or ‘mixed’ with natural fibres like cotton?

What about natural fibres?

Although these plastic fibres are an issue, they are only part of the problem. Even clothes made from ‘natural’ fibres like cotton are guilty of devastating environmental impacts. In fact, conventionally grown cotton is one of the dirtiest crops in the world, requiring between 20,000 and 40,000 litres of water per kg, and using up to 25% of all insecticides and 10% of all pesticides worldwide (according to Eco-Chic: The Fashion Paradox by Sandy Black).

In addition, harmful chemicals are used to process and dye the clothes. These chemicals often make their way into the water systems in towns and villages where the clothes are made. This leads to serious health issues for locals and devastates the environment.

Clothes hanging in a wardrobe. Fast fashion and sustainable fashion.
Copyright: Byrnewithme

Consider the life-cycle of your clothes

When we go shopping, we often consider the clothes on the rack ‘brand new’. In reality, that t-shirt or pair of jeans went through a journey to get to there. From raw materials, to chemical processing, to the factory it was stitched in, there were many different stages before it landed on the rack. Thinking about this process can help us to be more considerate about what we buy.

It also helps to think about where they end up when we’re done with them. Clothes are now so cheap that they are often only worn a handful of times before being discarded. And if they didn’t cost that much, then it doesn’t matter much if they end up in the bin.

Except it does matter. According to IWTO.org, synthetic fibres take between 30-40 years to break down in landfill, and these fibres release greenhouse gases into the atmosphere as they decompose.

We have simply overloaded the planet with clothes. Fast fashion brands bring out new lines every two weeks, and consumers keep buying. We replace our new clothes with more new clothes, and it all just keeps piling up. Something needs to change.

A shirt from sustainable fashion brand, KOTN.
A shirt from sustainable fashion brand, KOTN.

How to make more sustainable fashion choices

The best thing you can do is stop buying new clothes. Start by appreciating what you already own, decide what you really need, and if you can, choose second hand. If something seems worn or damaged, consider having it repaired before you decide to get rid of it. These steps are simple, but they can help to save you money, and save the planet.

If you do need to buy new, make a conscious decision about what you’re buying. Invest in something good quality that will last a long time. Look for sustainable fashion brands with a good reputation for making ethical clothing.

The impact of the fashion industry can be overwhelming. It’s easy to feel that, as an individual, you can’t make a difference. I thought that once, but I know now that I was wrong. We all buy and wear clothes, so we all bear a responsibility.

You are not just one person trying to make better choices. You are one of millions across the world doing what they can to help the planet, and it all adds up to something.

The next article in this sustainable fashion series – 5 ways to make your wardrobe more eco-friendly – will be published next week.

All images are owned by me. Please do not use without asking and giving credit.


  • On December 01, 2019

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