Fast Fashion: Ethical Issues and its Effects on the Economy


In our current world, the ubiquitous presence of advertisements leads to people being unable to escape glossy adverts or glittering models. The idea of fashion is so incessantly present that it seeps into our routines—whether its carelessly scrolling past outfit ideas on Instagram or glancing at articles about celebrities and designer streetwear. It's ceaseless and inescapable; our own ties with consumerism led fast fashion to first emerge in the 1800s and then to become omnipresent.

What is fast fashion? Its physically embodied by stores like Zara, H&M, or Forever 21—with their gleaming signs screaming sales and deals and promising dreams. Its inexpensive clothing made in questionable factories with questionable conditions for the workers. Its taking trends from the runway that become identical pieces of clothing to sell to consumers.

This has been present for hundreds of years, yet we are only beginning to have conversations about its ethical issues and effects on the economy. There are innumerous environmental concerns, along with problems about the abominable way the industry treats garment workers. As fast fashion focuses on (as you can guess) how fast clothing can be manufactured, factories cut corners on environmental sustainability. The amount of pollution and waste that results from fast fashion is almost unimaginable—a car moving for around 130 kilometres is equal to the greenhouse gases emitted when manufacturing a pair of jeans. Furthermore, animal cruelty is also a major issue, as real fur and leather are used to create that jacket you adore. The fast-paced demand for new, new, and newer has also increased the discard rate of clothing, as clothes coming in will match the amount thrown away. This only increases the amount of manufacturing and adds to our landfills.   

Garment workers are directly in the midst of all of these issues. A notable incident occurred in 2013 in Bangladesh—1000 people died during the Rana Plaza collapse. It made national headlines and increased the overall global understanding of fast fashion. The conditions these workers are in are inhumane; a salary of $96 per month while working in a dangerous environment is unthinkable to someone from a first-world country. It would be hypocritical for me to comment about purchasing a $10 dollar shirt on sale (although with our sales tax, maybe wait for a better deal) but think about the multitude of almost identical shirts you have in your closet. Think about that shirt’s origin a little bit more.

This may seem bleak and purposely written to discourage any sort of purchasing, but the history of fast fashion cannot be rewritten. However, individuals, companies, and NGOs can alter the future of the industry. Studies have been made (notably from the Ellen McArthur Foundation and Global Fashion Agenda) about the economic effects of fast fashion. Currently, in the last fifteen years, the clothing produced has doubled, and it will only increase—proven by a predicted 400% growth in GDP by 2050. However, the waste created by the industry is incomparable, as $400 billion (noted in a report from Global Fashion Agenda) of clothing is thrown away too early. Currently, Pulse of the fashion industry reports has proven that by 2030, there will be a $192 billion advantage if ethical and sustainability issues are fixed in the industry.

The Pulse score in 2018 (uses the Higg Index to indicate current sustainability) was 38/100, which was 6 points higher than in 2017. By introducing disruptive solutions like sustainable materials, recycling technologies, and automation, this score will only increase. Through improving awareness, there will be lowered mindless consumerism—there’s nothing wrong with needing to purchase inexpensive clothes, but by limiting spending, it will be better for both the environment and your wallet.