Fast Fashion Kills: What You Can Do To Help Stop It


by Rossella Forle’

Fashion has had a longstanding relationship with feminism, empowering women to choose how they will represent themselves to the outside world. I love the connection I feel between what I wear and my identity, and cheap high street clothes have allowed for easy access to fashion. But what effect is our thirst for bargains having on those that produce our clothes?

The fast fashion industry has boomed in recent years, and in the last year alone, consumers spent £50 billion pounds. As 80% of garment workers are women, this is a gendered issue, and we need to be aware of the human cost of providing a demand for such cheap clothing. Identifying as a feminist is to hold a belief in the liberation of all women across the world, to quote Emma Lazarus “Until we are all free…none of us are free”.


The Social and Environmental Costs

You might remember the infamous documentary, ‘The True Cost’, which showed horrifying footage of extremely exploitative conditions for labourers in H&M. The documentary has stayed with me, and I have since avoided shopping at H&M. But the hypocrisy in this is all too clear, as it’s not just H&M, Primark and Zara who are guilty. The reality being that access to cheap clothes from all high street brands means dire working conditions for all those producing the clothes. You only have to look at the label to see that the majority of high street clothing is produced in countries where employees have fewer or even nonexistent labour rights to protect them from extreme exploitation.

Fast Fashion production wouldn’t be possible without major corner cutting both in terms of labour and the environment. The pressure for companies to produce cheaply means that Fast Fashion companies often don’t pay their factory workers fair wages. Garment workers are often forced to work extreme overtime hours and lack access to trade unions. Further, the majority of these garment workers are women and girls who are vulnerable to verbal, physical and sexual exploitation from their superiors. This is especially true in Asia where most manufacturers take their business because of the looser labour restrictions.

Still, what’s even more startling is the amount of labour abuse that’s actually happening on UK soil, especially in factories in Leicester. A 2016 Government report on Modern Slavery found that of 71 leading retailers in the UK, 77% believed there was a likelihood of modern slavery occurring at some stage in their supply chains. Fast Fashion retailers often play suppliers against each other in a competition to offer the lowest prices and shortest lead times. This results in low wages, poor working conditions, and a shift towards modern slavery.

Fast Fashion is also no friend to the environment. The excessive textile production needed to keep up with Fast Fashion results in overwhelming CO2 and greenhouse gas emissions. In addition to polluting the air, Fast Fashion is also polluting the earth’s water. It takes 2,700 litres of water to make 1 cotton t-shirt. This statistic is startling when we think about how many cheap cotton t-shirts we see on sale every day. The dyes that go into most brightly coloured Fast Fashion pieces are also environmental polluters. Finally, the cheap textiles used in Fast Fashion (namely Polyester) shed microfibres that contribute to ocean pollution. 

A Culture of Waste

Maybe the biggest problem with Fast Fashion is the culture it creates. The overabundance of inexpensive items means that we start to view clothing as cheap and disposable. We end up buying more often and keeping pieces for shorter amounts of time. And this process leaves us with a lot of clothing waste. Looking at you, orange ruffled crop top. So what actually happens to all these unwanted pieces? Charity Shops are drowning in an oversupply of unwanted clothes. A small number of lucky items are given a second life. Still, the majority end up incinerated (releasing CO2 emissions) in landfills, or shipped abroad; a practice that has its own negative implications.

The other problem is that lots of garments aren’t even given a first life. What happens to all the Fast Fashion items that don’t sell? Again, they’re looking at the landfill or the fashion funeral pyre. Since Fast Fashion rarely produces sparingly, this sad fate awaits tonnes of items every week.

What You Can Do

Buy clothes you love because you love them, not because they’re cheap. As a general rule, if you don’t think you’ll wear it 30 times, it’s probably not worth buying. Small choices like this will ultimately make a big impact on the ethos of the Fashion Industry. And remember, when it comes to fashion, just like when it comes to life, it’s better to take things slow.

Make What You Wear

Do you know who made your clothes, or where they came from? Ever thought of making them yourself? Now’s your chance! On Saturday 10 at 47 Thames Road, London.

Come for a full day of workshops exploring sustainable ways of reusing, repairing, and making your clothes.

Even if you’ve never thought about making your own clothes, this is a great opportunity to try out loads of things in the maker space and learn something new with all the Warehouse’s resources It will be a fun and relaxed day exploring the clothing industry and focusing on ethical, organic, fair trade and innovative materials.

Take a Stand Against the Fashion Industry

If you feel that you really want to make a change and take a stand against the fashion industry, join Extinction Rebellion action for a funeral for London Fashion Week on the 17th September, to put this fashion system to rest and call for a rebirth of fashion.