The True Cost of Fast Fashion and Why I’m Trying to Shop More Ethically

I’ve talked about ethical fashion on this blog before but I hope you noticed that I’ve also tried to shift from buying a lot of fast fashion to shopping more ethically. Why, you ask? As I’ve learned more about fashion over the years I’ve realized that there are A LOT of problems within the fashion industry. From pollution to human rights issues, fast fashion has other costs besides the price you see on the tag.

The True Cost of Fast Fashion

The True Cost of Fast Fashion

The Fashion Industry versus The Environment

The fashion industry is one of the BIGGEST POLLUTERS. You can google a ton of articles with specific stats about how bad fashion is for the environment but here are a few points:

  • The global fashion industry produces more CO2 emissions than international flights and shipping combined.
  • The fashion industry produces between 80 billion to 150 billion garments a year globally.
  • About three-fifths of clothing are sent to the landfills or incinerated within a couple years of being made.

That’s A LOT of clothes. And we need to start asking ourselves – Do we really need that many? Part of the reason for the increase of consumption is that fashion brands started releasing more and more collections each year. Instead of maybe 2-4 collections being released each year (based off of seasons), brands started releasing 12, 16, even 24 collections. The result is, clothing production has doubled since 2000 and people are buying a way more clothes than they used to (60% more in 2014 than in 2000).

Now, let’s talk about water pollution. There are two main textiles that are used in clothing production: natural and synthetic. You may think that using cotton versus polyester would be better because it’s natural but they both create environmental problems. Cotton needs a lot of water to be produced and synthetics (which are made out of plastics) shed microfibers into our waterways and oceans.

  • Around 20k liters of water are used to produce 1kg of cotton (which is why denim can be so problematic).
  • 85% of human-made debris on the shores around the world are microfibers.
  • Fashion is the 2nd largest consumer of water worldwide.

The Fashion Industry versus Human Rights

I think people are starting to realize the connection between fast fashion and the exploitation of workers. How do you think fast fashion brands are able to offer such low prices? It’s because they aren’t paying their workers a fair wage. Not to mention, these people are often working in horrible conditions.

The Rana Plaza collapse in 2014 brought a lot of these issues into the national spotlight. Rana Plaza was a building in Bangladesh that housed multiple clothing factories – including Zara, Primark, and Mango. It collapsed due to a variety of structural and safety issues that were overlooked because the managers and brands were more concerned with profit than people’s lives. On the day of the collapse, 3,000 people were inside, 2,500 were injured, and 1,134 people died (most of them were women). The structural issues were brought to light a year earlier, but factory owners threatened to withhold pay so workers had no choice but to return to work.

Sadly, the issues at Rana Plaza can be found in many of the factories that produce clothes for fast fashion. Workers are underpaid, treated poorly, harassed, and exploited but they have no choice but to accept those conditions because they don’t have any other options. What’s even worse is that many of those workers are children who are forced into child labor. And you may think that sweatshops are just a problem in third world countries but it’s not. Recently, brands have been exposed for using sweatshops in Los Angeles.

Honestly, I’ve just scratched the surface of how bad the fast fashion industry is for people and the environment. When you do even more research into the topic you’ll be shocked and horrified at what’s happening.

Everlane clothes, ethical fashion versus fast fashion

Why I’m Trying to Shop More Ethically

Ok, sorry for being such a downer! If it’s not obvious from what I’ve mentioned above, I’m trying to shop more ethically because I don’t want to be part of the problem. I’m also a little tired with the fashion blogger mentality and the constant shilling of clothes and product. I’m tired of filling my closet with clothes that I only wear a couple of times. I’m tired of spending money on things that don’t last. I’m tired of getting caught up in trends.

So, as a fashion blogger I’ve been trying to think of what I can do to shift the focus away from fast fashion. One of the things I can do is make a conscious effort to share ethical fashion, sustainable fashion, clean beauty, small and BIPOC run businesses, ways to make the most out of what you already have, and how to afford ethical fashion.

I do want to note that that doesn’t mean I’m going to completely change into ethical fashion ONLY. I feel like in the ethical fashion space it’s all or nothing. I’ve seen that lead to a lot of burnout in the slow fashion community. I’ve also found that it can be difficult to find truly ethical companies (Ethical fashion brands like Everlane have recently been exposed for not being as transparent as they claim to be). And while I’d love to say that I have the will power to completely change and only shop truly slow fashion I know that’s not realistic for me right now. And it’s not realistic for a lot of people. My philosophy is:

I’d rather a lot of people try ethical fashion imperfectly then have a few people doing it perfectly.

My goal is to share my slow fashion journey in the hope that it encourages other people to think about it more seriously and make more conscious shopping choices when they can!

What are your thoughts on Fast Fashion versus Ethical Fashion?

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  1. I do agree, fashion consumption has gotten a bit out of hand, and I am super guilty of being a participant in the cycle. Seeking out and shopping only ethical brands feels like it might take the joy out of shopping, but being more thoughtful about what I buy does need to be at the forefront of my mind. I don’t need to keep buying things I only wear once. I am big fan of secondhand shopping, but even that often feels more like it’s become something more for profit than for charity and to keep clothes out of the landfill. There is also the perpetual problem that I am WAY more likely to buy a secondhand item I wear once, or NEVER and that isn’t doing much to break the cycle. If only we could focus on timeless pieces, but alas, puffy sleeves are having their moment, midi skirts have replaced midi, waistlines have risen, and we constantly find ourselves beholden to what has been decided as the fashion of the moment. Even if it’s been a long moment – like the transition from low rise denim, to mid, and now high – while there might still be some low rise jeans hanging out in my closet circa 2010 they have their present day replacements, and I can’t imagine wearing them again, that is I suppose, until the designers get too high that they have to start lowering waist lines again just to do something new….

    1. You make a lot of good points! I think we became “fashion bloggers” because we love shopping, and clothes, and trying out new styles…so it’s hard to transition into buying less and avoiding trends. I love the idea of shopping ethically and minimally but it’s definitely harder to actually do it…haha. I think just really focusing on what we love to wear and what we reach for over and over will help us to figure out what is “timeless”. And that can change from person to person. That way we can still find joy in shopping but we’ll actually end up wearing all of it and keeping it in our closet long term!