According to a World Economic Outlook (WEO) report, fast fashion skyrocketed to more than 6% growth by the end of 2020.
According to the UNECE, the fast fashion industry ranks second in using and draining the world's water resources.
In addition, it contributes about 20% to the total water wastage worldwide.
Cotton is one of the biggest polluters on the planet, consuming large quantities of water and polluting surrounding environments with massive amounts of pesticides.
The World Health Organisation recently released a study linking approximately 20,000 individuals to cancer, congenital disabilities, and miscarriages to living near cotton farming regions.
In addition, cotton production needed to manufacture a single t-shirt takes up about 2,700 liters of water.
Fashion Checker about 93% of textile companies don't pay a sustainable living wage to their workers, with 80% of women employees receiving significantly lower living wages than their male counterparts.
Despite the high drain of the world’s resources to produce cotton, most of the cotton ends up in landfills.
85% of textiles or 21 billion tons annually find their way into landfills, a completely unnecessary waste contribution that could have been avoided by making more responsible purchasing choices.
The devastating effects of fast fashion are increasing at an alarming rate with changing weather patterns and increasingly severe signs of climate change.
If we continue on this path of consumption, the effects of climate change will be even harder to reverse, and we’re going to be in more of a mess than we already are.
Fast Fashion vs. Slow Fashion
In the broadest sense of the term, fast fashion refers to affordable, inexpensive clothing mass-produced quickly and cheaply by manufacturers in response to global market trends.
The trendy catwalks and celebrities upgrade new styles constantly to keep up with the Joneses.
The business model of fast fashion benefits consumers, who are offered the latest trends and styles at low prices.
The fast fashion industry dates back to the 20th century when manufacturing and production costs became more manageable due to the emergence of materials such as nylon and polyester.
In addition, the efficiency and responsiveness in the supply chain act like an add-on to the business model.
However, factors such as low, exploitative labor wage, lack of legal protection for the workers, and lack of environmental responsibility also shape the industry.
As a result of this fast-expanding industry, the fast fashion industry focuses more on trending pieces and fashion-conscious individuals.
The cheap, rapid production ultimately leads to the low quality of products that do not last as long and cannot be reused or recycled. They, therefore, end up in landfills.
In sharp contrast, slow fashion is the drive to buy clothes made from ecologically responsible sources of higher quality, adding value to the customers, employees, producers, and the environment.
It aims to cut down on consumption and provide sustainable products that will last longer, reducing waste and contributing to a smaller carbon footprint.
Most of the clothing used is sourced from organic and natural materials such as organic cotton, linen, and bamboo.
Smaller manufacturing processes produce fewer products, all while prioritizing the fair treatment of people, animals, and the planet above pure profits.
While valiant efforts are made to maximize the product’s lifespan, there will still be an end to the lifecycle.
Then, products are repaired, upcycled, donated, or responsibly disposed of when they no longer suit our purposes.
The Problems With Fast Fashion
While fast fashion keeps the industry ticking and millions of trendsetters around the world fulfilled, it has devastating effects on the environment, animals, and the labor force.
- Environmental Impact of Fast Fashion
According to BWSS, the fashion industry is responsible for 10% of all global greenhouse gas emissions.
In addition, one of the most popular fabrics, polyester, takes about 200 years to decompose.
85% of the plastic pollution in the ocean comes from the microfibers used in apparel.
The demand for producing fashionable clothes at a rapid rate leads to harmful impacts on the environment.
After animal agriculture, the fashion industry is the most significant contributor to water pollution with its widespread use of pesticides, insecticides, textile dyes, and lax environmental laws.
Despite the high environmental and social cost, most of the textiles end up in landfills.
While up to 95% of textiles chucked into the trash can be recycled or reused, they end up in the oceans, landfills, or incinerated, further contributing to a massive carbon footprint and billions of tons of products wasted each year.
- Social Impact of Fast Fashion
Famous documentaries such as The True Cost have depicted the hazardous and pitiful conditions of workers of the fashion industry, many of whom are exploited and unfairly paid.
According to a McKinsey and Company study, the fashion industry has grown about 60% from 2010-2014.
With the growth and blooming of this industry, we can expect improvement in the working conditions of the workers.
But, even today, only 1% of Vietnamese workers from the fashion industry earn a decent living as their wages.
Hazardous working environments combined with low wages and sexual abuse make conditions even worse for women, who make up 80% of the fashion industry’s labor force.
The cases of women workers suffering from bladder infections due to inadequate sanitation are much more comprehensive.
Even worse, the fashion industry is well-known for employing forced and child labor. Being caught in the vicious cycle of poverty, families cannot get themselves out of the sad situation.
- Health Impact of Fast Fashion
Even consumers aren’t spared the effects of the fashion industry.
Although its effects are rarely noticed, 30% of chemicals and raw materials are known harmful chemicals that find their way to our apparel.
These chemicals, often containing VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds), continue to off-gas well into their lifespan, causing headaches, respiratory illness, and nausea.
- Impact on Animals
Unless buying vegan clothing, it is likely that fashion clothing frequently uses animal products such as wool, fur, silk, and leather.
These animal products are often produced under deplorable conditions and shocking animal rights violations.
Animal products are often produced in developing countries with little to no animal rights laws.
China, the world’s largest producer of wool, leather, silk, and fur, currently has no national animal protection laws.
Live animals are kept in unimaginable conditions, suffer their whole lives, and then are slaughtered for their pelts, often inhumanely.
Could you imagine causing that much suffering to another living creature and chucking its pelt into the trash?
And to replace the discarded piece of apparel, yet more animals have to be bred and suffer to clothe us. This doesn’t sound right.
Benefits of Slow Fashion
Slow fashion is sustainable, ethical, and fair trade fashion focused on producing clothes that are kinder to the planet, workers, animals, and consumers.
The significant advantages of slow fashion are:
Reduction in Consumption - Slow fashion means mindful purchase. With slow fashion, the consumers choose well and buy less, buying longer-lasting products and reducing consumption.
Minimization of Ecological Footprint - When we move to slow fashion, we save our natural resources, reducing pollution levels, water consumption, and greenhouse gas emissions. With a global shift to slow fashion, we can reduce the harmful impacts of global warming and reduce our overall carbon footprint.
Style - Slow fashion doesn’t have to lack trendiness or style. They can look as good or better than mass-produced products, simply made from different materials and in a different manufacturing process.
Materials - The raw materials used in slow fashion are natural, recycled, and upcycled fabrics. The dyes used are typically natural dyes with no harmful toxins. Moreover, the dyes used are also natural without any harmful toxins.
Labor force - Abiding by fair trade principles and paying well-deserving wages, slow fashion focused on employing responsibility and providing healthy, happy working conditions. The exploitation of humans is strictly frowned on, further enhancing the business’ ethics.
Growth in the local economy - Shop local! Not only will you be supporting your local economy, but chances also are, some of the products were manufactured locally or close by, saving on fossil fuels used for transportation.
Animal Welfare - The exploitation of animals is avoided or minimized, and while some clothing continues to use animal products, the market for vegan clothing is rising rapidly.
The market for vegan women’s clothing was valued at 396 billion in 2019 and is projected to hit $1 billion in 2027 at an annual growth rate of 13.5%.
Paris saw an increase of 132% in vegan products from 2020 to 2021, while that number in the US was 63%, and the UK, 43%.
What Are The Differences?
Fast and slow fashion have distinct characteristics that set them apart, from the raw materials used to the end of the product’s lifecycle.
Fast fashion produces cheap clothes quickly based on current trends, with the sole goal of increasing profits.
Slow fashion produces higher-quality clothes that last longer and can be reused, recycled, or upcycled.
Raw materials used
Fast fashion uses synthetic fibers such as polyester, elastane, etc. The raw materials are petroleum-based.
Slow fashion uses recycled fabrics, natural dyes, and natural fibers like cotton. The raw materials are organic and biodegradable.
The production of fast fashion clothes takes place in developing countries where workers are exploited. Often, forced and child labor are employed in the industry, working long hours in poor working conditions.
Companies are found in both developing and developed countries. Workers are bound by law to be fairly treated and compensated, and manufacturing facilities are monitored to ensure a healthy working environment.
Products are produced with little to no regard for water or resource consumption.
Products aim to reduce the carbon footprint, minimize resource consumption, and be more considerate of the environment.
Impact on Environment
Enormous impact due to resource consumption, polluting the surrounding environment with hazardous wastes, toxins, carcinogens, and other dangerous chemicals.
Minimized resource consumption and use of carcinogens and toxins.
In addition, raw materials are natural, organic and rarely contain harmful chemicals.
What Can We Do To Support Slow Fashion?
Simply by making more responsible choices, we can minimize our waste and cut back on consumption.
Shop responsibly - Only buy what is needed, and if you can, check with local communities, thrift stores, or online before purchasing brand new. Not only will it keep someone else’s trash from hitting the landfills, but your wallet will also be happier for it!
Think before buying - Is it necessary? Do you have to buy brand new or can you buy second-hand? Is it single-use, or can you use it for years to come? Is there something else that you can use in its place to avoid buying?
Avoid throwing out - Before throwing a piece of clothing out, see if you can find another use for them around the house. Old pillowcases might make good sacks for storage, or old t-shirts can be turned into rags and used until they literally fall apart.
Pick organic materials - If buying a piece of clothing is absolutely necessary, opt for natural fibers like organic cotton, bamboo, and linen. They often are harvested more sustainably than other synthetic materials and will biodegrade in landfills way quicker.
Hopefully, gone are the days of blatant, irresponsible overconsumption. The shift towards a more minimal, happier lifestyle is already apparent in business statistics worldwide.
By reducing our consumption rates, we’ll also increase the lifecycle of products, requiring high-quality products that save money in the long run.
Retailers and manufacturers will pay attention when we, as a whole, start demanding more responsible, ethical products and avoiding fast fashion.
If the demand fades, the supply will too.