Fast Fashion — A Justice Nightmare

Once upon a time, people used to dress/shop for 2 seasons: Spring/Summer and Fall/Winter — aka dressing for cold and warm weather.

There are now 52 “micro-seasons” in which new fashions are released.


That’s a new season every. single. week.

Places like Forever21 and H&M get shipments of new clothing and styles every day! That means that by the time you wear the clothes you just purchased it’s already out of style. And that’s the point because they want you coming back.

The average number of times a person wears an article of clothing is five. Five times. Five times you wore that shirt you bought last year before you donated it. Five times you wore those shoes from Target that were super cute last Fall, but now just don’t match your new wardrobe. Five times you pulled out that jacket you HAD to have because all your friends did, and now it’s completely fallen apart — because it’s designed to do just that — and now is in the trash bin.

What is the cost of the fast fashion industry?

Immeasurable. There is a significant tangible cost environmentally and on the humans creating our clothing, but there is also an intangible cost on the psyche of humankind that needs more more more.

But, first let’s take a look at the tangible costs

Environmental Cost

The truth is, that fast fashion is the second largest polluter in the world, right behind Big Oil. While you might picture coal plans and raw sewage when you hear about pollution, we often miss that it’s the clothes on our back causing the biggest problem. The fashion carbon footprint is immense.

Firstly, from cotton production to dyeing to textile manufacturing to the actual washing of clothing, the water usage is astronomical. Then there are the herbicides and pesticides and other chemicals used in the growing of crops. Then you have to contend with the chemicals used in dyeing and treating textiles, which is often unregulated and frequently dumped directly into rivers and streams killing aquatic life and poisoning local communities.

After the production, you have the transportation of clothing to contend with. 22 billion new articles of clothing are bought yearly in the U.S. alone, much of which is shipped by rail, boat, and truck from Asian countries. That’s a lot of fuel being used by things like big container ships, which produce as much pollutants as 50 million cars per year and is mostly unregulated by any sort of environmental protection agency. (Read more here if you feel like getting really depressed about our clothing)

What’s more, the clothing you wear often still contains lead, pesticides, insecticides, formaldehyde, flame-retardants and other carcinogens which can massively impact our own health and the health of our environment.

When all’s said and done, the clothing you no longer wear has to go somewhere, and that is usually the dump. Which is an environmental nightmare of carbon dioxide, ammonia, sulfides, and methane gases, contributing greatly to climate change and the pollution of the water table (hint: where lots of us get our drinking water). In fact, the average American throws away 68 pounds of textiles a year (not donated — just thrown into the trash).

We have a problem, and it’s not just an environmental disaster.

Human Cost

There are around 40 million garment workers in the world right now, and roughly 85 percent of that population is female. While we have many laws protecting our rights as laborers here in the U.S., a vast majority of those working in the garment industry are not protected by those same rights.

Much of our clothing is made in sweatshops — which means there are 2+ labor violations according to international standards (you can read my thoughts on sweatshops here and some facts about sweatshops here). When you look at the fast fashion industry, the likelihood of the clothing being made in inhumane conditions is high. How else do you think you’re getting those great prices?

Working conditions are not only exploitative to time and energy, but are often unsafe and unhealthy. Think back to the Rana Plaza incident in 2013. The death toll soared above 1,000 people with more than double that in injuries. The structural issues in that building are not uncommon.

By Fahad Faisal — Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

These workers are also exposed to countless other problems. The chemicals, toxins, and dyes that are daily handled by many at the very least can cause major skin irritation and at the worst can cause lifetime of breathing problems, cancer, and/or early death. Women face not only labor abuses, but also encounter sexual harassment, abuse, and rape at alarming rates.

That’s the real cost of your $5 clearance top.

We’ve completely separated ourselves from the people and process that goes into what we’re purchasing. And we’re keeping this flagrant human rights nightmare of an industry in business. We must keep in mind, if our clothing doesn’t come at a financial cost, it comes at a human cost.

The Problem Behind the Problem

The intangible cost on the human psyche is real, because when it comes down to it, fast fashion is a heart, brain, stupidity problem in our culture of more, more, more. We’re inundated daily with ads that tell us how completely out of fashion we are. We idolize fashion bloggers we spend all our free time on Pinterest and social media comparing ourselves to others.

We’re caught in this wicked web of modern-day “Keeping up with the Joneses.” We see something that looks good on someone else and suddenly we have to have it. Or, we’re shamed into purchasing something cheap solely to “fit in” — something that does not solely affect the middle/high school aged kiddos, but us adults, too. We’ve just masked it as “looking professional” or as a “treat yourself” moment after a long and arduous week. There’s nothing wrong with either, but they shouldn’t come at the cost of others or this gorgeous world we live in.

The Solution

Stop buying into the fast fashion and consumerism ideals. Our need for new new new is killing our world and the people in it.

There are several ways you can do this. The first is by no longer buying new clothing. Shop secondhand. I’ve been doing this almost exclusively for about 2 years and it has not only revolutionized the way I look at clothing, but has also been extremely beneficial to my budget.

If you feel you must buy new clothing, investigate your options. Don’t shop at the Forever 21s and H&Ms of the world. That clothing is designed to fall apart quickly, and it will! Invest in clothing that will last, and buy it from reputable companies who treat the environment and their people well (Everlane is my favorite go-to!).

Also, consider downgrading what you already have into a capsule wardrobe with a few staple items you can mix and match. It’s not that difficult, and it’s very freeing.

It’s hard. Believe me, I know it’s hard. But, keep in the back of your mind how much you don’t need it — whatever that “it” may be. You don’t need a new dress for that wedding. You don’t need a new wardrobe for fall. You don’t need the newest, snazziest clothing. You just don’t need it.

Once you have that drilled into your brain, the rest will come (mostly) naturally.

You don’t have to do this alone, either. Form a community and keep each other accountable. Together we can do so much. Together we can create a movement. Together we can change the world. We just need to start. So why not now?

Kim Hunt
Operations Director, Micah Challenge USA

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-The True Cost
-22 Things You Didn’t Know About the Fashion Industry
-5 Truths the Fast Fasion Industry Doesn’t Want You to Know
-Fast Fashion is the Second Dirtiest Industry
-The True Cost: Human Rights
-The True Cost of Fast Fashion
-9 Ways Women are Getting Abused in the Fashion Industry