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What Are the Environmental Impacts of Fast Fashion?

The world of fashion is filled with a tempting array of the latest trends and all the happening styles. Step out of your house, and you can see mannequins wearing the trendiest clothes in town. But like that isn't seduction enough, we are constantly bombarded with images of the latest fashion on social media. Then, there are celebrities whose style and promos we consume, eventually commanding our choice of clothes. It's a perfectly orchestrated act from brands. Before you know it, overcome by the hype from all directions, you find yourself walking out of stores with the hottest fast fashion offering.

But, while you swipe your credit card in stores or fill in card details online to check out, have you ever stopped and thought about what goes into making these clothes?

Brands do not make it visible for consumers' eyes to see the massive environmental effects of fast fashion. 

  • Boatloads of abandoned garments suffocating the landfills. 
  • Millions of tonnes of CO2 contaminating our surroundings, spiking global warming. 
  • Massive kilograms of microplastics and fibers polluting the waterways and paralyzing the food supply chain. 

This is just a storyline introduction of what's happening behind the scene— the rest of the plot is thicker and dirtier. 

What is the problem with Fast Fashion?

Fast fashion brands' cheap and trendy clothes come with many problems - from social impacts to environmental impacts. This blog post will dive into the environmental impacts of fast fashion. We've included plenty of stats to get you up to catch up on fast fashion and its eco-societal repercussions.

So, the recurrent question— what is fast fashion

Fast fashion is the bulk and rapid production of low-cost, low-quality, disposable apparel. To give a clearer picture of the complexity— the fashion industry produces an astounding 100 billion garments per year. While the clothing sales per year have doubled, the average amount of times an item is worn has been reduced by 36%. We are learning that the average garment is only worn ten times before being discarded. 

Clothes are becoming less expensive, and the prices are dropping along with quality and performance. Fast fashion is picking up speed— seducing shoppers to consume more clothes just to be in sync with 'the trend' of the season. And just like that, taking responsibility for the clothes you buy is out of the window.

It's all about buying the latest launch and discarding the old. What's flawed with this disposable cycle is that there is not a hint of proper recycling. The questions remain, what can consumers do when they are "done" using an item AND what do brands do with unsold and overproduced items? Well, the discarded and deadstock make their way to the landfill or end up being burned. Clothes rotting in landfills can take up to 200 years to decompose, which means fast fashion rejects constantly clog our precious soil. 

We live in a world where the negative impacts of fast fashion clothing are not accounted for or simply forgotten. This is why the willingness from within to stop giving in to unsustainable fashion sales and trends is equally important.

Fast fashion's supply chain carries social, ethical and environmental impacts. Let's talk about it—

What are the Environmental Impact of Fast Fashion?

  • Use of synthetic fibers

Fast fashion brands are embracing synthetic fibers to keep up with their own trends. Go into a fast fashion store and start reading the content labels; you will most likely see the words such as polyester, nylon, acrylic, nylon and other synthetic materials. Polyester is cheap for mass production, making it the most widely used synthetic fiber. It accounts for more than half of worldwide fiber output. However, polyester uses about 70 million barrels of oil every year. The process of manufacturing polyester also pollutes waterways with microplastics and releases harmful greenhouse gases, carbon dioxide and methane, that contribute to global warming. Other synethic fibers also have negative impact on our environment. Acrylic is another main microplastic culprit, releasing up to 730,000 synthetic particles in just one wash. Plus, the main ingredient used for making acrylic is acrylonitrile, a highly flammable and toxic chemical. 

Embrace cleaner and safer alternatives like organic cotton, linen, hemp, etc. Look for certifications such as GOTS that ensure products are made with organic content and ethically made. What is GOTS exactly? Let's find out!

What is GOTS?

GOTS is the world's highest standard textile certification. It is widely regarded as the most stringent organic textile benchmark because it extends much further than validating organic production— it also verifies every point of the supply chain. The certification implies that the clothing item was not made with toxic bleaches, dyes, and other chemical substances. 

There are two GOTS label-grades you can obtain:

Label-grade 1: ‚ organic'

 ≥ 95% certified organic fibers, ≤ 5 % non-organic natural or synthetic fibers

*Terra Thread products are label-grade 1

Label-grade 2: ‚made with X% organic'

 ≥ 70% certified organic fibers, ≤ 30 % non organic fibers, but a maximum of 10% synthetic fibers (respective 25% for socks, leggings and sportswear), as long as the raw materials used are not from certified organic origin, a sustainable forestry management program or recycled.

  • Use of toxic chemicals

It's no doubt the colors of the fashion world are pretty. We see new colors (and styles) launching in every fast-fashion store almost every few weeks. But how many of us can confidently say we're aware of the backstory— this means are you up to speed with the toxin levels of fast fashion colors and dyes? Toxic dyes emit toxic fumes that are harmful to the ecosystem. It is also one of the leading sources of water pollution, contributing about 17-20% of global industrial water pollution. Oceans and rivers that once danced with dreamy shades of blue and green are now turning into black-colored water bodies. Further, the textile industry uses chemicals containing PFAS (per-and poly-fluoroalkyl substances), which gets released into the rivers and waterways. These toxic substances destroy water health and the ecosystem and impact human and animal health. Studies have linked PFAs with liver damage, birth defects, weaker immune system, etc. 

  • Overburdened Landfills 

The old clothes we toss out to keep up with the changing trends eventually end up in landfills, snoozing for 100s of years. Single-use outfits produced 208 million pounds of global waste in 2019. The United States itself generates around 17 million tonnes of textile waste each year. 

Overproduced deadstock also end up in landfills, but they are never truly gone— liberating toxic fumes and microplastics which tarnish soil quality and pollute the surrounding areas. 

  • Microplastic Pollution

Polyester is the most widely used fabric in the fashion industry. But guess what? It releases microfibers which cause microplastic pollution and threatens aquatic life. They may be tiny in size but do unimaginable damage to the water and the animals in it— eventually threatening human lives as well. Microfibers also enter our food chain, starting from marine drifters that consume them. To stop this cycle, it is critical to shift your focus away from polyester garments. 

  • Water Scarcity 

The manufacturing process during textile production goes the whole hog on water consumption. It requires around 100-150 liters of water per kilogram of fiber. Water abuse by the fashion industry is resulting in the depletion of safe, clean water. The world is already in a bad position when it comes to the water crisis issue— UNICEF reveals that in three years, 50% of the global population may face water scarcity. Fashion brands take advantage of unregulated and weak environmental production policies— allowing the factory wastewater to discharge into freshwaters. 

  • Unfair Labor Practices 

Do you ever wonder if there is a reason why fast fashion is cheap? Fast fashion brands employ cheap materials and pay the factory workers poorly. In addition to taking advantage of unregulated environmental policies, fast fashion brands also take advantage of weak labor policies. Because fast fashion brands are highly profit-oriented they demand fast yet cheap production. Fashion fast brands, "... turn to so-called 'low- and middle-income countries' like Bangladesh and Vietnam, where it is much easier to neglect minimum wage and work security" (good on you). Women make up the majority of garment workers in factories where fast fashion brands source/outsource their production, and these women become victims of physical, mental, and sexual harm

  • Carbon Emissions

The fashion industry causes air pollution. Of course, which industry doesn't. But the catch here is, fashion practices mass-production which means higher (and unnecessary) levels of carbon emissions (about 2-10% of global emissions) that contaminate the atmosphere. Plus, moving from factory to factory for cost reductions is a prevalent fashion brands' tactic, adding more to the emissions. While this is a terrible scenario, 130 fashion companies have announced plans to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050 at the COP26 climate conference. That's a start, and we're keeping our fingers crossed. 

Terra Thread is not your typical bag brand. We are taking a stance and making a difference. 

Terra Thread products are made manufactured with people and the planet in mind. All Terra Thread products, including sustainable backpacks and our cute mini backpacks, are:

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