The True Cost of Fast Fashion

Clothes on hangers in store front window

Score! You just found a top for 4 bucks — but is that its true cost? The fashion industry is betting on you not to ask that question.

What is Fast Fashion?

Fast fashion refers to clothing produced rapidly to spur and keep up with ever-changing trends, and accordingly, it is priced to be easily consumable, and designed use for a short period and then disposed of.

The fashion industry has come under fire recently because of production practices that not only encourage excessive consumption, but also make clothing cheap at the expense of people and the environment.

Human Costs

Most of the clothing is produced outside of the United States, in countries where companies can profit off of more lenient laws and regulations. Factory workers can be deprived of living wages and subjected to harsh, unsafe working conditions.

Environmental Costs

Because of fast fashion’s endless cycles of production, natural resources are continually depleted to keep up with the increased demand for more clothing.

In a single year the fashion industry can use enough water to fill up 32 million Olympic-size swimming pools. Due to the toxic dyes used in production processes, the fashion industry is also one of the leading polluters of the world’s waterways.

In addition, the majority of fast fashion clothes are made from synthetic fabrics that release tiny pieces of plastic with every wash and are estimated to be responsible for more than a third of microplastics in the ocean.

And at the end of their lifecycle, textiles, even if donated, can find their way to the landfill, to the tune of around 11 million tons per year in the United States.

Fashion Forward without Fast Fashion

When thinking about how to minimize our consumer impact, the most important thing we can do is to buy only what we need and then use it for as long as possible.

You can choose to invest in clothing made from natural fabrics, or from companies that use more sustainable practices and provide workers fair wages and safe working conditions. You also can start where you already are.

When your jeans get a tear, consider getting them repaired, or try repurposing them into something new. If you’re in need of new clothing try finding gently-used items online or at a thrift shop.

Ultimately, the price of cheap clothing is not reflective of its true cost, and in moving towards a more sustainable wardrobe, the key is to buy that which is truly needed and can last.