Hangers and clothes on a rack.

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In our fast-paced and fast-growing world, there is a growing demand for cheap and accessible fashion. Many companies see this business opportunity as one to profit quickly at the expense of the environment and underpaid laborers. Sustainable fashion is an effort from the fashion industry and consumers to prioritize a lower carbon footprint and to protect those who work within this sector. Our society needs to prioritize affordable sustainable fashion and encourage ethical manufacturers. It is harder to find sustainable alternatives, especially since fast fashion provides quick and cheap options that take customers away from smaller retailers and local businesses that offer more sustainable options. But by supporting sustainable business practices, we create a more reliable business environment for them to operate.

There are many serious environmental implications that fast fashion brings along. Firstly the excessive consumption and usage of water: “the fashion industry consumes one-tenth of all the water used industrially to run factories and clean products” (Princeton). In addition to this, many of these large corporations operate in countries where environmental regulations are not as strict, so they can function however they like. Furthermore, water pollution is rampant; many hazardous chemicals and colorants used in the manufacturing process end up polluting our seas. About 20% of water is affected by these processes. Polluted water as such is extremely toxic and dangerous to our ecosystems and our communities. In conjunction with this, our landfills get filled with different fabrics and clothes that are unwanted by many. Every year in the United States alone 34 billion pounds of fashion material gets thrown away. 66% of these textiles get sent to landfills. Due to the diversity of material, some fabrics decompose quickly, others take many years. Only 15% of these materials are actually recycled, while the rest get shipped to other countries for recycling or even end up in foreign landfills. Moreover, many materials used in these clothing negatively affect ecosystems. Viscose and rayon are commonly used materials. Their base is made of wood pulp. While some companies only obtain these materials through sustainable forests, many others contribute to the deforestation of rainforests and other endangered forests to supply this component.

Exploitation of labor and children is a far too often activity in the world of fast fashion. “The ILO estimates that 170 million are engaged in child labor, with many making textiles and garments to satisfy the demand of consumers in Europe, the US, and beyond ” (The Guardian). It has been proven that many recruiters in the South of India focus their practices in low-income areas and try to convince families to send their daughters to work at spinning mills. They are promised many things such as food, school, and training. In actuality, the conditions they work in are extremely unethical and have been compared to modern-day slavery. It is easy for these companies to employ and manage children. This is because there is no labor union or supervision, and the children are easily controlled; they have no voice. It is easy for many companies to get away with this as the fashion industry has so many complex steps which make it difficult to control every step of the process and track. This is why many bigger companies can get away with using child labor in countries with relaxed regulations without customers/consumers finding out. Many refer to the fast fashion workshops as “sweatshops,’ a small manufacturing floor in which employees are treated unfairly and work in unsafe conditions. Due to the control these companies have, if workers speak up it might be at the expense of their job. Many workers have workdays as long as 16 hours, and some even endure abuse from their managers. In addition to this, due to poor infrastructure, workers can get exposed to dangerous substances and chemicals that can affect their health.

That being said, there are a multitude of positive benefits that come from sustainable shopping. Some of these include: ensuring that the workers that produce your clothes are paid fairly, quality of these garments are typically better, fabric and textile fast are significantly decreases, less water consumption and overall decreasing your carbon footprint, saving the lives of animals and ecosystems, and better for your health as ethical manufacturers are less likely to use harsh chemicals and cheap ingredients.

Here are some tips that can help you shop more sustainably:

  • Thrifting and second-hand shopping. Buying pre-owned clothes can be very fun! Doing so helps you decrease your environmental footprint while also finding some cool vintage pieces!
  • Buy only what you need and what will last. Buying higher quality items that can last a lifetime will allow you to downsize your closet and still look chique.
  • Research the companies that you’re interested in shopping at. With the internet it is relatively simple to find a company’s business practices. After doing so, you can deduce if it is a smart and ethical decision to shop there.
  • Shop local. Support local retailers and tailors. They help boost the local economy while decreasing the lines of production and your environmental footprint.
  • Buy natural fabrics. Avoid fabrics such as acrylics or synthetic materials. Shop for sustainable fabrics such as cotton or bamboo.
  • Partake in clothes recycling programs and donate old garments. Many companies offer benefits for bringing in your own clothes. In addition to this, contribute to local flea markets or thrift stores so your clothing can find a new home that is not a landfill!
  • Upcycle! There are many tutorials online teaching you how to upcycle your clothes into fun projects such as tote bags or pillows. This way you can bring new life to your favorite old fashion pieces.

The readiness and availability of fast fashion can make it hard to avoid. The fashion industry has a detrimental effect on our world and communities, so it is important that as a community we do our best to shop ethically and sustainably.


“The Aftermath of Fast Fashion: How Discarded Clothes Impact Public Health and the Environment.” SPH The Aftermath of Fast Fashion How Discarded Clothes Impact Public Health and the Environment Comments, 22 Sept. 2022, www.bu.edu/sph/news/articles/2022/the-aftermath-of-fast-fashion-how-discarded-clothes-impact-public-health-and-the-environment/. 

“Child Labour in the Fashion Supply Chain.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, labs.theguardian.com/unicef-child-labour/. Accessed 1 Nov. 2023. 

“The Impact of Fast Fashion on the Environment – PSCI.” Princeton University, The Trustees of Princeton University, psci.princeton.edu/tips/2020/7/20/the-impact-of-fast-fashion-on-the-environment. Accessed 1 Nov. 2023. 

Jones, Lucy. “5 Fashion Materials You Didn’t Realise Were Bad for Wildlife.” BBC Earth, www.bbcearth.com/news/5-fashion-materials-you-didnt-realise-were-bad-for-wildlife. Accessed 1 Nov. 2023. 

Marshall, David. “What Is Sustainable Fashion and Why Is It so Important.” IMMAGO, 15 Sept. 2022, immago.com/sustainable-fashion-important/. 

Nguyen, Lei. “The Danger of Sweatshops.” Earth.Org, Earth.Org, 10 Oct. 2022, earth.org/sweatshops/.