The Cost of Fast Fashion


With fast fashion often said to be “McDonalized” (Ritzer 2011), as changes in capitalist economies move toward greater rationalization, replacement of old styles with new ones are swifter and swifter every year. Therefore, huge amount of resources and rapid waste disposal is promoted and became inevitable in every fast-fashion supply chain, which leaves us with adverse environmental impacts. One factor that we have to take into account is the complex and multi-stage life cycle of apparel that consists of resource production and extraction, material and textile manufacturing, assembly, packaging, transportation and distribution, consumer use, recycling and ultimate disposal (Kozlowski, Bardecki and Searcy 2012). In the case of fast fashion, the stages of post-resource production and extraction are sped up and multiplied notably. Since wastewater emissions, solid waste production and serious depletion of resources from water, minerals, fossil fuels and energy consumption are all involved in the product’s lifespan, the sheer volume of items from fast-paced productions in this industry further aggravated the situation (Kozlowski, Bardecki and Searcy 2012). For example, the “ten washes” benchmark refers to the amount of washes that after which, the item will not be expected to retain its original value due to poor-quality material and manufacturing (Joy, Sherry, Venkatesh, Wang, and Chan 2012). Bearing this mind, arose another problem. While recycling is supposed to be the stage in which we can somewhat give back to the environment, the fast fashion items themselves hindered their ability to be recycled. For most consumers, they experience no regret tossing out a top that can no longer be worn by somebody else or be turned into something useful. Based on the same principle, no fast fashion companies have to pay any price for distributing such under-qualified products.

Below are the statistics of the fashion industry’s impact on the environment from Sustain Your Style Organization:

  • 20% of industrial water pollution comes form textiles treatment and dying
  • 200,000 tons of dyes are lost to effluents every year
  • 90% of wastewaters in developing countries is discharged into rivers without treatment
  • 1.5 trillion liters of water are used by the fashion industry each year. 200 tons of fresh water are needed to dye 1 ton of fabric. However, 750 million people in the world do not have access to drinking water.
  • 85% of human-made debris on the shorelines around the world are microfibers
  • 190,000 tons of textile microplastic fibers end up in the oceans every year
  • Only 15% of our clothing are recycled or donated
  • 5.2% of the waste in our landfills are textiles
  • 1kg of chemicals is needed to produce 1kg of textiles
  • 23% of all chemicals produced worldwide are used for the textile industry
  • 27% of the weight of a “100% natural” fabric is made of chemicals
  • 23kg of greenhouse gases are generated for each kilo of fabric produced
  • 70 million oil barrels are used each year to produce polyester
  • 400% more carbon emissions are produced if we wear a garment 5 times instead of 50 times
  • 70 million trees are cut down each year to make our clothes
  • 30% of rayon and viscose clothing comes from endangered and ancient forests
  • 5% of the global apparel industry uses forest-based fabrics



Not only does the fast fashion industry pose an alarming threat on the environment, it also carries multiple social effects that most of us are either indifferent about or not aware of. The most outstanding example of the social effects is the poor working conditions that factory workers have to undergo every day, which under specific circumstances, can result in fatal consequences. In April 2013, happened the most horrifying garment-factory accident during which 1100 people died from the collapse of the building at Rana Plaza, Bangladesh. This deathly event was even worse of an industrial accident than the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in 1911 that forced American legislators to enforce laws that require improved factory safety standards. Since 2005, at least 1800 garment workers have been killed in factory fires and building collapses (Hobson 2013) and Bangladesh is only one of the many countries where cheap clothes are manufactured. These accidents mostly stemmed from the violation on construction standards, and we can easily trace it back to fast fashion firm’s goal to reap the most benefits possible by building a few more floors or failure to close down the factory after concerns about wall cracks. In addition to these fatal cases are reports of people diagnosed with dangerous infections or diseases. In a case study in Turkey, 2005, two men, aged 18 and 19, were confirmed to have silicosis and open lung biopsy from sandblasting jeans for less than 3 years (Hobson 2013). The researchers then expanded the scale of the study and found out 14 more cases diagnosed with silicosis with the same reason, while finding out that the two men in the original case had died. Besides from that, exposure to occupational hazards such as solvent and adhesives put sports shoes factory workers’ health at risk. It is also known that coming hand in hand with the low labor cost is the serious lack of labor rights. For instance, in September 2012 in Pakistan, most of the 300 deceased workers could not be identified after a factory chemical explosion because they had no contract of employment (Hobson 2013). This shows how poorly workers were treated and how loosely the factories managed their employees. Not to mention illegal activities of child labor and extensive abuse of workers, we can already tell that some fast fashion companies would go to great lengths in order to lower the overall costs and to expedite the manufacturing processes.



As a fast-fashion consumer, it might be common to think that you are not as affected but there is always more than the tip of the iceberg. The most direct effect that fast-fashion has on every consumers’ lives is the how low quality, short-lived items affect us financially. The inexpensiveness usually gets customers into thinking they are saving money on clothes but in fact, it is more expensive in the long run when the fast-fashion industry prompts you to constantly renew your closet. For example, purchasing three $15 sweaters that gets destroyed in the washer is far more costly than just purchasing one good $30 sweater that may stick with you for years to come. Investing a little bit more on a better-quality, higher-end sweater costs more at the moment but it will last you so much longer than a sweater from a mainstream fast-fashion brand. Along with that, the absence of detail and value can also directly lessen the satisfaction and utility units we get from the clothes. Furthermore, fast-fashion products consumption contributes to the worsening of the environment as higher demand will motivate the growth of this industry and eventually more items will be produced in even a shorter amount of time. More chemical substances, more water, and more pesticides will be used intensively to maintain the accelerated production line. Looking at the problem as the citizens of the Earth, it is no one else but us who are indirectly harming the home that we are living in.