The Dangers of Fast Fashion


Photo courtesy of Sathya Chaib

Sathya Chaib, Reporter

Fast fashion is the term to describe the rapid production of clothing and accessories that follow the trends on social media or copying designs from other brands and then selling them for a cheaper price to attract more people. The clothes are made from non-durable materials, almost discardable, making it possible for companies to make a profit from cheap clothing, producing it without spending too much on material, on employees, and without maintaining a safe environment. 

These companies usually release a new collection every week, giving customers numerous inexpensive options, which results in people overbuying without thinking about the consequences. This often leads to many of those clothes being discarded quickly because customers disliked the quality, or the items weren’t the same as the picture. This eventually contributes to one of the main problems of fast fashion: pollution.  

The fashion industry is the second most polluting industry in the world, just behind the petroleum industry, which is also responsible for mistreating their employees to an extreme level like Shein parent company (Nanjing Yingtian Information Technology co. ltd) who also owns Romwe, Zaful, other fashion sites. They state on their website that they never engage in child/forced labor, yet they lack proof about the working conditions required by British Law and have failed to submit to the Australian Border Force (ABF) about the modern slavery statement.

Around five weeks ago, news spread about a river, Tanzania’s Msimbazi in Lesotho, Africa becoming blue with chemicals with pH (a scale that defines the acidity of a chemical) between 11 and 13, all caused by fast-fashion brands manufacturing denim jeans. 

Erika Leung, a junior at Novato High, describes the material used in the fashion industry.

 “The clothes are made of fibers, like plastic fibers, that take a lot of time to decompose,” she said.

 Not knowing the materials used in your clothes can be directly harmful, since the plastic fibers, mentioned by Leung, are synthetic microfibers, or microplastics, that are released into nearby water treatment facilities every time clothes are washed. According to Ocean Clean wash, the microfibers from clothes contribute 35% to plastic pollution in the oceans. 

“The manufacturing process uses lots of water and a lot of chemicals for coloring,” adds Leung, “so when they drain it, the chemicals mix with the water.”

No specific brand was held responsible for the river’s contamination, but it’s known that over 50 street brands source their clothes from Africa, including Zara, Asos, H&M, and Forever 21. The river, which is used by the community and by the employees at the factory as a water resource, gives them no choice but to keep using it to wash clothes. 

As in any other industry, fast-fashion companies place their factories in countries with low minimum wages, exploiting the lack of employee’s rights where workers have no choice but to accept any job that will generate enough money, regardless of how bad the working conditions are. 

“The people that buy from places like H&M or Shein, don’t realize how bad child labor is,” says Leung. “I really wish they would become more aware of the environment and where they’re spending their money.”

According to ‘War on Want’ in many countries like Bangladesh, garment workers have no option but to work around 15 hours a day for 7 days a week, with the threat of being fired if they refuse to work extra hours (which they don’t get paid for). 

Even though people are aware of the consequences, they still consume them, often following social media influencers who spend excessive amounts of money buying from online shops they recommend, while stating how affordable and “inclusive” they are. This can be true considering how Shein includes a variety of sizes, different from other stores. 

“I definitely think there’s room for improvement,” suggests senior Soph Vega, regarding the inclusion of sizes. “I think clothes include a variety of sizes a little bit smaller or a little larger.” 

Finding clothes in the style that you want for an affordable price is challenging if you want to make sure the company you’re buying from is trustworthy. The companies that provide those clothes do the bare minimum just to make a profit, leaving people with few options. 

“If I can’t find anything at a thrift store or Ross, I’ll buy from Shein or Romwe,” says senior Liz Peterson, “because it’s cheap, and I don’t have all that money.”

When looking where to buy, it’s important to know where the company sources from and what they believe is right. However, the best-known way to avoid fast fashion is by buying second-hand clothing. 

“The biggest recommendation is buying from thrift stores, and online thrift stores like Poshmark, where there are people selling their clothes and reusing it,” Leung says.

Buying from Depop, Thredup, Poshmark, ASOS marketplace (with caution), or any in-person thrift store like Goodwill or Salvation Army will make a difference. 

 Most of the responsibility for change rests on the fast-fashion industries and on the government of those countries to improve laws to protect the environment and employees. But, it also depends on people to understand where they’re putting their money and what they’re contributing to. Searching for ways they can avoid buying from those stores and finally deciding to make a difference is the best for the planet and the people affected by it.