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The Impacts Of Fast Fashion And Sweatshops In The Fashion Industry

By Yorkabiel Desta '24

H&M, Zara, Gap, Forever 21, and Fashion Nova are some of the most popular clothing brands today. Every one of these shops has something in common: fast fashion and the usage of sweatshops. Fast fashion is the cheap remake of trendy clothes from high-end brands or “celebrity culture.” It doesn’t sound so bad when put like that, but fast fashion can have multiple negative impacts, the biggest one being sweatshops. Sweatshops are factories with workers who have to work under poor conditions for very low wages, some as little as three cents an hour.

Brands like Nike, Adidas, Urban Outfitters, and ASOS are some companies that exploit their workers or use sweatshops. Delayed salaries and overtime, child labor, unpaid labor, and a lack of worker’s rights are a lot of the consequences of sweatshops. To get the most low-cost clothes, sweatshops are usually set up in developing countries in places like Asia and Latin America. However, in these places, if workers’ rights are respected and the workplace conditions and wages are good, then clothing factories can help these poor countries. For example, in one “fair factory” in Honduras, the average worker is paid 13 U.S. dollars per hour. That isn’t the best wage, but it is a lot better compared to most workers globally, who are paid a dollar-per-hour or less.

Some harmful effects the fast fashion industry has on the environment are pollution and the harming of animals. It’s possible for the fashion industry not to use cheap toxic dyes because over time we will figure out the best way to do things safely. But the question being asked for now is not whether to stop using toxic dyes totally, but how to lower the chemicals that are polluting water globally.

One big way that this is done is through cheap textiles, especially with fabrics like polyester. According to an article by Solene Rauturier (“What Is Fast Fashion and why is it bad?”) polyester comes from fossil fuels and it sheds a ton of microfibers when washed, causing increasing numbers of the plastic in the ocean, therefore further contributing to global warming. Even natural fabrics such as conventional cotton require large quantities of water and pesticides in developing countries due to fast fashion's high demand for it. Not only does this cause drought, but it creates competition for water between local communities and clothing companies.

These chemical and microfiber releases into the ocean directly affect the animals in the water, which can later affect the whole ecosystem. The industry also harms animals through hunting them for material like leather, fur, and wool. Investigations have even revealed that there are companies selling real fur, including cats' and dogs’, and passing it off as faux fur. When lies like these are successful, more companies are likely to do this, because real fur is just cheaper to produce than faux fur.

We need to understand the harmful effects of fast fashion and sweatshops. Even though we have a long road to making the fashion industry better, there are some steps we can take to push us in that direction. So what can we do to avoid contributing to fast fashion? First, we can start by buying less and using more. Don’t buy clothes you don’t need and try to make the best with what you have. But if you are going to buy clothes, consider second-hand shops or supporting sustainable brands. Outland Denim, Studio Jux, Able, Summersalt, Girlfriend Collective, Levi’s, Tradelands, Sotela, Two Days Off, and Hackwith Design House are some brands that you can support in good conscience. These brands are eco-friendly and size-inclusive, and they use recycled and organic material. Fast fashion is destroying the earth and exploiting people for our benefit. It is our job to act where others fail to do so.

For website post-script: “Want to check the ethical implications of your favorite brands? Try”

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