• Vanessa Wood

The TRUE cost of Fast Fashion

Don’t you just love the buzz you get from impulse buying cheap clothing? But don’t you hate it when the same garment looks terrible after the first wash or goes out of fashion a week later? Your buzz fizzles out and you find yourself craving another. As you throw the garment into the trash, you might think to yourself: “Oh well, it was only $10 and it will be fun to get something new tomorrow.”

But there is a much, MUCH higher price to that $10 rag you just threw away.

Now, I don’t want to be a buzz kill, because I am just as addicted to the bargan buzz as the next person, but… I have to say, that in light of a recent fact I stumbled on while reaserching fashion, a ugly dent has been smashed into my shiny retail thereapy uphoria.

This is the hidious fact that threatens to kill my fast fashion addiction:

The fashion industry is the second most polluting industry after mining and oil production.

I know, its too awful to be true. But it is. You can Google it for yourself if you don’t believe me. But be warned, you are venturing down the rabbit hole and will uncover more revolting facts about our beloved fashion industry, like…

2 million tonnes

of textile waste goes into landfill every year.

But how did something so innocuous as fashion become such a huge threat to our planet? Good question. I decided to explore that and this is what I found.

Not so long ago, fashion changed twice a year, once for Winter and once for Summer. Today, trends change as fast as every two weeks. I am not exagerating. This is so that the consumer is forced to ‘buy it now’, because in two weeks time it won’t be there and some new trend will have taken its place. This trend towards micro-trends, is called ‘fast fashion’ or ‘disposible fashion’ because our clothing is effectively being designed for landfill.

Rather than focusing on raising their product quality to beat their competition, it seems to be a race to the bottom for fashion manufacturers, to see who can supply the consumer with the cheapest possible clothes. This downhill race comes at the expense of garment quality, creative style, the environment, worker safety and ethics.

That is a lot of money, time and energy going to waste. If you have ever tried to make a garment yourself, you will know just how much effort it is. Now imagine trying to make a pair of jeans yourself from scratch. How long do you think it would take you to grow the cotton, harvest it, dye and weave the fibers, cut the fabric and sew it all together? Probably weeks or even months. For the average person it would take the most part of a day just to cut and sew the fabric. Compare that to an average jeans factory which makes 2,500 pairs per day.

Did you kow that to make just ONE pair of jeans it takes:

  • 85 people just to do the sewing and garment construction

  • over 101 different manufacturing processes

  • 3,625 litres of water

  • 3 kgs of toxic chemicals

  • 400 megajules of energy

  • 13 square metres of land

Now, if I were to tell you that the fashion industry makes 80 billion new items of clothing every year, you would start to get a rough idea of the staggering amount of resources it takes to make our clothes.

You might be thinking: “Whats the big deal? So I throw away a few clothes once and a while - texiles are biodegradable.” While that may be true of most natural fibers like cotton and wool, the fact is that if you added up all the natural fibers in landfill, they would account for less than half of the total waste. The remaining portion is made up of polyester. Polyester is a polluting plastic derived from fossil fuels and the fabric of choice for most fast fashion stores, because is cheap to produce and it doesn’t crease as much as natural fibers, so it looks better in shop displays.

100 million tonnes

of poylester garments are made every year.

Did you know that polyester:

  • Is non-biodegradable.

  • Leaves micro plastics in our oceans and our food chain.

  • Is energy intensive to produce.

  • Creates a high volumes of CO2 in its manufacturing process.

But is cotton any better?

The answer is yes and no. Yes, cotton is bio-degradable and in itself is non-toxic to the environment, but its production is not at all environmentally friendy.

Cotton facts:

  • Because of pesticides used in its production, cotton is the most polluting crop after corn to produce.

  • Producers often exploit cheap labour, including children, to harvest crops.

  • Left over die stuffs are often dumped into fresh water supplies, which makes them toxic to drink.

That’s just a little insight into the cost of fast fashion on the environment, but about the human cost?

With consumers demanding lower and lower prices for their clothing, manufactuers have to come up with creative ways in which to increase their profits. One way manufacturers get around minimum wage and workng condition laws is through the use of sub-contractors. As a result, some brands have little or no idea where their products are being made and under what conditions. This problem was brought to the world’s attention in 2013 when the Rana Plaza garment factory in Bangladesh collapsed killing 1133 workers and injuring 2500. The owners of the Plaza knew the building was damaged when they ordered their concerned workers to go back inside. Trapped in a cycle of poverty and afraid of losing their jobs, the workers had no choice but to go back to work. Most of these workers were poor women, who had come from the countryside to seek work in the city, either to escape being made child brides or help their families pay for the raising cost of food.

The garment industry is the backbone of the Bangladesh economy and the country has risen to become the second biggest garment producer in the world. China is number one. The average garment worker in china receives $1.28 per hour. If you think that is low, you might be surprised to know that in Bangladesh a garment worker has to work extremely long hours, sometimes up to 100 hours of overtime per month, to earn just enough just to survive because they only earn 24 cents an hour.

Compare that with the 3 trillion US dollars the fashion industry earns per year.

Here are some interesting statistics.

  • 3 out of the 6 most profitable fashion companies in the world sell fast fashion.

  • The most profitable fashion label in the world is Zara, a Spanish company, which makes… you guessed it, fast fashion.

  • Zara makes over 840 million garments per year, compared to 50-100 items produced by a boutique brand.

  • Zara has over 2,000 stores in 88 countries.

  • Zara’s founder, Anuncio Ortega, is the 3rd richest man in the world. His estimated wealth is 69.5 billion (only 9 billion behind Bill Gates.)

  • Zara’s designers work anonymously, in stark contrast to most fashion designers who battle for the limelight in order to sell their products.

So what makes Zara so successful? Do they spend the most on advertising? The short answer is no. Unlike most other clothing brands, Zara does not have a markeing department. That’s because they don’t need one. You see Zara have cracked the code of consumerism and infiltrated the hearts and minds of its target market through xxxx. By making every one of their stores look grand, inviting and perfectly merchandised with luxurious looking garments, which have a ridiculouerly small price tag, they make normal people feel like millionares. You may think they are selling cute clothes, but what they are really selling are legal highs. Zara are the fashion equivolent of crack dealers.

While Zara are smugly spending their advertising budget on super yaughts, their rivals are spending 500 billion US dollars per year on advertising to make you ignore the ugly side of fashion.

It is no surprise then that, at one time or another, we have all been seduced by advertising and bought something we though would help us look ‘on trend’ and fashionable. But there are no more excuses.

So what is the solution?

There is a human need to fit in and fast fashion merchants are capitalizing on that need. If we all had a strong sense of what our own personal style was right from birth and confidently dressed ourselves in a range of styles that actually suited our body types, fast fashion probably wouldn’t exist. It is because fashion merchants constantly bombard us with Photoshoped images of models and celebrities looking flawless and perfect, that we lose confidence and chase an ideal that we will never live up to and a lifestyle that few will ever know.

The problems in the fashion industry seem insurmountable, but there is something YOU can do about it.

We have 3 trillion dollars at our disposal to pursude the manufacturers to change their ways.

Consumer demand drives the production of polluting fashion by unethical manufacturers, so as a group we all need to think about how we use our money to make better choices about what we wear.


“But what will I wear?” I hear you cry out in anguish.

Well, the opposite of fast fashion. You guessed it… its called slow fashion. Slow fashion is movement which has emerged globally in response to the realisation that our current cycle of consumpution is not sustainable for us or our planet. It’s about thinking of fashion in the same way we think about food. So instead of just consuming junk because its convenient and cheap, we make considered decisions about about whether our clothes are good for us and the environment.

Its about finding out:

  1. what our clothes are made of - does it’s production create minimal pollution?

  2. where they are made - was it made ethically?

  3. and how they are made - is is good quality?

Here are my tips for shop responsibly. When you are tempted by something new and shiny ask yourself:

  1. Do I really need it?

  2. Do I really love it? If you are buying it because its trendy and not because you love it and you think it suits you, don’t buy it.

  3. Will it the style last several seasons?

  4. Will the fabric and construction survive repeated laundering?

  5. What is the maximum amount of wears I will get out of it? Tip: If it is less than 30, don’t buy it.

  6. How will I dispose of it when I am done with it?

About a year ago I made a commitment to only buy second hand clothing and have stuck to it. I am now able to wear designer clothing, something I could never afford to do in the past and I get a lot more compliments about my clothes than I have ever done. Not only do the compliments make me feel great, but I also know that I have made a contribution towards saving the planet, albeit a small one. I believe if everyone adopted this attitude, our children would inherit a better world.

So love your clothes…they are worth more than you think.

Recommend viewing:

‘The True Cost.’


‘Bangladesh Slavery for H&M, Lidl, C&A’

‘Where am I wearing.’


‘Solutions for a sustainable fashion industry.”


Recommended Reading:

‘Fashion Victims’


Did you know that April 24th is Fashion Revolution Day?

This is the anniversary of the Rana Plaza tragedy.

#whomademyclothes call for a renewed customer focus on supply chain transparency.


©2020 Suede Studios Ltd