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The fashion industry is one of the largest polluters in the world, making up nearly 10% of global pollution. One of the main reasons the fashion industry is a big polluter is the rise of fast fashion, which is helping the industry and its waste grow. Fast fashion can be understood as the mass production of clothing that represents the latest trends at high speeds and low costs– in order to maximize profits. Essentially, it is cheap, fast, and mass-produced clothing in order for companies to sell trendy clothes.
The issue is that these past few decades have seen an unprecedented increase in consumer demand for clothing– making space for fast fashion companies around the world (Shein, Zara, Forever 21, H&M, Urban Outfitters, etc.). On average, people are buying nearly 60 percent more clothing than they did two decades ago. This means there is also an increase in the amount of discarded clothing each year on the producer and consumer side. For consumers, clothing lifespan (how long someone keeps and uses and repurposes their clothing) decreases as they buy more. Producers are overproducing, so clothing is typically thrown out if it is not sold to make space on the shelves to keep up with trend cycles and consumer demand.
Fast fashion is the production and consumption of low-cost, trendy clothing that is designed to be worn a few times and then discarded. The fast fashion model is characterized by an incredibly rapid response to changes in fashion trends, sometimes even week to week, and focuses on producing clothing as cheaply and quickly as possible. As a result, fast fashion clothing is typically made from low-quality materials, is produced in sweatshop conditions, and is designed to be worn only a few times before falling apart or going out of style.
The fast fashion model has become increasingly prevalent in recent decades, with many retailers now offering clothing at very low prices that are designed to be worn just a few times before being replaced. This model has led to a significant increase in clothing consumption, with people now buying and disposing of clothing at a much faster rate than previously.
While fast fashion has made clothing more accessible and affordable for many, it has yielded negative impacts on the environment, workers, and communities. These impacts include water pollution, waste, and the depletion of natural resources, as well as poor working conditions and low wages for workers in the fashion industry.
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