What’s fast fashion and why should you avoid it?

How to make your fast fashion pieces more sustainable?

For those of you who haven’t heard the term ’fast fashion’ before: it’s a business model based on current fast-changing trends aiming to gain as much profit as possible. They deliver new collections to the shelves every 2-8 weeks by reacting quickly to consumer behaviour and demand. In addition, all items are really cheap (we can get a T-shirt for 4 euros). So far so good: we can buy many items for a low price and it’s accessible to – almost – everyone. However, let’s think a bit further. How can they make it so cheap? What’s behind the fancy stores and clothes? So many negative side effects! As profit is the most important, emphasis on some ethical and sustainable questions falls behind. Let’s divide these into 3 main groups for better understanding: Environmental issues, Labour rights and Animal welfare.

Environmental issues:

The fashion industry (because of fast fashion) is one of the most polluting industries in the world. It is responsible for about 10% of the global greenhouse gas emissions. The high rate of overconsumption leads to landfills on our lands and in our oceans. Nowadays most clothes are made of synthetic fibers such as polyester, acrylic, nylon, etc. They are not only responsible for many new skin diseases but they are harmful to the environment too.  Clothes (and other fashion items) after a short lifetime get transported to landfills, where it takes at least 200 years for them to decompose. These landfills are exponentially growing. It’s because we, people overconsume. We throw them away quickly mostly because they are made from bad quality materials with poor construction and get damaged or because they just simply go out of style.

The industry is responsible for using 93 cubic meters of water every year, (2500 liters of water is needed only to make 1 cotton T-shirt), which could lead to the depletion of the water. After production that high amount of water containing toxic chemicals are being poured back into the waters and soil poisoning the habitants too besides the flora and fauna.

picture 1: Muntaka Chasant/Shutterstock

Labour rights:

Let’s get back to the question: How exactly a T-shirt can cost 4 euros?

After the fashion – and the whole – world’s pace had sped up due to digitalization and the spreading of synthetic fibers, western fashion firms looked for cheaper labour and took their production from Eastern Europe to the Far East such as Bangladesh, India, China and Vietnam. Now, most of these countries’ economy depends on the fashion industry. Therefore, not only the countries but its people are being exploited by the firms. Employees often have very few or no rights. They usually work for 16 hours for 7 days a week without a break. Working conditions are poor and do not always stand up to the legal safety policies. Most of the workers are women and children who are exposed to discrimination and abuse. All of this is for a wage that doesn’t even add up to the minimum living wage.

picture 2. Abir Abdullah/EPA

Animal welfare:

It’s not only the people who are exploited by the fashion industry but the animals too. A common disbelief is that their skin is only a byproduct of the meat industry, however, a lot of animals are being kept and slaughtered for their skin. They are kept in inhumane conditions: taken from their liberty, living in a cage, often abused, suffering from dehydration, frostbite, etc. After that their skins have been taken, they are slaughtered in the cheapest way possible (which is usually the cruelest). Animals like sheep, rabbits, ducks, etc. whose wool, fur and feathers grow back, are kept alive after their ’coats’ have been brutally cut off. Wild animals like crocodiles and snakes also lose their lives for the fashion industry, which due to the high demand, could lead to their extinction and the overturn of the ecosystem.

picture 3. Jo-Anne McArthur/We Animals


Although fast fashion is now everywhere, with a quick research you can find some local sustainable brands around you, that aim to eliminate the negative effects of the industry. At first glance, they might seem a bit pricey, but if you look for the long run they are usually more economical due to higher quality. (Many brands even do repairs.) If it’s still not suitable for your wallet, don’t worry, there aren’t just two extremes. With only a little care you can already do something towards sustainability. Here are some tips that you can follow even if you buy sustainable or fast fashion:

1. Only buy what you really need. Don’t buy something by impulse or because it’s cheap. Always ask the question from yourself: ’Do I really need it? Am I going to love and wear it for a long time?

2.  Don’t wash your clothes too many times, only if it’s necessary. With every wash the life of your clothes shortens, not to mention the chemicals and microfibers that are unleashed during washing damaging the environment. 

3.  If possible dry your clothes naturally, not with the dryer.

4.  Follow the labels and take care of your clothes as they say.

5.  Buy second-hand. (Still consider if you need it or not.)

6.  Repair what you can or get it repaired.

7.  Get informed of the brand before buying from them. (Be careful of greenwashing.)

8.  Check the label for components. Try to buy clothes made from natural fibers (possibly from only one for easier recycling)

9.  Don’t throw away your bored clothes. Give it to someone or sell it.

10. Organize cloth swaps with your friends and family.

11. Transform or redesign your bored clothes.

12. Try to create some new outfits from your bored clothes. (Even if it’s odd for the first time something fun could come out of it.)

13. Make your own clothes.

14. Buy from sustainable brands.

+1 Don’t try to adapt all the tips at once. Start with only a few and go step by step to not overwhelm yourself.

Not everyone has the skills or money to follow all points. Do as much as you are capable of. Every small step counts.

Slovak Eco Quality coordinates Fast Fashion? Fast Forward! (4F) project that will develop a Digital EDUportal, Toolkit, and training material promoting awareness and understanding of the fast fashion and Circular Economy, particularly in the textiles and clothing industry. The addition of the Board Game and Clothes stories Comic book will make the learning process more engaging and enjoyable for youth, ultimately leading to greater adoption and application of sustainable practices in this industry. This project is an important step towards a more sustainable future and a brighter tomorrow.