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The Real Cost of Fast Fashion: How It Harms the Society


Many people love fast fashion. It’s a business model where companies produce trendy items, especially from luxury brands, very fast and sell them for cheap.

Sure, it’s nice to buy a new fashion item that looks just like what you see in runway shows for a quarter of its original price. But the fast fashion industry actually brings many problems that can affect everyone.

Even though fast fashion items are affordable, society will pay a much larger price because of this industry.

Environmental Risk

Fast fashion threatens the environment.

Because fashion items are produced at warp speed, their quality is often subpar at best. As a result, people only use these items a few times before they give out. Or because the changes in fashion are also quick, people dispose of fashion items once they get out of style, even if they’ve only used them once or twice. Then they buy new items to get in the trend. The result? About 3.8 billion pounds of fast fashion waste in landfills, which consist of chemical waste and microplastics. Both of them damage the environment severely.

Also, clothing production has doubled since 2000 because of the demand for fast fashion. This has caused the industry to contribute 10% of carbon emissions, the main contributors to climate change.

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Human Rights Violation

Behind successful fast fashion brands is a web of human rights problems. To produce large volumes of fashion items quickly and cheaply, companies outsource labor to third-world countries. Most of them are in Asia. In most cases, the working conditions in clothing factories are awful. Workers work for 11 hours or more a day. They receive low wages, sometimes lower than the minimum wage, and don’t get paid overtime.

Child labor is also prevalent in the fast fashion industry. In South Asia, 16.7 million children between the age of 5 and 17 work for garment factories. Most of them are under 15.

Workplace safety is also not guaranteed. In the U.S., factory construction and maintenance are often well-regulated. General contractors have a responsibility to construct well-built and secure establishments. But the same may not be said about sweatshops in third-world countries.

One popular case is the collapse of the Rana Plaza building in Bangladesh in 2013. Thousands of sweatshop workers were buried under the rubble. The lack of safety regulations in third-world factories saves fast fashion companies some money. But they ultimately endanger the lives of the people that actually make their businesses flourish.

Stealing Content

Fast fashion brands mass produce trendy items lightning fast. And as a result, they tend to steal designs from other creators.

The most common victims are small and independent artists. One example is Zara copying the designs of an independent creative named Tuesday Bassen. Unfortunately, fast fashion brands often get away with it due to the lack of legal protection for small and independent creators.

Fast fashion brands also steal from other popular companies. In 2004, Forever21 was sued by about 50 brands, some of them well-known (e.g., Anna Sui and Anthropologie), for stealing their designs. Another example is Christian Louboutin suing Zara for copying their iconic red-sole shoes and selling them for less. Fast fashion companies offer cheaper alternatives to luxury brands, and consumers eat them up.

Fast fashion items may be affordable. But behind this tempting price tag are several issues for which society will pay a higher price. The fast fashion industry threatens the environment, has inhumane working conditions, and promotes the idea of stealing content for profit.

Moving forward, people need to make wiser decisions about the items they buy. Sustainable fashion needs to take the forefront and replace fast fashion for a better world.

Villa Hope Content Team

Villa Hope Content Team

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