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The True Cost of Fast Fashion

Residing in New York City, among a population of 8.6 million people, there are many significant issues we face as New Yorkers on a day to day basis shaping our current lives and our future. With our changing climate and activities, climate change and global warming are at the forefront of civilization’s problem, and our daily activities are making it worse. Although it is depressing to acknowledge the negative effect we have on the earth, our home, it is our first step on our journey to becoming more eco-friendly human beings. With this in mind, we need to address the issue relating to social media and fast fashion.

Fast fashion is a system of production used by brands and manufacturers to produce clothing rapidly, inexpensively, easily disposable, and on-trend. Its goal is to reproduce looks from runways and high-end brands, producing knockoffs, affordable to the average person. The model of fast fashion is one with a very high return on investment for the company’s manufacturing and selling the clothing. Companies such as Zara earn as much as $20 billion from selling the fast fashion model, and while they do so, they have no regard for the impact on the environment. According to Nature

“Textile production is one of the most polluting industries, producing 1.2 billion tons of CO2 equivalent (CO2e) per year, which is more emissions than international flights and maritime shipping.”

Jasmine Malik Chua for Vox, writes, “Apparel and footwear production currently accounts for 8.1 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, or as much as the total climate impact of the entire European Union.” If the fashion industry continues with the current model of fast fashion, by constantly “exerting an unprecedented strain on planetary resources,” the emissions released by producing 100 million tons of clothes by 2030 will increase to 60 percent according to the UN Framework Convention on climate change. Though 8.1 percent seems small, clothing is a necessity for us, and as the fast fashion model is progressing, it will get worse. Although fast fashion companies are producing and selling the clothing, there are other forces at play enforcing the fast fashion model within our societies. The culture we live in; there is pressure to remain relevant, and fast fashion allows people to do that at affordable prices. Lucy Siegle, for the Huff Post, writes, “there is a new force at work fueling consumerism on an unprecedented scale: social media.” Companies are utilizing social media as an advertisement for their products by regularly updating their social media accounts and use influencers to promote their clothes by offering them incentives.

People are constantly on social media and deem it necessary to continuously buy and discard clothing as soon as new trends emerge. Social media serves as a platform for advertising, and the technological advancements have allowed shoppers to easily go to the retailer’s online site and instantly purchase what they want right away without stepping within the confines of the store. Manufacturers and retailers are utilizing social media and online websites to their benefit, seeking faster production at the expense of a larger carbon footprint and many underpaid workers with disregard for both, and eventually, all the garments are discarded once the trend is over. Chua states, “Zara alone churns out roughly 840 million garments every year for its 6,000 stores worldwide, often at sub-poverty wages for the workers. Once-thriving rivers in China, India, Bangladesh, wrecked by wastewater effluent from factories, have transformed into biologically dead zones replete with cancer-causing chemicals. Tiny plastic microfibers, shed by synthetic garments during laundry, are inundating our water supply and food chain.” The introduction of fast fashion as a business model leads to the loss of jobs in developed economies, lack of human rights in developing nations and the deterioration of the surrounding environment as more garments and accessories get manufactured.


There is no one easy solution for the issue of fast fashion as it is complicated and involves so many uncontrollable variables such as social media and reformation of foreign policies and jobs. As New Yorkers, we are amidst one of the cities known for fashion, where we thrive off excess and live opulent lifestyles. The simplest solution advised by both Chua and Siegle is to essentially make more conscious decisions about what we purchase as consumers and not get on the bandwagon of social media trends. That requires a change in people’s mindset, which ties into the topic of lack of awareness of sustainable practices and not knowing the effect we have on the environment. However, once we make more mindful choices and invest our money in sustainable pieces lasting for a long time, the manufacturers will follow suit because they follow the consumer’s dollars. According to research by the U.K government agency Waste Resources Action Program, “extending the life of clothes by nine extra months of active use would reduce carbon, water, and waste footprint by around 20-30 percent per garment.” Essentially just buying less could reduce our ecological footprint.


Works Cited

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