The Island of Misfit Clothes: How Fast Fashion is Ruining the Environment

Female holding 2 pieces of clothes in store

How much would you pay for looking chic? For less than $100, you can get a fashionable, head-turning and stylish set of clothes from Zara, Forever 21 or H&M. Fast fashion has introduced a more accessible and affordable way of looking good. Get a good-looking blouse, a cute skirt, maybe add a jacket and then grab that eye-catching pair of sneakers and you got yourself a perfectly curated look for Instagram. However, you’ll also be playing to the hands of companies with shady disposal tactics. Interested?

The fast fashion industry poses a terrible risk to the environment. Sustainability remains the pertinent issue; clothing has become incredibly disposable to the point that surplus recyclers, secondhand resellers and the same clothing companies themselves, despite harnessing powerful reverse logistics technology, are still overwhelmed. Mountainous tons and tons of clothes, used or not, are filling landfills all over the world. As the demand for fast fashion grows, so does the environmental wastage made.

Fast Fashion by the Numbers

The UK-based charity institution Ellen MacArthur Foundation said that clothing production and manufacturing has doubled over the last 15 years. The demand for clothing increases as well, as more countries are gaining economic momentum and the numbers of middle-class families are constantly growing. What’s even more staggering is that the fast fashion industry itself is built upon a very unsustainable business model.

Typically, used clothing can be sold to thrift shops and the like for reuse. But fast fashion isn’t known for its quality; most of these clothes end up at landfills. With such a demand, it might be hard to imagine that every second 2625 kilograms of clothing are discarded or burnt every single day. Only 1% of fibers used in garments can be salvaged and made into new clothing, according to Ethical Corp.

China, being one of the biggest markets in the world, produces textile wastes as big as 26 million tons. On the other hand, Hong Kong craves fast fashion; about HK$5 billion was spent in sales in 2017. Imagine how many textiles and fabrics are wasted, considering that four in 10 people there discard their clothes after wearing them only once.

Doing Better

Model in runway

Companies and charities are trying to find myriads of ways to recycle or reuse clothing. Some research for ways to recycle as much of the fabrics as possible. Others, let people have the chance to rock stylish clothes through rentals. Rent the Runway, for example, lets you wear high fashion pieces without breaking much bank. Why settle for fast fashion when you can wear something from Emporio Armani?

Fashion is tense, volatile and ever-changing. It shifts as the seasons come and go. Learning to invest in clothing will help reduce the environmental wastage the world produces. As an individual, Fashionopolis author Dana Thomas notes, people should be more mindful of their clothing purchases.

Instead of buying what’s in for this season, look for clothes that you might be able to wear for different scenarios for a long time. Take for example the Duchess of Cambridge and the Duchess of Sussex. Both stun crowds with their fashion sense, but both also are seen to repeat outfits. You don’t have to wear a different outfit every single day. Mix and match what you have; re-wear clothes like your royalty.

Fast fashion remains a problematic environmental issue that needs to be addressed. It’s important that everyone should learn to value their clothing more, instead of opting for disposable clothing.

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