Fast fashion’s impacts on the environment, society, and the economy

Sustainable fashion board courtesy of Kelly Cobb.

Staff Reporter

In the fashion industry consumers play a large role in determining the production of clothing. Therefore, consumers have the opportunity to create a more sustainable fashion industry that is less reliant on overconsumption bred on constantly changing trends. 

The fashion system is a combination of the fashion business and the social and cultural role that it plays. This system takes into account the production of clothing and the consumption of clothing by consumers. When consumers demand a constant stream of new fashion, this creates waste.

“We should all participate in the fashion system,” Kelly Cobb, associate professor of design and product innovation at the university, said. “The beautiful part about fashion is that it creates community, it’s a great tool for expressing yourself and for getting a message across. It’s also a primal need. However, this current model of take, make and dispose is not working.” 

While the basic purpose of clothing is to provide warmth and comfort, nowadays, people wear clothing for stylistic purposes and as a mode of expression. 

It’s currently estimated that the United States produces over 17 million tons of textile waste annually. Fashion consumers are predicted to buy nearly 60% more garments today than 15 years ago. 

Fast fashion is a high-volume, low-quality form of textile production that is influenced by current trends. Although it allows for high quantity production, it does come with costs.

“The downside to that is that you’re only going to want to wear that one time because it starts pilling or ripping immediately, or the trend is out immediately,” Cobb said. “ There’s no longevity, which is a sustainable strategy.”

According to Cobb, fashion companies traditionally launch clothing in each of the four seasons. However, fast fashion brands like SHEIN and Fashion Nova have upwards of 120 seasons. That means new clothes are being released almost every day. Nokyeon Kim, assistant professor in the fashion and apparel department said this allows for cheap, trendy apparel to always be available.

“People like to purchase new items instead of fixing their current ones or investing in apparel quality,” Kim said.

Due to the cheap quality of these clothes, many of them end up in landfills after only being worn a couple of times. Because these clothes are cheaply produced, they cannot be easily recycled for new clothing.

“We can’t separate it because it’s made from a blend of natural and synthetic fibers, which are hard to recycle,” Cobb said. “So it’s really good for nothing after you wear it to a party and get a few pictures, there’s no use for it.”

Recycling fabrics is also a challenge when dealing with blends of fabrics. Fabrics that are made of only one material are easy to recycle, but blended materials are more difficult to recycle due to the extra process to separate each individual material. 

Cobb said that this can be done by investing in long lasting, one-material clothing. She added that learning to sew or visiting a professional to mend clothing is also sustainable. Buying second hand clothes from Goodwill and thrift stores is another way to reduce textile waste.

Both Cobb and Kim also urge fashion consumers to research the brands they are buying from and understand who is producing their clothes and how they are being produced.

However, fashion sustainability involves more than just environmental issues. According to Kim, there are three pillars of sustainability: environmental, social and economic. 

“My students always say that they can’t afford sustainable fashion, but we have to acknowledge that cheap fashion comes at the cost of garment workers, unethical practices and our environment,” Kim said. 

Kim further notes that overproduction and overconsumption have led to many social issues such as minimum wage salaries, unsafe working conditions and forced labor, especially in garment manufacturing.

“The fashion industry’s impact goes well beyond just fashion and the industry,” Kim said. “It goes to your planet, our society, garment workers and everybody’s quality of life. That’s why the fashion industry must be sustainable, responsible and ethical.”

Originally posted 2022-11-22 13:00:00.