The Cost Price of High Fashion

by Ari Jogiel

By now, the vast majority of us have bought into the empty convenience of the fast fashion industry—maybe more than we care to admit.

The magnitude of the fast fashion industry has grown to be what it is today because of the never-ending cycle of new fashion trends, international production allowing margins on clothing to drop significantly, and the constant bombardment of advertising on all social media platforms. The fast fashion industry is fueled by us—the consumers—that continue to buy into the idea that we need to continually be wearing the next best thing but aren’t willing to pay more than $20 per item.

Humans are now consuming clothes at such a high frequency because costs have become so affordable. Buying a $5 tank top that looks exactly like the one that a famous celebrity wore last week seems like a fantastic bargain, right? Sure, but this isn’t a sustainable way to live.

If you can’t immediately foresee all of the irreparable consequences of fast fashion, then here is an eye-opening list of the most significant ways fast fashion is causing tremendous damage to the planet we call home and why you should buy from American-made clothing companies.

Environmental Impact

Just a few decades ago, there were four fashion seasons a year; now, there are 52—that means that online retailers and fashion companies are producing about one new collection every week, on a mass scale. More fashion cycles cause fashion trends to die faster so closets fill up quicker, causing more and more clothing to be thrown out to make room for the new. It is easier to throw out a few tops that cost you around $7 each and are already falling apart after a few uses.

Landfills are now being filled up with truckloads of clothing that people are discarding. It is estimated that every second, the equivalent of one garbage truck full of clothes is thrown into a landfill. At this rate, by 2050, the fast fashion industry will account for one quarter of the world’s carbon budget.

With more and more collections being mass-produced, more materials have to be continuously delivered and then shipped out to all of the customers. All of the transportation involved in producing fast fashion—especially from online retailers—and the need to deliver it fast is why this industry is responsible for 10% of the world's carbon emission, more carbon emission than the whole airline industry and maritime travel industry combined.

Fast fashion and online retailers seek to use the cheapest materials they can find to keep up with fashion trends and still be able to sell them at ultra-low prices. Most fast fashion garments are made of synthetic materials like polyester, acrylic, nylon, and other synthetic fibers. Petroleum makes up 60% of these fibers and becomes a problem when these garments are washed. When put in the washer machine, the fibers that the clothes are made out of begin to shred at minuscule levels that you can’t see. Up to 7000,000 fibers can scrape off in each wash and then drain out of the washer machine into our waterways and spill into our oceans. When these microplastics enter the oceans, they are capable of killing coral reefs and poisoning marine life. Think of how many humans use washing machines to wash clothes and how many times a week their clothes need to be cleaned.

Producing clothing, in general, has always required considerable resources and energy—mostly water—but because the fast fashion industry serially produces such large amounts of clothes, their water waste is considerably higher than most other industries. The process of dying textiles is considered the second most water polluting industry because it accounts for 20% of global water waste. For example, dying and producing one single pair of jeans requires 2,000 gallons of water.

The devastating consequences of mass-producing clothes and selling them at incredibly low prices are already becoming more and more apparent. To continue to support the fast fashion industry and its compulsive consumerism is to enable the industry’s irresponsible practices that are leading our planet towards environmental catastrophe. Is that $5 celebrity tank really worth an environmental catastrophe?

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