Student Opinion: The Importance of Avoiding Fast Fashion

Minna Tietäväinen, CC0 Public Domain,

LOS ANGELES—With increasing awareness of climate change, many are considering options to lower their carbon footprints through specific consumer choices, such as avoiding fast-fashion companies.

Since the fast-fashion industry produces around 10 percent of all global carbon dioxide emissions, avoiding the industry is a meaningful way to reduce one’s carbon footprint. Defined as “a business model based on offering consumers frequent novelty in the form of low-priced, trend-led products,” fast fashion brands — like Uniqlo, ZARA, H&M, and Forever 21 — offer consumers inexpensive clothing and accessories for a high cost to the environmental and human rights. 

One environmental impact of the fast-fashion industry is how it negatively impacts water supply in its desire to keep costs low. Creating a new clothing piece necessitates large amounts of water. For example, making a new cotton shirt means using 700 gallons of water and a pair of jeans requires nearly three times as much water.

In fact, the fashion industry is the second largest user of water around the world, only below the agriculture industry. Moreover, since leftover water from the dyeing process is released into lakes, rivers, and streams, it is also the second largest water polluter. The fashion industry itself accounts for about 20 percent of total water pollution.

The fast-fashion industry has also drawn criticism for its spreading of microplastics: extremely tiny pieces of plastic debris. Since it is cheaper than cotton, these brands frequently opt to use polyester — a fabric composed of plastic and derived from petroleum — when making clothing. Around 35 percent of all microplastics come from these synthetic fiber sources. 

Along with its dispersion of microplastics, the fast-fashion industry creates problems in other ways. Since it permits and encourages a rapid consumption of clothing, the average person now purchases 60 percent more clothing in 2014 than they did in 2000.

Moreover, by speeding up the rate at which new clothing collections are produced and purposefully designing flimsy and cheap products, fast fashion causes clothing to be kept for merely half the time, creating large amounts of waste.

In the United States, on average, a person disposes of 81 pounds of clothing annually. As a result, around 85 percent of textiles reach landfills each year.

In addition to environmental concerns, the fast-fashion industry is involved in numerous alarming human rights issues. To reap a large profit and maintain a low cost, fast fashion companies often rely upon exploitative forms of labor.

The industry employs around 75 million factory workers worldwide, most being women between the ages of 18 and 24. However, only around two percent of these workers earn a living wage, causing many to live below the poverty line.

Along with high working hours and seven-day work weeks, these workers are commonly exposed to cancer-causing chemicals.

As many have come to rely on the industry, it is important to consider its alternatives. One common alternative is purchasing second-hand clothing, which increases the lifespan of a garment and saves the resources required to produce a new one. While buying second-hand at thrift stores can be challenging, e-commerce platforms — like Depop, ThreadUp, and Poshmark —  provide simpler ways to purchase second-hand clothing.

A more expensive option, sustainable fashion companies, are another alternative. For example, brands such as Pact, ABLE, Made Trade, and many more produce stylish, long-lasting, and eco-friendly clothing and accessories. 

The fast-fashion industry presents considerable environmental and human rights challenges, contributing to substantial carbon dioxide emissions, water usage and pollution, the spread of microplastics, and unfair labor practices. By prioritizing fast-paced production and low costs, the fast fashion industry has created a cycle of over-consumption and waste, worsening ecological damage and social injustices.

However, meaningful change is possible through conscious consumer choices such as shopping second-hand and supporting sustainable fashion brands. Through informed decision-making, consumers play a vital role in reducing their carbon footprints and promoting a more sustainable future.

About The Author

Originally from Santa Cruz, Gensen DeLeon is a first-year English Major at the University of California--Los Angeles. She anticipates graduating in Spring 2027 and continuing her educational journey at law school.

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