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How Does Fast Fashion Affect the Environment

How Does Fast Fashion Affect the Environment?

June 24, 2022 - Martina Igini

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Technology has given rise to fast fashion. As new trends are generating huge profits for companies, they are also having a massively detrimental impact on the planet. How exactly does fast fashion affect the environment and how can consumers make more conscious choices and reduce their own environmental footprint?

What is Fast Fashion?

Fast fashion is a term used to describe cheap and low-quality clothes that are rapidly produced and sold to consumers, who are always looking for good deals and the latest trends. Some of the world’s biggest and most notable fast fashion brands include UNIQLO, Forever 21, Zara, and H&M.

Cheap and rapid production only encourage excessive consumption as people are attracted to low-priced goods. For individual consumers, it is also easier and more economic to buy items that have short life spans compared to opting for high quality, long-lasting ones that will very shortly fall out of popularity. 

How Does Fast Fashion Affect the Environment?

The cheap items that retailers sell don’t usually last long because of their low quality. This encourages consumers to continuously buy more and replace their worn-out clothes. This cycle of buying and discarding creates a huge environmental problem, with the world accumulating mountains of textile and clothing waste every day.

However, there is more to it.


The fast fashion industry is responsible for approximately 8% of global carbon emissions and – more than all international flights and maritime shipping combined. The emissions derive not only from the manufacturing process itself but also from the shipment of clothing around the world, as well as their disposal. 


The fashion industry is the second large consumer of water. About 700 gallons (2,660 litres) are required to produce one cotton shirt and nearly 2,000 gallons (7,600 litres) for a pair of jeans! 

Fashion is also related to water pollution. In particular, textile dyeing is the world’s second-largest polluter of water, since the water leftover from the dyeing process is often dumped into streams or rivers.


Brands use synthetic fibres like polyester, nylon, and acrylic which take hundreds of years to biodegrade. It is estimated that approximately 60% of all fast fashion items are produced with plastic-based fabrics and a staggering 35% of all microplastics in the ocean come from this industry!

What Can Consumers Do to Reduce their Environmental Footprint?

Zara, Primark, Shein, and H&M are just some of the most influential fast-fashion brands on the planet. However, the list goes on and on. While it might be relatively easy to identify them, it is more difficult than it seems to avoid them and resist the temptation to buy into their trendy and extremely affordable collections. 

However, if we really want the industry to change and contribute to fighting climate change, we as consumers have the power and duty to rethink our choices and understand that our actions have consequences; and it can all start by opting for more sustainable and ethical companies over fast fashion brands.

We can also reduce the number of clothes we buy and, while we might have to spend more money for a higher quality item, this will certainly last longer than any fast fashion piece, making it a good investment in the long run. 

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About the Author

Martina Igini

Martina is an environmental journalist based in Hong Kong. She holds two Bachelor's degrees, one in Journalism and one in Translation and Interpreting Studies as well as a Master's degree in International Development. Passionate about writing and languages, her interests include sustainability and the role of public policy in environmental protection, especially in developing countries. She has extensive experience working as a journalist and in 2020, she joined the outreach team of the United Nations Global Communication Department. She currently works for Earth.Org and is the website's main writer and editor.