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Fast Fashion Is Killing Us

Fast Fashion Coops Kicks
Credit: Sundry Photography

Fast fashion is a rapidly rising phenomenon that is behind multiple environmental and health hazards. It refers to clothing products that are fashionable and easily available at low prices. The entire fast fashion business model is about how fashion brands and garment manufacturers can get the latest trends in store and into the consumers’ hands as quickly and cheaply as possible.

Understanding Fast Fashion

To understand how we got here, we have to understand how fast fashion started. Before the industrial revolution, fashion was something that took a lot more effort. One had to arrange the required materials on their own and the process from sourcing to the end product took a lot more time as manufacturing was not automated, and most things were done by hand. It was also considerably more expensive.

With the introduction of new technology, making clothes became a lot quicker, cheaper, and easier. More businesses started getting into clothes manufacturing and began serving the masses. As the process and labor started getting easier and more affordable, the problems began to pile up. As the focus of these businesses was to maximize production to meet ever-increasing consumer demand, deteriorating health and safety conditions started becoming more common. The first serious disaster-related to this industry happened at a factory in New York that resulted in the deaths of 146 people.

As time went on, clothing became more about personal expression. Till this time, there was still a clear difference between the high-end premium brands that dictated the fashion trends and other businesses.

This is all came to a head in the early 2000s when fast fashion really took off. Fast fashion brands like Zara and H&M took over the fashion market as they started incorporating the design elements of high street fashion brands in their products. This allowed more people to shop for their favorite trends more easily. 

Sneakers, Fast Fashion & Sustainability

Fast Fashion Is Killing Us 1
Elliot Cooper, Coops Kicks

It’s no secret that sneakers have become a staple in many wardrobes. What once began as a trend for athletes and hip-hop stars has now become commonplace for people of all ages and styles. And while there are many different types of sneakers to choose from, the ones that have seen the most growth in recent years are undoubtedly those made for fast fashion. But what exactly makes these sneakers so popular? And more importantly, is it sustainable to wear them?

The amount of water and energy used to produce a pair of sneakers is staggering, and when you consider how often sneakers are discarded or replaced, it’s clear that we need to find a better way. Unlike other garments, sneakers can last for years with proper care.

Everyone knows that it’s important to be sustainable. But what does that really mean? For me, it means trying to reduce my impact on the environment as much as possible and looking for ways to reuse or recycle materials. It also means supporting businesses and organizations that are committed to sustainability. One of my favorites is Coops Kicks, a Brooklyn-based Instagram sneaker retailer founded by Elliot Cooper in 2017 (when he was 13 years old). Coops Kicks teamed up with Got Sneakers, a sneaker recycling group, to help minimize pollution from shoe waste and launched a sneaker fundraising drive. This high schooler went door-to-door collecting used sneakers from his customers and friends.

How Fast Fashion Affects The Environment

Fast fashion is the main source of many kinds of environmental and health hazards. Greenhouse gases, plastic pollution, exploited labor, excessive water consumption, and mismanaged waste are some of the main issues caused by this industry.

Greenhouse Gases

Fast fashion products are made from cotton and synthetic fabrics like polyester. The way these materials are produced is one of the main causes of excessive greenhouses gases in the atmosphere. Cotton is grown through farming. It requires a lot of water and uses pesticides and fertilizers. These pesticides and fertilizers also end up polluting the waterway that they end up in.

Polyester is another material that the majority of fast fashion products are made from. It is a synthetic fabric that is found in 60% of all the clothing being manufactured nowadays. Polyester is made from petroleum, and the way it’s made is what produces an excessive amount of greenhouse gases. It also accounts for a lot of the microplastics that are found in the ocean. On top of that, polyester also takes a lot of time to break down, making its recycling and disposal difficult.

Excessive Water Usage

Another negative effect of fast fashion is the burden that it is putting on the world’s water supply. Fast fashion is one of the biggest consumers of water. To put things into perspective, around 700 gallons of water go into making one cotton shirt, and about 2000 gallons go into making a pair of jeans. Just the process of turning fabric into clothes consumes around 23.5 gallons for every 1 pound of material that is worked on. This process takes several washes. Some manufacturers have turned to use wastewater for later washes, but they are not many in number.

Another water-related issue caused by the fashion industry is the pollution that is caused by the chemicals that go into making clothes. Around 20% of all wastewater is a result of these toxic chemicals going into the oceans. This percentage has only increased with time. Due to stricter regulations in most developed countries, factories are often shifted to countries with more lenient environmental regulations. This results in more toxic chemicals being dumped into the ocean. The most concerning part about this is that water that is contaminated by these chemicals is often untreatable.

Wastage and Disposal

The most immediate problem posed by fast fashion is the amount of waste that is generated in terms of discarded clothing. In 2019 alone, Due to ever-changing trends, low cost, and poor quality, people are now throwing away more clothing than ever. In America, 80 pounds of clothing is discarded by every person on average. Most of these clothes can be recycled but end up going to landfills. Once the landfill sites are filled, this waste is sent to other areas for incineration.

Incineration comes with its own challenges as despite what incineration companies may claim, the burning of trash releases several poisonous gases and toxins in the atmosphere. For comparison, waste incinerators release more pollutants than coal-powered power plants. Sulfur dioxides, carbon monoxide, mercury, and lead are just some pollutants released in heavy quantities due to waste incineration.

How We Can Fix It


There is no easy solution to this problem. Every individual needs to play their part by making conscious and more informed decisions when buying clothes. Donating excess clothing, recycling, and buying from more sustainable brands is a good start. Fashion brands and their manufacturers also have to be held accountable and do more. Investing in processes and infrastructure that make recycling fibers feasible is a good step forward.

Slow fashion is an emerging trend resulting from the effects of fast fashion and calls for sustainable manufacturing. Another way that people are fighting fast fashion is by buying second-hand clothes from businesses like Poshmark and Thread Ink. These businesses receive unwanted garments and sell them at lower prices. Personalized clothing is also a way to reduce fast fashion and is good for companies as it will result in lower returns and ease inventory management.

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