If you’re active online, you might have noticed “fast fashion” as a popular buzzword lately––but what, actually, is it? According to Merriam-Webster, fast fashion is defined as “an approach to the design, creation, and marketing of clothing fashions that emphasizes making fashion trends quickly and cheaply available to consumers.”1 Fast fashion is typically known for being inexpensive, widely available (especially recently due to online shopping), and “trendy” with what’s currently in style. Clothing created this way is often low quality because it’s being created with the intention of being sold at a very low price point, so production costs have to be kept low.

Fast fashion is also, unfortunately, generally associated with poor working conditions. Fashion companies often outsource their textile production to countries such as India and Bangladesh, where it is cheaper to produce and there are fewer labor safety regulations.2 Some garment workers make as little as $1.58 per hour, and many employers have been found to violate overtime and workplace safety laws.3 Workplaces are often unhygienic and can be contaminated by substances such as dust produced from materials; garment workers have been found to suffer from health issues such as coughs, fevers, respiratory problems, and musculoskeletal problems, including scoliosis.4,5 There have even been tragedies where workers were killed, such as the 2013 building collapse in Bangladesh, which resulted in over 1,100 avoidable deaths.6

The increase of fashion production has also led to an increase in fashion waste; each year, we produce 13 million tons (that’s 26,000,000,000 pounds!) of textile waste globally––about 70 pounds per year by each average consumer.7 Even more heartbreaking is the fact that most (up to 95%) of this waste could be reduced or reused, but is instead thrown away. Some fabrics, such as polyester, take up to 200 years to decompose,7 meaning that we are creating an abundance of waste that isn’t breaking down in our environment. The United States is one of the biggest consumers of fast fashion, and one of the biggest producers of fashion waste. Since trends are now changing faster than ever due to social media, we are buying clothing quickly to stay trendy, and throwing it away just as quickly to make room in our closets for the next trends.

Beyond textile waste alone, the fast fashion industry is also contributing to the destruction of our planet. If we don’t work to reduce fashion waste, it is estimated that the global emissions produced by the apparel industry will double by 2030.8 Apparel production also contaminates water supplies and dries up water sources.8,9 Did you know it takes 700 gallons of water to produce one cotton shirt, and about 2,000 gallons of water to produce a pair of jeans?9

It’s crucial that we, as a society, reduce our fast fashion consumption. From a moral standpoint, we have to protect workers who are being exploited for their textile production. And from an environmental perspective, we must reduce the irreversible damage that we are doing to our planet, both from textile waste and contamination from apparel production. Fortunately, reducing your fast fashion consumption can be easier than you think!

Here are some ways you can reduce your fast fashion consumption and fashion waste:

  • Buy less. This seems like a simple concept, but sometimes it can be difficult. Our current society encourages consumerism and tells us that we MUST have the most recent trends. However, you will save money and reduce your consumption if you choose to buy staple pieces that will never go out of style instead of the newest trends. Bonus points if you buy durable clothing that will last! This will save you from needing to replace low-quality clothing items every few years.
  • Thrift! There’s no shortage of secondhand stores in Los Angeles. These range from lower price options, such as Goodwill, to specialty “curated” stores with higher price points. Many secondhand stores even have charitable focuses and donate some of their proceeds to local organizations. Check out the LA Vintage Map for an interactive map of secondhand stores in and around L.A.10
  • Donate your clothing to thrift stores instead of throwing it away. In general, most thrift stores are always open to take donations, as long as your old clothes are in decent condition. Even if you think nobody would want your old clothes, there are lots of people out there who would be excited to spruce up their own wardrobe with your pieces!
  • Swap clothes with friends. If you don’t feel like buying from thrift stores or donating your old clothes, find a buddy who wants to change up their wardrobe and trade a few pieces with them. This is a fun way to shake up your closet.
  • If you are able to, choose to shop at smaller, sustainable businesses. Sometimes this is called “slow fashion”––clothing that is high quality and made by workers who are paid fairly and work in safe conditions (often within the US). However, this clothing is often more expensive, as the cost of producing it is higher, so this might not work for everyone’s budget.
  • Learn to mend, alter, and upcycle your own clothing! Sometimes our clothes don’t fit perfectly, or they start to come apart at the seams a bit. That doesn’t mean you have to get rid of them! Learning how to update or fix your own clothing will help you feel agency and control over your wardrobe, and it will help you keep clothes in your closet instead of tossing them at the first sign of wear. There’s no shortage of tutorials on YouTube and TikTok––search “beginner sewing” to find some videos! You can also find an easy mend guide on Remake.com.11
  • Repurpose your old clothes. If your old clothing is well-loved and starting to fall apart beyond repair, you probably can’t donate it––but you can find other purposes! Cut up old clothes into rags to use for cleaning (you can use these instead of paper towels, which is even better to reduce waste). You can also turn an old t-shirt into a pillow (check out a tutorial here).12 Be creative and see what ways you can come up with to give your clothes a new life!

1. Definition of FAST FASHION. Published July 6, 2023. Accessed July 17, 2023. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/fast+fashion
2. Ross E. Fast Fashion Getting Faster: A Look at the Unethical Labor Practices Sustaining a Growing Industry. International Law and Policy Brief. Accessed July 17, 2023. https://studentbriefs.law.gwu.edu/ilpb/2021/10/28/fast-fashion-getting-faster-a-look-at-the-unethical-labor-practices-sustaining-a-growing-industry/
3. March 21 RR•, 2023. The Exploitation of Garment Workers: Threading the Needle on Fast Fashion. DOL Blog. Accessed July 17, 2023. http://blog.dol.gov/2023/03/21/the-exploitation-of-garment-workers-threading-the-needle-on-fast-fashion
4. Kabir H, Maple M, Usher K, Islam MS. Health vulnerabilities of readymade garment (RMG) workers: a systematic review. BMC Public Health. 2019;19(1):70. doi:10.1186/s12889-019-6388-y
5. Hobson J. To die for? The health and safety of fast fashion. Occupational Medicine. 2013;63(5):317-319. doi:10.1093/occmed/kqt079
6. Bangladesh textile workers’ deaths “avoidable.” BBC News. https://www.bbc.com/news/business-22296645. Published April 25, 2013. Accessed July 17, 2023.
7. Abssy CLEHCVM. World Reimagined: The Hidden Environmental Costs of Clothes, and How Companies are Addressing It. Published January 13, 2022. Accessed July 17, 2023. https://www.nasdaq.com/articles/world-reimagined%3A-the-hidden-environmental-costs-of-clothes-and-how-companies-are
8. Measuring Fashion: Insights from the Environmental Impact of the Global Apparel and Footwear Industries. One Planet network. Published September 17, 2021. Accessed July 17, 2023. https://www.oneplanetnetwork.org/knowledge-centre/resources/measuring-fashion-insights-environmental-impact-global-apparel-and
9. McFall-Johnsen M. The fashion industry emits more carbon than international flights and maritime shipping combined. Here are the biggest ways it impacts the planet. Business Insider. Accessed July 17, 2023. https://www.businessinsider.com/fast-fashion-environmental-impact-pollution-emissions-waste-water-2019-10
10. LA Vintage Map – All vintage, resale, and thrift stores in LA. Accessed July 19, 2023. https://lavintagemap.com/
11. How to Mend Your Clothes: 5 Easy Stitch Fixes for Beginners. Published April 30, 2020. Accessed July 19, 2023. https://remake.world/stories/style/how-to-mend-your-clothes-during-quarantine-5-easy-stitch-fixes/
12. How To Make A Throw Pillow Out Of A T-Shirt. Published September 24, 2019. Accessed July 19, 2023. https://thewickerhouse.com/2019/09/how-to-make-throw-pillow-out-of-t-shirt.html