The Fast Fashion Industry, Its Effects, And What Humanity Can Do To Stop It

Written by: Camila Camacho

While America is venerated for its concept of “liberty and justice for all”, the word ‘all’ seems to have been an afterthought. From hundreds of years of slavery on American soil to the exploitation of minority groups, capitalistic entities, such as the fast fashion industry, abuse both people and the environment. Innocent people, animals, plants, and other living organisms are continually harmed by America’s business practices. Although slavery has technically been abolished, the concept of claiming people as property for monetary gain is far from over. To make matters worse, this “business” is prospering. As the curtain of lies is pulled back, dollhouses of models wearing luxurious rhinestone bras are revealed. It is evident that behind the extravaganza of opulent clothing for affordable prices, this “pursuit of happiness” is not only harming the Earth but those who inhabit it.

On September 3rd, 2019, The New York Times reported that more than 60 percent of fabric fibers are now synthetic—in other words, derived from fossil fuels—meaning that a majority of the clothing worn today is non-biodegradable, and will waste away in landfills once thrown out. These figures become even more concerning when given context by The Saturday Evening Post, as they reported that the average American throws 81 pounds of clothing away per year. Thus, when such unsustainable clothing wears out quickly or deforms, society's go-to is to throw it away, only adding to fast fashion's waste problem. Having clothing that follows trends will not matter when a society no longer has clean air to breathe, healthy food to eat, pure water to drink, and most importantly, a livable Earth to follow these "trends" on. This not-so-distant future becomes more sinister as society begins to realize that these monstrosities do not only poison 

the air and land humanity’s mother, Earth, but destroy her ecosystems. A large amount of debris and synthetic microfibers from clothing waste is too light to easily be transported to landfills. Instead, the waste often ends up in the ocean. Along with copious amounts of plastic, these synthetic microfibers have built up in the Pacific Garbage Patch: a mass of trash halfway between Hawaii and California that is twice the size of Texas. In 2016, The Guardian reported a blossom in the amounts of waste made up by tiny fibers hailing from synthetic fabrics. The source? Washing machines. These fibers innately make their way into aquatic life. As plankton continue to feed off of these microplastics and toxic fibers, their ability to feed and reproduce decreases, and although plankton may seem insignificant in the realm of oceanic animals, the implications are traumatic to many ecosystems—and not just those of the animal kingdom—due to the fact that a fall in the number of plankton in the ocean directly correlates to a fall in its fish population, and thus, directly correlates to a seriously negative toll on humanity's food resources. According to the One Green Planet Organization, ​700 different marine species are threatened by the presence of microfibers in the ocean, as well as its harms on plankton populations.

Unfortunately, the process of producing unethical and unsustainable clothing directly contributes not only to physical waste but to chemical waste as well. In 2017, World Press News revealed that not only is the fast fashion industry the world’s second leading cause of pollution, but fast fashion produces 25% of the world’s chemical waste. In 2019, The Document Journal reported that the fast fashion industry is responsible for 10% of carbon emissions and that a single pair of jeans takes two thousand gallons of water to make. The concern must start weighing more in favor of the planet all humans share, and less in favor of the already heavy pockets of its wealthiest people. While the United States continues to take clean water and air for granted, climate change continues to harm the planet. At this rate, it will be impossible to access clean resources in the near future.

This abuse of innocent lives in exchange for a simple pair of leggings extends far beyond animals, as its effects reach humans as well. The same Americans who honor World War Two veterans for liberating the first concentration camp established by Germany’s Nazi regime are the same people who are closing their eyes towards the parallel monstrosities happening in China. On February 29th, The Washington Post reported that China has lost the credibility to claim the concentration camps in Xinjiang to be “vocational skills training centers”. In reality, these “training centers” are captivity facilities filled with more than one million Uighurs and other predominantly Muslim minorities. These camps are effectively stripping away the humanity and livelihood of Muslims in China by obligating them to go directly against their own beliefs, cultures, and traditions. This is not “re-education”. This is a direct violation of what must be considered a basic human right. If America holds human rights at the utmost value, why are American based companies profiting off of the labor of these innocent people? In 2017, Good On You and Brandon-Gaille shed light on the dark journey children have to face every single day in sweatshops; specifically, twenty-five million children between the ages of five and fourteen. However, a majority of western society has closed its eyes to these facts in order to continue basking in its privilege. American based companies such as Nike take advantage of children in other countries by using them in sweatshops, where they are required to work in unspeakable conditions, all day or even all night, receiving little to no pay. DoSomething.org actively fights against the common misconception that these sweatshops provide opportunities for families struggling economically in developing countries; in reality, sweatshops do not alleviate poverty, but rather leave the people forced to work to spend the majority of their paycheck on food for their families to survive. Women and children are being dehumanized every single day, all because of the notion that their only purpose as human beings in developing countries is to serve insidious American incorporations. To quote psychologist Jean Piaget, play is the work of childhood; in other words, these children deserve to spend their formative years enjoying the experiences of childhood—going to school and playing—rather than having fifteen-hour workdays. However, children do not stand alone when it comes to having significant portions of their lives ripped away from them due to the fast fashion industry. Do Something.org reported that women make up 85 to 90% of sweatshop workers and that some employers force them to take birth control pills and take pregnancy tests to avoid supporting maternity leave or being responsible for necessary health benefits. These workers and the environment alike are being exposed to dangerous, toxic chemicals due to the sweatshops that prop up the fast fashion industry.

Generation Z only sees what is directly in front of them–somewhat like tunnel vision, except with no future end result. This generation has been raised to question everything, including the existence of a purpose to life due to endless questions such as “if the world is coming to an end and I have not even graduated high school, why should I care about anything?”. However, recently, there has been a significant—and common—change in perspective. The overt corruption found in the United States government has fueled a fire that has sparked an undying ambition for youths to stand up and make a difference. The oppressive outbreaks of the current president, as well as many radically conservative groups operating in the nation, have given the statistically most depressed generation something to fight for: and we will not stop fighting until action is taken. Although not a single person in Generation Z can currently run for office, we acknowledge that change starts on the individual level. Depop, Poshmark, and thrifting have become Generation Z's fashion statement. It is crucial that society as whole implements these simple changes in consumerism. In 2019, Journalist Maraya Fisher issued a celebratory article for the Document Journal to express how thrifting is the youth’s “rebellion”, and that it’s killing the fast fashion industry; however thrifting is not the only “rebellion” for sustainable development. Seventeen-year-old Greta Thunberg has impacted every single one member of Generation Z by not taking no as an answer from corrupt politicians who are stealing youths' futures, and not only that, she has entirely changed the way humanity views the climate crisis and the fast fashion industry. Greta Thunberg has created a change of heart and mind for every single person who has viewed her speeches, whether it be a politician at the United Nations Climate Action Summit, or a 14-year-old on their phone watching her captivating speeches on Youtube. In 2019, Protected-Species.com reported that Greta Thunberg’s undying ambition to save our planet can remind society and designs that their actions now will affect the universal rights and lively good of future generations. Since this report, Forever 21, one of the largest fast-fashion companies, has been slowly going out of business and recently filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Additionally, several young entrepreneurs have taken on creating sustainable and ethical clothing wear.

Greta Thunberg began the fight against the climate crisis at only age fifteen, and by the time she turned seventeen, she sailed from Europe to the United States simply to avoid contributing to carbon emissions. If a fifteen-year-old can understand the concept of prioritizing protecting the environment and can take a two-month journey across the sea to fight it; the rest of society can put back the pairs of skinny jeans, walk out of Zara, and head to a local thrift shop instead. Humanity is finally starting to understand that if it does not have a planet to live on, the economy or low priced clothing will not matter. The fast fashion industry is effectively causing overt amounts of waste, and it is the second leading cause of pollution. Ultimately, buying second hand is not only more affordable but ensures that the little fingers of children are not sewing day and night.