The True Cost of Fast Fashion

Brands featuring Shein, GAP, Victorias Secret, and Urban Outfitters - Collage created by Lily Kniahynyckyj using PicsArt


Brands featuring Shein, GAP, Victorias Secret, and Urban Outfitters – Collage created by Lily Kniahynyckyj using PicsArt

Lily Kniahynckyj, Contributing Writer

Cute, cheap and quick. Three words that immediately turn heads when it comes to fashion. Who wouldn’t want to have clothing that keeps up with the latest trends and doesn’t cost a pretty penny? Fast fashion can be defined as brands that bring new styles to stores, often to sell at cheap prices, using labor sweatshops and overproduction. On the surface, fast fashion seems like a perfect solution to the hustle of having a great wardrobe. In reality, fast fashion is intoxicating the environment and is extremely harmful to our planet.

According to studies from Princeton, the fast fashion industry is currently responsible for more carbon emissions than international flights and even maritime shipping.

The New York Times states that “More than 60 percent of fabric fibers are now synthetics, derived from fossil fuels, so if and when our clothing ends up in a landfill, it will not decay.”

Uncontrolled bio-degradation will cause methane gas emissions, groundwater pollution and unstable soil conditions. states that “[Fast fashion] dries up water sources and pollutes rivers and streams, while 85% of all textiles go to dumps each year.” What many fashionistas don’t realize is that the more they spend on fast fashion companies, the quicker they are polluting our earth.

Not to mention, according to Forbes Magazine fast fashion has also been linked to labor sweatshops and extremely unsafe working conditions. In many countries, clothing factories cut corners every day, resulting in work-related injuries and unsafe working conditions.

Forbes Magazine also stated that the dark side of fast fashion is centered in Los Angeles, California, where undocumented immigrants work in sweatshops for grueling hours at a time, remaining underpaid and overworked, but unable to do anything about it because of their immigration status.

One example is the popular shoe and clothing brand Nike, which has been in favor of cutting the already low wages of their workers and lowering their health standards. SC Digest mentions that Nike Supply Responsibility Director Todd McKean stated in an interview that “[He] doesn’t own the factories and [he doesn’t] control what is going on in [the sweatshops].”

Fast fashion also takes up unfathomable amounts of energy. The production of plastic fibers into textiles requires large amounts of petroleum and releases acids like hydrogen chloride. Fortunately, more sustainable fabrics can be used in clothing, such as lyocell, silk, organic cotton, linen and hemp.

How can fast fashion be reduced? Brands like TopShop, Victoria’s Secret, Urban Outfitters, Guess, Gap, Fashion Nova and Shein are brands that use fast fashion. These brands should not be bought from, even though they are popular. To put in perspective, the ever-so-popular brand Shein, produces low-quality clothing that is not made to last and is not good quality at all.

Not to mention the recent scandal with Shein, according to Refinery 29, when the brand put a swastika necklace for sale in 2020. Shein quickly took it off the market and then apologized for their insensitivity to the public through Instagram. This is just another example of mass production without inspection or quality control that so many fast fashion brands are guilty of.

Some might argue that fast fashion is the only way to afford clothes since non-fast fashion brands are so expensive. While in some cases that might be true, there are some ethical brands like Happy Earth, Tentree or Ref Jeans that are affordable. Not to mention, thrift stores are unequivocally the perfect place to get cheap and trendy clothes, considering the rise in popularity with thrift stores recently. With stores like Goodwill and Salvation Army, there are so many alternatives for fast fashion. Ultimately, there is no excuse to put money towards fast fashion, sweatshops and environmental harm.