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Buchholz 1

Katie Buchholz

English 1201

Professor Bell

1 November 2019

Should Fast fashion slow down?

For the past few years, I have done volunteer work with my mom for an organization

called Sole Hope, which uses donated material from old jeans and turns it into pairs of shoes.

While helping to gather old jeans from friends of my mom, I began to notice that over a couple

of years several of the same people were donating quite a few pairs of jeans each year. Realizing

this made me question why they had so many to donate in the first place, as they had just donated

the previous year and the jeans were still in a rather good condition. When I asked one woman

who frequently donated about it, I was told that most of the jeans she was donating were bought

the previous year or two and her kids would refuse to wear them because they were no longer in

style. As someone who has had relatively the same wardrobe for years, I thought that it was a bit

strange to not wear the jeans until they were no longer wearable and instead just get rid of them

because they were not brand-new. This made me want to look further into the timeframe of

fashion industry trends and the environmental results of producing clothing so quickly. From

research it has been concluded that the fast fashion industry has a negative impact on the world

as it uses toxic chemicals, promotes pollution, and often times exploits workers.

According to the Oxford Dictionary, fast fashion is defined as “inexpensive clothing

produced rapidly by mass-market retailers in response to the latest trends” (Fast fashion). With

its growing rates, fast fashion is something that most Americans now buy into. When purchasing
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these items, the question of how the clothes are made is typically overlooked, and the materials

used are even less considered.

In the movie “The True Cost”, Director Andrew Morgan addresses the ways the farming

industry has changed as a direct result of fast fashion. With the demands for clothing increasing,

the demand for cotton, one of the most common materials in clothing production, has increased

as well. In order to fulfill the emerging demands of cotton, farmers are forced to resort to using

Pesticides and GMOs for maximum growth. While cotton has benefited from these things,

people have suffered. Morgan mentioned that as of 2015 eighty percent of cotton in Texas was

grown using GMOs. He also discussed how in a region of India known for using high amounts of

pesticides between 70 and 80 percent of children had mental or physical birth defects linked to

the contaminated soil (The True Cost). This goes hand in hand with a study from the UW

Department of Environmental & Occupational Health Sciences, one of the top-ranked schools on

public health. Their researchers discovered that “Exposure to glyphosate, the world’s most

widely used herbicide, increases the risk of cancer called non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma by 41

percent” (Zhang et al).

Another commonly used chemical involved with clothing production is textile dyes.

While some dyes are considered to be safe, others not so much. Morgan pointed out that azodyes

are the most commonly used synthetic type of dye, with an estimation of being in 70 percent of

all commercial dyes (The True Cost). These specific dyes have the ability to form what is called

aromatic amines. Aromatic Amines are known carcinogens believed to increase the chances of

getting liver and bladder cancers. There have been many studies showing a correlation of cancer

from the chemicals involved with producing clothing, but there are still no worldwide policies

put in place to help limit the amount of these chemicals being used.
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Without fast fashion being so popular, Farmers would be able to keep up with the needs of

cotton production without the use of as many harmful chemicals. There would also be a lesser

need to use the synthetic textile dyes that are so popular now only because of the price. If these

chemicals were to stop being used, then the amount of cancer and defects in children could be

reduced as fewer carcinogens would be present. While textile dyes are a major concern for

health, they are also a concern for the environment.

Textile dyes are one of the leading causes of water pollution from the fashion industry.

Professor Wench Gweodz, who works for the Nutritional Sciences and Environmental

Management for Justus-Liebig-University Giessen in Germany, stated from a study on clothing

consumption that “The production of one pair of jeans, for instance, requires 3625 liters of water,

3 kilograms of chemicals, 400 MJ of energy, and 16 m2 of harvested land. The clothing industry

is thus high on energy consumption but low on energy use efficiency.” and “nearly all textile

dying and application of specialty or finishing chemicals occur in water baths. Even worse,

following each process, the fabrics are washed to remove used chemicals and the water is

returned to the ecosystem, often without any purification efforts, which leads to water pollution”

(Gweodz 762). As clothing continues to be rapidly sold and manufactured the clean water

sources available are going to worsen. This pollution could potentially lead to a shortage in the

food supply in poor areas where the clothing is produced, as it would cause aquatic life to not

survive. This is just one example of the pollution caused by the fashion industry.

While the materials to make clothing are causing pollution, the final product has as well.

The EPA estimated that around 9 percent of waste in the U.S is from textiles and clothing

materials. On average each person in America throws away 81 pounds of clothes every year.

While over 90 percent of this clothing could be recycled the majority of it is instead thrown away
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and ends up pilled in landfills (Fashion United). Because of the clothing from fast fashion often

being made with nonorganic materials like synthetic fabrics or covered in synthetic dyes, the rate

at which it will decompose drastically decreases in comparison to natural sources. This means

that more greenhouse gases will be emitted into the atmosphere, which can further destroy the

ozone layer and cause global warming.

While not all clothing being donated is used, what is can be rather useful.

I decided to interview Bridgett Hatfield for this assignment, who runs the organization Refuse to

do nothing and does work for the organization Sole Hope, which is previously mentioned. When

asked about the amount of donated clothing that has been received throughout the years she has

worked with sole hope, she said that it has been on a steady rise. She believes that this is mostly

due as a result of the same people donating more items, not so much more people donating.

Without fast fashion, the rate at which people donate clothes for this specific project would

decrease. By this happening the organization would inevitably lose funding, which would

decrease the quality of life of many children and adults in Uganda. Bridgett’s own organization

works similarly to this by gathering dresses from used materials to be given to children, and she

believes it would have the same result (Hatfield). These organizations can be beneficial to the

Uganda economy because it gives more people the opportunity to work. Sole hope gives shoes to

people in order to prevent jiggers, which is a parasite common in tropical climates that causes

pain and infections that do not go away unless treated. The picture below from the sole hope
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website is used to further explains how jiggers work.

Figure 1 What is a jigger (Sole Hope)

Jigger infections cause parents to be unable to attend work and children to miss school.

Similarly, refuse to do nothing gives clothing so they are able to attend school and work, and

without education and work opportunities the future economy is less likely to thrive. While fast

fashion has many issues, this is one of the few things that I found to be beneficial. On the

contrary side, those making clothes for fast fashion seem to be at a disadvantage by its


In an article titled “Five Years after Deadly Factory Fire, Bangladesh's Garment Workers

Are Still Vulnerable." Published by The Conversation, Writer Rebecca Prentice talks about

health and safety conditions for clothing manufacturing workers from the past to the present. The

referencing point of the past being a fire in 2012 at the Dhaka Tazreen fashion garment factory.

This fire was the nation’s deadliest fire, which resulted in 117 deaths, and hundreds of injuries.

Just months later another incident occurred in Dhaka, Bangladesh, where the Rana Plaza

building collapsed resulting in 1,134 deaths (Prentice). The large amounts of death that resulted

from these incidents were due to unsafe working environments. In the building that caught fire, it

was discovered that the hallways and exits were too narrow to escape. With the collapsed

building, it was ordered to be evacuated the previous day due to cracks in the foundation. The
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next day the building was reopened to keep up with manufacturing deadlines although the

building underwent no repairs. If workers refused to go back to work after the closure, they were

told they would receive pay cuts. Prentice discusses that while some codes and regulations for

manufacturing companies have been made, they are being poorly regulated.

These regulations differ quite a bit in the U.S compared to other areas. Regarding the legal

aspects to the clothing industry, Dr. Mark Brewer noted policies such as Section 1502 of the

Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act in the United States, the

California Transparency in Supply Chains Act of 2010, and the Modern Slavery Act of 2015

(Brewer 24). All of these regulations have been designed to protect workers in the United States.

These policies, while beneficial to the U.S workers, do little if anything to help when it comes to

most clothing manufacturing as the majority of fast-fashion clothing for the U.S is made in other

places. He discussed that in most places outside of the U.S, there are “soft laws” in place where

companies promise to adhere to certain regulations, but they are not reprimanded for not doing

so. These soft laws also take no consideration to the mental or physical well- being of the

employees, only the building they are required to work in.

In the same article by Rebecca Prentice previously mentioned, she discusses an

anthropologist who did fieldwork in a clothing factory, in which he witnessed “a long list of

health threats” including: “ dust and smoke inhalation, noise, lack of ventilation, eyestrain,

musculoskeletal pain, stress, exposure to lights, electric wires, and chemical adhesives.” In a

report by Better Factories Cambodia along with this article, it discovered large amounts of mass

fainting due to overheating, exhaustion and lack of nutrition in factory workers (Prentice). These

workers in the fashion industry are being made to work long hours for little pay in order to

provide for their families. While some clothing companies do adhere to the building regulations,
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it is often because of the profits they make from doing so. Outside of the U.S companies do not

typically have to follow any guidelines regarding the employee’s actual health, and by not doing

this they are still putting workers at risk for injury. According to Fashion United, the fashion

industry has a global value of 3,000 Billion dollars. Of the 3,384.1 million workers in the fashion

industry, roughly 27 million have suffered injuries from work. The United States is the largest

fashion products importer in the world but not one of the top exporters (Fashion United). This

shows that the regulations regarding the united states are not helpful at protecting those who

make the clothing, but there is enough profit for other places to be able to follow stricter safety

regulations if they wanted to.

Even if fast fashion brands do not want to change their ways about clothing

manufacturing, it appears that everyday people still want them to as they learn more about

clothing production. When mentioning the primary factors consumers consider when purchasing

clothing, the book Eco-friendly and fair noted the top factors being price, quality, information,

and availability (Heuer and Leifhold). While some clothing stores have continued to thrive, there

has been a trend in fast fashion stores closing. In 2019 alone, Abercrombie & Fitch closed 40

stores, Charlotte Russe closed 512, Payless closed 2,100 stores and most notably in fast fashion,

forever 21, filed for bankruptcy (Whiteman). In an article by writer Abha Bhattarai, Chief

executive of the Luxury Institute, Milton Pedraza Claims that this is because “Young people are

becoming much more environmentally conscious,” and that “We don’t have to be gluttonous

about fashion anymore” (Bhattarai). The article also mentions that the cause could be because of

the people who once shopped at these stores growing up and having a mindset change of wanting

clothing that lasts. Many stores have also started programs to help encourage the recycling of

clothing, such as American eagles jean buyback program and rental options. other stores like
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Reformation and Everlane have started trying to shift to more sustainable sources. College

students in the article were amongst the most popular to express the desire to want to buy better

sourced, well-made clothing, but the cost for this is often more expensive than they can afford,

which leads to people staying in the loop of buying fast fashion.

In order to get brands to stop selling over produced cheaply made clothing, at the expense

of its workers, it is clear that the answer is to cut the profits they are making. Many brands have

adapted to being more ethically sourced as a direct relation to decreases in sales, as they notice

other stores' profits rising from having more sustainable options. There are several options to go

about cutting funding to non-participating businesses. The most beneficial would, of course, be

to just stop buying more clothing, but this is usually considered unrealistic. For some, this could

mean just switching the brands they buy. If someone buys into fast fashion and can afford to buy

more expensive clothes produced more ethically this would be the easiest way to go. For those

that this is not a possibility like for broke college students, it would be beneficial to try to buy

used clothing from thrift stores. People could also choose to do clothing swaps with friends, even

if it is with fast fashion type clothing items. This way the clothing would get more wears before

being discarded. If people do still want to purchase fast fashion items, they could even try to

purchase them less frequently and hold onto wearable clothing longer. If none of these options

are possible, then people could just choose to recycle their old clothing instead of throwing them

away when they don’t have use for it anymore. While some of the clothing people recycle still

ends up in landfills, it is still something that should be considered when getting rid of clothes as

it has almost a 100 percent chance of ending up in landfills if they are just thrown away.

Currently. If people decide to do these things, although some may be expensive at first, over time
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the cost to buy clothing would go down because you would have better quality items that

wouldn’t need to be replaced as frequently.

The fast fashion industry should be forced to change its harmful ways. In order to

manufacture cheap clothing so quickly, companies are using harsh chemicals that can have

dangerous side effects. These companies are promoting pollution by encouraging people to buy

large amounts of clothing that ultimately end up in landfills, and they are treating the people who

make the clothes unfairly by giving them unfair wages and working conditions.
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Works Cited

Bhattarai, Abha. “A Tipping Point in Fast Fashion’: Forever 21’s Bankruptcy Signals the Shifting

Priorities of Young Shoppers.” The Washington Post, 3 Oct. 2019.


bankruptcy-signals-shifting-priorities-young-shoppers/. Accessed 18 October 2019.

Brewer, Mark “Slow Fashion in a Fast Fashion World: Promoting Sustainability and Responsibility.”

Laws, no. 4, 2019, p. 24. EBSCOhost, doi:10.3390/laws8040024.

Fashion United. “Global Fashion Industry Statistics.” Fashion United, https://fashionunited.com/global-

fashion-industry-statistics/. Accessed 18 October 2019.

Fast fashion. Oxford English Dictionary, Lexico, 2019

https://www.lexico.com/en/definition/fast_fashion. Accessed 18 October 2019

Gwozdz, Wencke, et al. “An Environmental Perspective on Clothing Consumption: Consumer Segments

and Their Behavioral Patterns.” Sustainability (2071-1050), vol. 9, no. 5, May 2017, p. 762.

EBSCOhost, doi:10.3390/su9050762.

Hatfield, Brigitte. Personal interview. October 2019.

Heuer, Mark, and Carolin Becker-Leifhold. Eco-friendly and Fair: Fast Fashion and Consumer

Behaviour. Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group, 2018.

Prentice, Rebecca, et al. “Five Years after Deadly Factory Fire, Bangladesh's Garment Workers Are Still

Vulnerable.” The Conversation, 18 May 2019, http://theconversation.com/five-years-after-

deadly-factory-fire-bangladeshs-garment-workers-are-still-vulnerable-88027. Accessed 17

October 2019

Sole Hope, “WHAT ARE JIGGERS?” Sole Hope, https://solehope.org/why-jiggers/.

The True Cost. Directed by Andrew Morgan, Life Is My Movie Entertainment, 2015.
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Whiteman, Doug. “These Chains Have Announced a Ton of Store Closings in 2019.” MoneyWise,

MoneyWise, 25 Oct. 2019, https://moneywise.com/a/retailers-closing-stores-in-2019.

Zhang, L., Rana, I., Shaffer, R. M., Taioli, E., & Sheppard, L. 10 February 2019, Exposure to

glyphosate-based herbicides and risk for non-Hodgkin lymphoma: A meta-analysis and

supporting evidence