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Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Why I'm Saying No to Fast Fashion: The Cost of Fashion

I used to be a shopaholic. I would enter stores and not be happy until I walked out of there with at least one thing. But over quarantine, I took a course on sustainable fashion, and it has changed my life.

Now, every time I pass by the stores I used to frequently shop, I don't think, "I need that outfit." Instead, I think, "Where were those made? What steps is the brand taking to be more environmentally conscious?"

Truth is, fashion isn't as great as it sounds. Fashion is the second largest polluter in the world.

Environmental Issues in Fashion

Fashion and Water Pollution

Most garments are produced in factories that dump untreated toxic waste water directly into rivers. The toxic water (from dyes and fertilizer from cotton, among others) contains harmful substances like lead and mercury. These damage aquatic life, as well as impact the lives of people living near riverbanks.

Water Consumption 

The fashion industry uses up so much water. Each year, they use up to 1.5 trillion liters of water. To help you understand it, think about this: it takes 2,700 liters of water to make 1 shirt. Cotton production uses up so much water. Up to twenty thousand liters of water are used to make just 1 kg of cotton. In some areas, cotton production has completely drained up the water.


When garments are washed, 1900 microfibers are released into the water. These microfibers are ingested by small fish, and then by bigger fish. Fashion is poisoning the food chain.

Fashion as Garbage

The problem with fast fashion is that it's disposable. We buy a dress because it's trendy, but what happens when it's out of style? We throw it away. Only 15% of clothes is actually donated and recycled. Clothes pile up in landfills and can take hundreds of years to decompose. 

Those listed above are just some of the problems the fashion industry is creating. But even with just those four, you can already see how damaging fashion is... we haven't even gotten to ethical issues yet.

Ethical Issues in Fashion

Low Wages
Most garments are made in sweatshops in third world countries. In most of these countries, workers are paid below the minimum wage. Their contractors don't even give them enough to cover their daily needs.

Health and Safety Risks
Workers suffer from long exposures to pesticides, dyes, chemicals, and so on. This can have damaging effects to their health such as respiratory diseases, seizures, and even death. While making jeans, workers have to sand them down to give that desired "faded" look. Most of them don't even wear masks, and so they inhale these dangerous particles.

Animal Cruelty
Many animals are bred just for their fur. Some animals are even mutilated live. You might have seen horrible videos of animals being skinned on the Internet. If you haven't... let me warn you -- it'll make you furious and sad at the same time.

What can be done to fight fast fashion?

In this age where influencers are showing off the hottest new clothes, and where fast fashion has never been more accessible, it can be difficult to give fashion its much-deserved wake-up. Thankfully, more and more brands have risen to the challenge and are transitioning to sustainable and ethical production methods.

Ultimately however, reducing the effects of fashion starts with us, the consumers. We're the ones demanding cheaper prices and trendier clothes at a lightning-fast rate. We should be the ones to demand transparency and better standards from brands.

Steps I'm taking to shop sustainably

Learning about the effects of fashion has changed me completely. I'm slowly changing my buying habits. Here are some of the things I've done that you can do too:

1. Research about your favorite brands. What shops do you usually buy from? Remember their names and do a quick search online to see if they have any environmental efforts. Check if they ensure their clothes are manufactured following ethical labor standards. If they aren't clear about this... you might want to look for new brands to shop from. I decided to stop buying from most of the shops I used to call my favorites. It sucks, but hey... if it helps the planet, I'm willing to sacrifice. 

2. Buy smart. If you really must buy from that store, then go for it. But before you make the purchase, think if you're actually going to be wearing that garment many times. Don't buy trendy clothes. Buy timeless pieces that will last you a lifetime.

3. Turn away from "cheap" (online) boutiques. You know the kind. The ones that buy trendy garments in bulk, and then sell them for insanely low prices like P150 per shirt. The ones that probably bought them from those e-commerce platforms where you can find even cheaper clothes. If the boutique can sell them for that low, just imagine how little the workers got paid for that.

4. Learn more about the fashion industry. Learn about how damaging fashion can be. Watch videos, documentaries, etc. You'll be given the wake-up call that everyone needs. I highly recommend looking up the Rana Plaza Accident and watching The True Cost. 

It's going to be challenging

Saying no to your favorite fast fashion brands isn't going to be easy. You're going to miss looking stylish. You're going to miss how easy it is to shop whenever you please. Shopping sustainably will take more effort.

If people will make fun of you for wearing the same thing over and over again, educate them. They might take pride in being trendy and stylish, but you're doing the better thing by shopping ethically and sustainably.


Photo from: Lauren Fleischman, Unsplash

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