Fast Fashion and The Impact on Our World

Faculty and Students Share How They Adapt a Sustainable Mindset


Maggie Phelps, Writer

We are all familiar with the urge to buy an article of clothing that we see hanging on the rack.  In the eye of our mind, we envision this piece completing our summer wardrobe. Additionally, with being in lockdown, buying obsessive amounts of clothes from popular online retailers has become more and more popularized. 

Did you know that the purchasing of clothing from fast fashion companies such as H&M, Forever 21, Topshop, Urban Outfitters, and more contributes to 10% of the world’s carbon emission and is the second-largest consumer of water in the world totaling at 79 trillion liters of water per year, according to Nature and World Economic Forum.

From a recent survey that both students and staff at Central Hardin completed, 26.7% of them said that they have not heard of fast fashion.  While 73.3% of people have. 

The fashion industry has proven itself to be one of the most unsustainable industries yet.  

Several teachers are already practicing sustainability efforts in an attempt to mitigate the negative effects of fast fashion.

April York, math teacher, applies this idea to her life.

“I try to get every use out of a piece of clothing possible. Once it’s worn or has holes, I may wear it around the house or for yard work, and then finally use it as rags,” says York. 

Data from World Economic Forum reveals to us the staggering cost that it takes to produce articles of clothing. The average cotton shirt takes about 700 gallons of water to produce. 700 gallons of water is enough for one person to drink eight cups of water every day for three-and-a-half years.  Even more water goes into the production of one pair of jeans.  2,000 gallons of water goes into one pair of jeans, enough water for someone to drink eight cups a day for 10 years.

“A lot of this clothing ends up in the dump. The equivalent of one garbage truck full of clothes is burned or dumped in a landfill every second.” Says, World Economic Forum

In addition to the rapid rate of production, consumers are giving in to purchasing clothes at a faster rate than ever. 

World Economic Forum says, “While people bought 60% more garments in 2014 than in 2000, they only kept the clothes for half as long.”

In Europe, fashion companies are meeting the large demand by producing more collections per year.  Zara, offering 24 collections a year, and H&M offering between 12-16 per year. 

So the question is raised, what exactly is fast fashion? Good On You defines fast fashion as, “cheap, trendy clothing, that samples ideas from the catwalk or celebrity culture and turns them into garments in high street stores at breakneck speed to meet consumer demand. The idea is to get the newest styles on the market as fast as possible, so shoppers can snap them up while they are still at the height of their popularity, and then, sadly, discard them after a few wears.”

Clothing meant to be thrown away, only worn for a season, created to copy runway looks so that you are never seen outfit-repeating is not only an extremely harmful mindset for ourselves but it is equally as harmful to our environment. 

Fast fashion is a dangerous game and one of the key moves to learning how to combat it is learning to detect where it is. 

Picture any high street store or market and you are bound to find fast fashion.  It lives in the racks of H&M, Forever 21, Urban Outfitters, American Eagle, Zara, GAP, TopShop, and more.  These retailers provide cheaply made clothing that directly reflects the current trends and within two to three weeks will provide new clothing pieces that reflect the newest trends.  It is an endless cycle that is hard to escape.  But how can you escape it?

The answer is simple.  Take inventory of what already lives in your closet.  What pieces do you have that are timeless? That will outlast all the trends? What do you have that you can upcycle and make new? Take advantage of what you already have and build up from there.

My current goal is to stop buying new clothes, focusing on the idea that the most sustainable clothes you own are the ones in your closet,” York says. 

Donate the pieces that you don’t wear to your local consignment store, thrift shop, or to a friend that you know will wear it.  These are all alternatives to throwing your old pieces in the trash, that will take anywhere from 20-200 years to decompose, according to Close The Loop

Donating to thrift stores that you like to support are great ways to get started.

“We frequently donate clothes and other household items that we no longer use to the Hosparus Thrift Store because I think their cause is important to support,” English teacher Kay Mau says. 

Another great way to combat fast fashion is to begin shopping sustainably.  The easiest way to do that is by shopping at a second-hand store such as a thrift store.  These articles of clothing already exist, meaning that you are not contributing to the production of new clothes.  By purchasing these products, you are preventing some pieces from ending up in a landfill. 

Another way to help is by doing research and shopping for new pieces from eco-friendly clothing brands such as Organic Basics, OhSevenDays, Patagonia, Everlane, Pact, and many more.  While some of these brands can be on the costly side, you’re paying for quality, sustainability, and longevity of the product.

Reducing your fast fashion intake is a process and will take to completely achieve. Start with small steps, all action is beneficial. 

“I try to shop locally when possible to support small business owners, or at least to not support ‘big box’ stores. This isn’t possible 100% of the time, though, but I feel like even small efforts to reduce the support of fast fashion can be beneficial!” Spanish teacher Jennifer Pinto says.

Fast fashion is a good starting place to convert your life to be more sustainable.  Be intentional.  Learning how your actions impact the world is the most important place to start.  Adapt your behavior and mindset to help work towards a healthier environment.