• Kate Barnes

An insight into the dark and destructive side of the Fast Fashion industry


Everyone wants to consume on trend, affordable fashion and everyone wants to be ethical. But will the two ever truly come hand in hand for all? Not when the fast fashion industry is contributing to around 10% of global warming levels and consuming 79 trillion litres of water a year. Not when in 2012 a fire killed 258 people in the Ali Enterprises textile factory in Karachi. Not when in Bangladesh three quarters of the female workers are verbally abused in the workplace and half have been beaten. From Bangalore to Leicester, the fashion industry is built upon the exploitation of those who work within its supply chains. 

Fast fashion is cheaply made products designed to wear and break, drawing customers in to buy more and thus feeding the toxic cycle of mass ‘fast’ fashion production. This industry seems like it is everywhere and that it always has been, but it is actually a largely new phenomenon that has expanded significantly in the past couple of decades. We are consuming 400% more clothes now than we did just 20 years ago at the turn of the 21st century and it has come at a great cost both for the planet and thousands of vulnerable workers who have been exploited at the hands of the industry. 

When 60% of all clothes produced are not even worn, it exemplifies how the epic costs of fast fashion do not outweigh the benefits. One of these major costs is the environmental impact of the fast fashion industry which must fundamentally change in order to mitigate the huge damage it has on the planet. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has calculated the fashion industry produces 10% of global carbon dioxide emissions each year, on top of the industry’s excessive water consumption, textile waste, and use of chemicals. The clothes that fuel the fast fashion industry may be designed in the western world, but they are mainly produced in developing countries where regulations on pollution are less strict, exemplifying the problem even further. At the root of the issue is the fact that limited natural resources mean the fashion industry has to change.


The other dark side of the fast fashion industry is the exploitative lengths workers are put through in order to produce our favourite Primark top or that Topshop dress we absolutely must get. The reality is that the environmental impacts aren’t even the half of it. The industry exploits the vulnerability of developing countries and prey on poor populations like vultures. Regularly moving from one location to another, the people have no choice but to work for any salary, in any working conditions. Garment workers are often forced to work 14-16 hours a day with no ventilation, whilst breathing toxic substances, inhaling fiber dust and must face verbal or physical abuse when targets are not met. The collapse of Rana Plaza in 2013, killing 1134 workers in Dhaka Bangladesh exemplifies the unacceptable conditions of the whole fashion industry. The corruption of the industry goes even further as it is forced in some countries, for example in Uzbekistan every autumn the government forces 1 million workers to quit their jobs and go pick cotton. Exploitation is ingrained in every aspect of the industry and these examples only exemplify further how immoral fast fashion is.

An uproar was caused in July 2020 when it was revealed that the Boohoo factory in Leicester were paying their workers a shocking £3.50 an hour and continued to operate at 100% capacity over the COVID-19 lockdown. This brought the reality of the industry close to home for many, but in actuality all fast fashion companies are powered by cheap labour used to generate huge profits worldwide. Hopefully the negative exposure of Boohoo in the UK will shine a light on the deep-rooted corruption of the industry internationally, and actual change can be implemented as a result. 

There is an alternative; ‘Slow fashion’. Slow fashion promotes a slower, more sustainable approach. It supports buying vintage or second-hand clothes, shopping from smaller producers and buying quality garments with a longer lifespan. The adoption of slow fashion may be the only solution to decreasing the rate that fashion is impacting climate change and global heating and the answer to reducing the profits of the exploitative industry that is fast fashion. However, there is evidently a reason behind why the industry is as widespread as it is, and that is because sustainable, ethical fashion is financially unachievable. A fully ethical and sustainable fashion lifestyle is extremely difficult to maintain without excessive funds to do so, especially when new, on trend, stylish clothing is presented at a low cost and is available to a huge range of groups in society.  It raises questions such as are ethically produced clothes a privilege for the rich and inaccessible for the majority? This contributes to why the problem of fast fashion is so deeply embedded in society because the consumers are not to blame, especially when it is, for a large proportion of people, their only option. 

Ultimately, it is essential that everyone is more aware of the colossal impacts of fast fashion and to avoid it where possible, especially those who have the money to do so. However, just like an individual recycling or not using plastic straws or an individual boycotting a certain brand for their treatment of workers, at the end of the day this does not amount to enough transformational change. Systemic change must come from large companies, institution’s and from the condemnation of the government in order to curtail the destruction that the industry is having on the environment and the inhumane exploitation of the workers that fuel the vicious machine that is fast fashion.

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