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The impact of fast fashion on the environment

The impact of fast fashion on the environment



The term fast fashion can be defined as the quick and mass production of clothing designs, usually inspired by catwalk trends and celebrity culture. The businesses intensively look for the latest trends and try to produce inexpensive clothing to earn a huge share of the market and get the customer's attention. They usually produce replicas of high-value fashion and the latest clothing trends in the market at low prices to target the middle class of society. The concept of fast fashion was developed in 1970 in Asian countries to provide people with cheap clothing with the latest trends. Later in the 1990s, large businesses began to adopt the fast fashion concept and started the production of clothing on a large scale. Fast fashion was appreciated due to the low prices and availability of large collections of clothing, but it also has negative impacts, which involve the large amount of waste disposed of by this industry, low labor costs, and other negative impacts on the environment. This industry is usually criticized for the nature of the waste it releases into the environment and the consumption of non-renewable energy resources for its production.

The purpose and scope of this post are to introduce readers to the concept of fast fashion and its importance. This post will cover the following aspects of fast fashion:

1: Introduction to fast fashion (overview and importance of sustainable fashion)

2: The environmental footprint of fast fashion (Water pollution, textile waste, carbon footprint)

3: The rise of sustainable fashion initiatives

The fashion revolution movement (background, mission, achievements, and obstacles)

4: Corporate sustainability initiatives by Fast fashion brands

5: Consumer behavior and the shift toward stability

Changing consumer mindsets (awareness and demand for sustainable products by using social media and technology)

6: Emerging sustainable brands

7: Government Policies and regulations for sustainability

8: Innovations in sustainable fashion

9: Engaging and educating consumers



Sustainability MindMap Diagram

1: Importance of Sustainable Fashion:


Although the fast fashion industry is providing us with cheap clothing designs with the latest trends, the waste and pollution contributed by this industry also have a great negative impact on our ecosystem. The liquid waste disposed of by the clothing industry is destroying natural water resources. Synthetic fibers are being prepared from different plastic materials and are also a big contributor to municipal waste. The waste produced by this industry has a great carbon footprint on the environment, which could be problematic. To overcome all these problems, sustainable fashion initiatives are being taken by large clothing brands such as Zara and People Tree. For example, Zara has introduced the natural seeds of plants in their clothing bags, and when they are disposed of, they can grow to form an entire plant. The use of sustainable fashion trends in clothing includes the use of organic cotton and bamboo to reduce the carbon footprint.


2: The environmental footprint of fast fashion


The textile industry contributes over 92 million tons of waste annually. It also contributes 10% of total carbon emissions worldwide, which leads to global warming and other harmful impacts on the environment. Liquid waste is damaging the water resources, while synthetic fibers are being added in the form of plastic waste.

Water pollution:


The dyeing process of clothing requires a large quantity. This water is usually obtained from natural water resources, which results in the depletion and scarcity of water resources. The amount of water required for dyeing depends on the dyeing process, but it usually varies from 30-150 L/kg. Currently, the global textile industry is consuming almost 79 billion cubic meters of water per year. About 20% of the earth’s water is being polluted by the textile industry in the dyeing and printing processes. Textile industries use specific chemicals for dyeing, printing, and stitching purposes. These chemicals are toxic by nature, and they heavily contaminate the water channels when they are disposed of as part of industrial liquid waste.

Toxic chemicals such as sulfur, VAT dyes, soaps, acids, and heavy metals like lead, mercury, cadmium, nickel, etc. make industrial effluents highly toxic and hazardous for water quality and aquatic life.  Textile waste increases the growth of algae and other organisms that require high oxygen for their growth in water bodies, which, as a result, hinders sunlight for the photosynthesis of plants, which are sometimes a source of food for aquatic life. Heavy metals get into the bodies of fish and other aquatic animals and impair their body functions. When such food is consumed by humans, it can cause serious problems such as cancer, kidney failure, and central nervous system problems.


Sustainability MindMap Diagram

Textile waste:


The textile industry is one of the top industries that is contributing to destroying our ecosystem and damaging its sustainability. According to the data collected by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), almost 17 million tons of textile waste were disposed of by the textile industry into landfills, which was 5.8 percent of total municipal solid waste. Textile waste includes the waste generated during any step of cloth manufacturing. This waste usually consists of cut and sewn pieces of clothing, damaged and low-quality textiles, used or second-hand clothing, etc. Consumers do not dispose of the used textiles and clothing, and they end up in landfills as textile waste, which causes overfilling of landfills and land pollution.


Sustainability MindMap Diagram

Challenges in recycling fast fashion:


Fast fashion is contributing to water and land pollution to a great extent. Recycling fast fashion is one of the most discussed challenges, as recycling fast fashion is not that easy and does not pay back well. Only 15% of the textile waste is recycled each year, which is too low in comparison to the quantity disposed of each year. The challenges that we are facing in recycling fast fashion are:

1. There are mixed materials in such types of clothing that are difficult to recycle and reuse for making new products.

2. Recycling reduces the quality of the fabric, which can’t be used further to make new textile products.

3. There is a lack of infrastructure for the storage and recycling of textile waste.

4. There is a lack of awareness among consumers; sometimes, they are not willing to accept recycled textile products.

Synthetic fibers are used in the textile industry to produce cheap textile products. They contain toxic compounds such as phytoestrogens, which are the major contributors to endocrine disruption. Synthetic fibers contain plastic as their most important building block, which ends up in the waste and takes a long time to decompose—almost 500–1000 years. They seep into underground water and other water resources and damage the natural profile of the bodies of water.


Sustainability MindMap Diagram

Carbon footprint:


The fast fashion industry contributes more than 8–10% of global carbon emissions per year, as reported by the UN Environmental Program. The fast fashion industry will contribute more than 26% of global carbon emissions by 2050 if businesses don’t take the initiative to adopt sustainable fashion. The increase in carbon emissions is the main contributor to problems like global warming and negative environmental impacts. Synthetic materials such as polyester used in the textile industry require 342 million barrels of oil per year, which results in the consumption of non-renewable resources. There is a rapid increase in demand for fast fashion in Gen Z; on average, today’s generation buys 60% more clothes as compared to Gen Y. To meet the high demand, businesses produce fast fashion in a rapid cycle, which ultimately increases carbon emissions and resource consumption.


Sustainable fashion’s carbon footprint:


Sustainable fashion involves the use of eco-friendly and natural fibers to lessen the waste and carbon footprint of the textile industry. They adopt production techniques that require less energy and use renewable energy resources to maintain the integrity of the ecosystem. For example, cotton, hemp, linen, and other natural fibers are being used, which are more eco-friendly as compared to synthetic fibers and polyester, which take 100 years for their decomposition. On the other hand, natural fibers such as bamboo fiber, mushroom leather, and kelp leather do not cause pollution because they are easily decomposed. They require less water during the making of textile products and in their production, which helps in the conservation of renewable energy resources. They contribute much less carbon as they are biodegradable, renewable, and carbon neutral.


Sustainability MindMap Diagram

3: The rise of sustainable fashion initiatives


Fashion Revolution movement:


Fashion Revolution is a not-for-profit global movement that was founded by The Fashion Revolution Foundation, and Fashion Revolution CIC started its activities in 2013. They have different teams working in more than 100 countries worldwide. This movement aimed to bring revolution and transparency to the fashion and textile industries. The Rana Plaza building in Bangladesh collapsed on March 24, 2013, resulting in the deaths of 1100 people and 2500 workers. This was the motive behind establishing the Fashion Revolution movement. The purpose of this movement was to protect the rights of the laborers of the textile industry and to end the slavery of the workers. They carried out a trend named “Who made my clothes?” to make the brands aware of the conditions of their workers and working facilities.


Achievements and obstacles:


As a result of this movement, the clothing industry began to adopt reforms to help their labor and to improve their facilities. For example, in Bangladesh, more than 13 thousand textile industries were inspected for their facilities each year after this incident. It has promoted awareness among consumers and businesses about sustainable and ethical practices in the textile industry. Brands are now accountable for their strategies and actions, and transparency is being promoted throughout the textile industry.

Obstacles that have been observed since this movement became familiar throughout the world include resistance and criticism from clothing brands. The application of the objectives of this movement is too slow, as businesses do not take them into account. Another obstacle is the ill-literacy of the working class; they do not take a stand for their rights.


Sustainability MindMap Diagram

4: Corporate sustainability efforts:



As the textile sector is a major contributor to municipal solid waste and pollution, some strategies have been implemented in this sector in recent years to promote sustainability. These efforts include the use of eco-friendly clothing materials made from natural fibers instead of synthetic ones, which are a major source of plastic waste. The use of renewable energy resources, recycling of textile waste, and adoption of modern textile production technologies that are less energy-consuming are some of the steps taken by this industry to bring sustainability to the ecosystem. Sustainable packaging and employee welfare are also key steps to achieving a green revolution.

Fast fashion brands such as Zara are committed to achieving the usage of 100% cotton and sustainable cellulosic fibers, sustainable packaging with recycling and reusing abilities, restricting the use of single-use plastic up to 100%, and 100% recycling and reusing the waste produced from the Zara facilities in 2023. Zara claims to reduce the water consumption in their cloth production process by 25% by the year 2025. They also claim to reduce their waste emissions by 50% by the year 2030. Another brand named ‘Wholesome Culture’ is bringing sustainability by using 100% organic cotton and water-based ink for printing and recycling the waste.

Most clothing brands are being criticized by consumers because of their false claims about sustainability. Sometimes, they perceive sustainability efforts as marketing tactics to make more sales and profits. Consumers want brands to be transparent about their claims and to take solid actions in this regard. Meanwhile, some brands just adopt inadequate practices, which can be a reason for the criticism.


Sustainability MindMap Diagram

5: Consumer Behavior and the Shift toward Sustainability


Changing consumer mindsets:


Sometimes, consumers are hesitant to adopt new trends and fashions because they lack awareness about them. It is necessary to make them aware of the harmful impacts of the fast fashion industry and how it is damaging our ecosystem. The consumption of energy and non-renewable resources is also a warning for us to make a shift toward the use of sustainable textile products. The conventional fast fashion industry produces a large amount of municipal solid waste and contributes more than 10% of global carbon emissions, which leads to global warming and the destruction of the planet’s stability.

On the other hand, sustainable fashion practices contribute to lowering water consumption, recycling waste, using renewable energy resources, and reducing the carbon footprint. Lack of communication between the brands and their consumers can also be a reason for consumer's hesitation to adopt new fashion products. Campaigns and collaborations can be conducted in this regard to overcome this communication gap. Accessibility and affordability of sustainable fashion products can help businesses change their perceptions of their new products.


The influence of social media and technology:


Social media and advanced technologies are effective sources to change the consumer’s mindset toward sustainable products.

Social media can help make people aware of the negative impacts of fast fashion on the environment. Programs, podcasts, and campaigns about the positive effects of sustainable fashion products on maintaining the integrity of the ecosystem. Social media and advanced communication technologies can be used to make society aware of the carbon footprint and the harmful impacts contributed by the synthetic fibers and polyesters used to make cheap clothing products.

Trends on social media apps such as Twitter and Instagram about eco-friendly products can motivate people to adopt modern technologies to attain a durable and healthy environment. Information can be collected easily and more effectively to make more informed decisions about sustainable options. A visual representation of the harmful effects of the fast fashion industry on our planet Earth can help people change their mindset about adopting new and modern fashions.


Sustainability MindMap Diagram

6: Emerging sustainable brands:


The present textile businesses and brands are adopting sustainable textile technologies to reduce the waste and pollution added to the environment by the fast fashion industry. Some of the emerging textile brands, for example, Reformation, Allbirds, and Patagonia, are adopting sustainable practices such as the use of natural fibers such as 100% cotton fiber, bamboo fiber, linen, and hemp to manufacture sustainable and environment-friendly textile products. For example, Reformation has been using 100% carbon-neutral stuff since 2015, and they are recycling 75% of their waste from all their facilities.

Patagonia is an emerging clothing brand committed to producing sustainable clothing products. They are producing high-quality and long-lasting products with the ability to be reused and recycled. They ensured the use of organic cotton and recycled materials in their products to make them eco-friendly. Tentree is another clothing brand that has been practicing sustainable techniques since 2020, for example, the use of natural fibers that are carbon-neutral. They plant ten trees for every item purchased, and they have planted more than 70 million trees this year. They aim to plant one billion trees by the year 2030.

Impact on industry and consumer choice:



Sustainable textile practices have earned a large market share and consumer attention as they are eco-friendly and consume renewable energy resources. More clothing brands are adopting these practices to lower their carbon footprint and the waste disposed of by the fast fashion industry. The emerging sustainable clothing brands are more transparent, and they are promoting ethical manufacturing practices. According to the Business Research Company, the sustainable fashion market will grow to $9.81 billion by the year 2025 and $15.17 billion by the year 2030, at a compound annual growth rate of 9.1. 

The rise of these brands has also promoted the welfare of the employees; they are provided with their basic rights. These practices have influenced consumers to adopt these high-quality, durable products. This new trend has changed the shopping patterns of the customers; now they prefer the quality of the product over the quantity of the product. In short, this innovation has changed the industry towards sustainable products; it has increased consumer awareness and re-evaluated traditional fast fashion.


Sustainability MindMap Diagram

7: Strategies for a sustainable fashion future: Policies and regulations


Government policies and regulations can help the fast transformation of fast fashion industries into sustainable fashion industries. Governments should set regulations for textile industries to limit waste production, water consumption, and the use of specific toxic chemicals in textile industries to attain sustainability. These regulations should encourage industries and businesses to adopt sustainable and natural fiber materials instead of synthetic fibers for manufacturing garments. The United Nations Alliance for Sustainable Fashion is an initiative taken by United Nations agencies and allied organizations to achieve and promote sustainable fashion product development. 

The UK government has launched a new program named ‘Maximising Resources, Minimising Waste'. This program is funded by the government and focuses on seven sectors, including textile, plastic, and other related industries. This program aims to maximize the reuse, recycling, and remanufacturing of products to minimize waste. Berlin and Copenhagen are the two major hubs for the production of sustainable fashion products. Copenhagen Fashion Week introduced a sustainability action plan. This plan has 18 standards that all brands should meet to ensure sustainable fashion products. VORN is a Berlin-based fashion hub that is working towards sustainable product development.

About 44% of consumers think that the government should provide incentives to the fashion industry to adopt sustainability practices to overcome the problem of waste generation and pollution. They think that the government should provide tax breaks to the textile industry, according to a survey conducted by Global Data.  Governments should provide grants for research and development of sustainable raw materials. Tax incentives should be given to the textile industry and businesses to use eco-friendly materials to reduce the environmental impact.


Sustainability MindMap Diagram

8: Innovations in sustainable Fashion


With advancements in all other fields, new techniques and innovations are being introduced to increase the performance and durability of sustainable fashion products. Businesses are now focusing on the use of organic materials and fabrics. For example, the use of organic cotton, hemp, Tencel, and bamboo has increased in recent years as raw materials for the clothing industry.  The use of 3D printing, computer-aided design, and other advanced digital technologies has helped manufacturers control waste and the production process. Virtual reality, artificial intelligence, blockchain technology, and machine learning are being introduced in this sector to maximize efficiency and transparency and reduce losses. The businesses are also recycling textile waste and reusing it to minimize the loss of resources.

Organic linen is being used as a sustainable raw material, as it requires very little care and maintenance. Being a biodegradable material, it does not cause pollution. Lyocell is obtained from wood pulp, and it is very light in weight. It is a biodegradable material that requires very little water and chemicals while being processed to make new clothing. Econyl is another sustainable material recycled from synthetic waste, for example, plastic and other solid wastes. It can be used to conserve energy and resources and to reduce waste. The use of natural dyes has reduced the toxic effects of chemical and synthetic dyes.


Sustainability MindMap Diagram

9: Engaging and educating consumers


The illiteracy of the consumer can be a reason why they are hesitant to try and use new technologies. To educate consumers about the importance of sustainable products, businesses should highlight the cons of traditional fast fashion industries. They should provide consumers with evidence of the efficiency of the sustainable fashion industry in improving environmental integrity and reducing waste and pollution. Brands should fulfill their claims and commitments to win the customer’s loyalty. Campaigns driven by the brands to provide customers with information should be conducted to overcome the communication gap.


Tools for consumer empowerment:


The use of social media and advanced communication technologies can help empower consumers, make them aware of the bad and good impacts of the fashion industry, and make them aware of their rights and responsibilities. Here are different tools to empower consumers:

1: Social media fashion apps

2: Blockchain technology

3: Online Review and Rating platforms

4: Community forums

5: Price comparison tools

6: Tools for checking the sustainability facts

7: Communication with Different NGO

Transparency is one of the most important factors in determining the success of any business or industry. It promotes accountability in the management of their policies and actions. It helps consumers make informed decisions about the product they are purchasing. It promotes ethical practices for the production of environmental products. The laborers get their rights because of transparency, which prevents them from slavery. It helps businesses win customer loyalty by providing them with fair products, and the consumers get what they expect and are informed about the product.


 Sustainability MindMap Diagram



This blog post aims to elaborate on the importance of the sustainable fashion industry and highlight the negative impacts of the fast fashion industry. The fast fashion industry is contributing more than 10% of global carbon dioxide emissions. The waste material contributed by the textile industry is causing water and land pollution. The synthetic fibers, toxic chemicals, and dyes used in the preparation of fast fashion products are not environmentally friendly, and they require non-renewable energy resources for their preparation. On the other hand, sustainable fashion products, such as natural fibers, are biodegradable materials that are eco-friendly and bring sustainability to the environment. To promote these sustainable products, there is a need to educate consumers and society about the importance of sustainable fashion products. Governments should make policies and regulations to help businesses adopt these sustainable products, and governments should also provide grants to new businesses to promote these practices.




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