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people and planet

the global clothing pandemic - fast fashion

the global clothing pandemic - fast fashion

Fashion industry pollution.jpeg

We live in an age where attention spans are short and image is everything. Trends are changing all the time and no one wants to miss a trick.  

Even those of us with questionable dress sense, take Jack for example, do their best to keep up with the pace. 

This environment has created the monster that is fast fashion

We see examples of fast fashion everywhere we look – from Shakira wearing 5 different outfits during the Super Bowl half time show, to the stars of RuPaul’s Drag Race showing off hundreds of outfits each episode.


So what is fast fashion?

Fast fashion is the term used to describe cheap designs that move rapidly from the catwalk to retail stores to meet new trends. 

Fast fashion is a response to the fast-changing tastes of consumers but this change in consumer behaviour has been driven by the fashion industry itself. 

Traditionally, fashion followed the annual cycle of four seasons: spring, summer, autumn and winter but fast fashion has a much shorter cycle of 4 to 5 weeks per season or even less

And this is no accident: more buying seasons = more sales. 

Constant new releases drive consumer demand and boost brand awareness. By adopting this strategy, some brands such as Primark don’t even need to advertise. In this way they save money and are able to lower costs even further. 

Many brands even adopt a practice called planned obsolescence which is where clothes are designed to fall apart quickly so you’ll replace them. 

If, like us, you’ve ever bought a pair of £1 socks from Primark, you’ll know the meaning of planned obsolescence!


What’s the problem with fast fashion? 

Well, fast fashion has serious environmental and social repercussions. 

Fast fashion has led to a huge boom in textile consumption: Americans now buy on average 5 times more clothing than they did in 1980, and the US imports over 1 billion garments each year from China alone.

So what? Well, increased consumption means more wastage and more pollution. Also, scarce natural resources and energy are used to manufacture our clothes.

The average US household now chucks away 37kg of textile waste each year.  

What’s more, clothing sold by fast fashion brands is on average composed of 60% synthetic fibres which do not decompose. So it ends up as plastic waste in oceans and in landfill. 

Only 15% of clothing gets recycled and textile waste now accounts for a massive 5% of landfill space globally

And it’s not just physical waste that’s a problem: such is the boom in fast fashion that the UN now estimates that the clothing industry accounts for 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions

Source: Ellen MacArthur Foundation report - a New Textiles Economy: Redesigning Fashion’s Future

Source: Ellen MacArthur Foundation report - a New Textiles Economy: Redesigning Fashion’s Future

Clothing manufacture uses up more energy than aviation and shipping combined. One pair of jeans produces on average 33.4kg CO2 – that’s the same as driving 81 miles in a car.

You can find out how your closet contributes to climate change with this fashion footprint calculator.

Then there is also a social impact of fast fashion.  


Thanks to efficient supply chains, clothes have never been cheaper.

But these low costs have largely been achieved through outsourcing production to developing countries. 

This often results in terrible working conditions in clothing factories where low costs have been prioritised over the health and safety of workers. Bangladesh is one example where about 4 million garment workers, mostly women, earn the minimum wage of less than $3 a day and there are widespread instances of child labour and workplace fatalities.

What's the solution?


Recycling and technological improvements

Some clothing companies have set up recycling programs where you get a discount on future purchases when you return old clothes. 

Many local councils are now also providing facilities to recycle clothes and of course, you can give clothes to charity shops. 

However, this means that even though old clothes are recycled, in most cases people are still encouraged to buy more new clothes. 

Also, the reality is that the vast majority of clothes are not recycled. 

There have been some great advances in fashion tech that have reduced the level of natural resources needed to manufacture clothes.

Also, there are new materials that have a reduced environmental impact if they end up in the natural environment, for example, fibres made from mushrooms

These developments are of course hugely welcome, and hopefully point towards a brighter future for textile production.

Government intervention

As with other polluting industries such as oil & gas, we believe there is a need for government intervention. 

One example of a country that is making great strides is France where a ‘ministry of ecological and inclusive transition has been set up to address various forms of pollution produced by the country’s fashion sector.

So far the focus has been on drafting zero-waste laws, preventing companies from destroying their unsold stock (a common practice, but from 2021 they will have to be reused, donated or recycled) and passing laws to ensure all washing machines have filters that stop microplastics leaching out of clothes and into water systems.

A tax on clothes could help fund the building of infrastructure needed to deal with fashion’s waste in the same way that we recycle metals and paper. In this way, governments could force companies to produce clothes that are recyclable to help set up a closed loop industry. However, in 2019 the UK parliament rejected such a tax, saying that existing rules on waste and recycling were enough to deal with the issue of fashion pollution.

In our opinion, to solve the issue of fast fashion, government intervention is required but fast fashion businesses also need to be incentivised to change their practices and that may only happen if consumer demand shifts away from fast fashion. 

Zara has pledged that by 2025 it will only use organic, sustainable or recycled cotton, linen and polyester to make its clothing and Nike will power its plants with 100% renewable energy by 2025, so there is some reason to be optimistic.



You can join the fight against fast fashion by following our top tips.

At object we're trying to do our bit to help out - our cutting edge packaging is made from up to 50% recycled cotton from the clothing industry.

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