Study shows fast fashion’s detrimental effects on the planet

The crave to be on top of trends is leading to detrimental effects including climate change

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This a picture of a person looking through clothing racks in a thrift store.
PHOTO: Gudrun Wai-Gunnarsson / The Peak

By: Eden Chipperfield, News Writer

Fast fashion has taken over the world. With the rise of social media platforms like TikTok, trends come in and fade out quickly, encouraging individuals to buy cheap clothing to wear for short periods of time. Fast fashion is a product of the clothing industry’s shift in the last 30 years where clothing has become cheaper and more accessible. This is because the fashion industry has prioritized rapidly producing high volumes of clothes for extremely cheap, by exploiting the labour of workers. 

 Fast fashion pollutes the Earth with fossil fuels and microfibers that are shed from the clothing and enter the oceans. Brands like Shein, H&M, and Uniqlo all share a responsibility for their part in the fast fashion industry contributing to climate change. 

A recent SFU study examines how the “allure of fast fashion comes at a significant environmental cost, and encourages consumers to adopt more sustainable alternatives.” The study was written by SFU PhD student, Yunzhijun Yu, SFU visiting PhD student, Claudia Lizzette Gómez Bórquez, and SFU professor of marketing, Dr Judith Lynne Zaichkowsky. The report outlines the problems with fast fashion and makes suggestions to point the fashion industry toward sustainability. 

The Peak interviewed Dr. Judith Lynne Zaichkowky to discuss the study’s findings and the research team’s hope for a green, cleaner future fashion world. 

“The negative effect of fast fashion on the planet does not only involve the production aspect of textiles but also on the disposal side,” said Zaichkowky. “The textile dyeing industry is the second largest polluter of the world’s clean water and hence the manufacturing and disposing of fast fashion clothing substantially harms the environment in the process.” 

Water waste is a significant issue regarding fast fashion. According to Ontario Nature, one cotton T-shirt takes over 3,000 litres of water to manufacture. As Zaichkowky discussed, the toxic dyes from the clothing pollute waterways. The harmful chemicals affect the populations in countries with large textile industries like Bangladesh, Cambodia, and Vietnam, explained Zaichkowky.  

In 2018, over 11.3 million tons of clothing were discarded. “It has been reported that the vast majority of Vietnam’s water system has been polluted, resulting in 80% of the total illnesses in Vietnam,” said Zaichkowky, citing a 2017 study from Thi-Nham Le and Chia-Nan Wang. 

“Eco-conscious clothing is, understandably, less affordable than fast fashion,” said Zaichkowky.

Since the cost of eco-conscious clothing may be high, thrifting second-hand clothes may be “an excellent solution.” However, Zaichkowsky noted an issue with thrifting clothes is that there must be time spent to find apparel that fits in thrift stores. Often, items are purchased and not tried on before the purchase is made, leaving clothing in the backs of consumers’ closets to be donated again in the future. 

To limit clothing waste, Zaichkowky recommends trying on clothing before purchasing. Also, buying clothes limited to a few select shades of colours that suit the individual may help cut spending. 

The Peak asked how individuals can change their habits to include eco-conscious fashion choices. “They need the mantra of less is more. They need to try on garments before purchase and forget the online purchase and delivery of items they are unable to try on for fit and suitability before purchase.”

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