The Real Cost of Fast Fashion, Nicole Moore


Reading Time: 4 min

Fashion is beautiful, aspirational, and it can be an empowering force in influencing people’s lives. The fashion industry, however, is in desperate need of an update.

Fast fashion companies quickly mass produce cheap, trendy clothing items in order to meet consumers’ growing needs. Both H&M and Forever 21 provide their customers with new merchandise daily. Since the 1980s, clothing companies from the United States have been utilising the fast fashion model as means to stay in competition with imported goods.

Within recent years, the fast fashion industry has grown exponentially. Zara, alone, has a  value of $13 billion (£10.35 billion). This is due, in part, to the presence of social media and how it has further fuelled consumer culture. Fast fashion companies are well aware we want to emulate trends seen on celebrities and influencers, for a quarter of the price. On top of that, an outfit repeat on an Instagram feed is now a faux pas.

The low price of fast fashion clothing has made it easy for consumers to overbuy and, in turn, have disposable wardrobes. Comparative to 15 years ago, the average person purchases 60% more clothing items, keeping each piece in their wardrobe for only half as long. Our constant need for new clothes directly affects the increase of textile waste. According to research from Washington University in St. Louis, 85% of clothing bought from American consumers end up in landfills every year.

Regardless, fast fashion’s low prices makes purchasing cheap clothing almost irresistible. A study at Carnegie Mellon found buying low-cost and discounted items positively affects our brain chemistry. Simply put, it feels pleasurable to buy a £7 H&M sweatshirt inspired by the latest Gucci collection.

But is that sweatshirt really worth momentary pleasure?

In order for brands to quickly and cheaply churn out runway inspired items, fast fashion clothing is outsourced. Due to low labour standards, retailers are able to exploit factory and textile workers, 80% who are women ages 18-24. Less than 2% of these workers are given living wages, with a majority making under $3 for a 14-hour workday. Safety standards are often not adhered to and workers are forced to handle and inhale toxic substances.

Women working in fast fashion factories are also subjected to emotional, sexual, and physical abuse. Over 540 workers at factories in Bangladesh, Cambodia, India, Indonesia and Sri Lanka supplying Gap and H&M goods reported incidences of gender-based violence. After a discussion regarding wages, a female tailor at a Bangalore factory described being physically and verbally abused. Another worker revealed she was beaten for not meeting the factory’s unreasonable target production standards. Many workers are hesitant to report abuse due to fear of retaliation.

In essence, when purchasing fast fashion items, you are giving your money to companies that profit from women’s dis-empowerment.

The fast fashion industry also has a negative impact on our planet. Waterways near clothing factories are often polluted with toxic chemicals, making drinking water for millions unsafe to consume.

Not only that, fast fashion retailers outsource labour from countries where coal is a necessity for electrical power. This causes the fashion industry to account for 10% of all carbon emissions.

Textiles hazardous to the environment are also widely utilised in the fast fashion industry. Polyester, one of the most popular fibres found in low-cost clothing, is made from oil. In addition, some brightly coloured fast fashion items are pigmented with  lead.

On a much smaller scale comparative to the catastrophic damage fast fashion manufactures have done to women and the environment, buying cheap clothes does not end up being cost effective in the long run. Cheap, trendy garments do not have longevity, in terms of both style and wear. By purchasing low quality items, you’ll end up in a costly, wasteful cycle of having to continually replace your wardrobe.

Next time you are hear the siren song of cheap clothing, remember its real cost. Instead of giving into temptation, purchase high-quality, socially sustainable items from ethical brands, such as our very own Paradise Row. This way, you’ll no longer be supporting a movement that directly benefits from harming women and our planet. Instead, you can look fabulous while knowing your choices will help make a better future for the fashion industry.


Words: Nicole Moore