Social Justice

The Real Cost Of Fast Fashion.

May 16, 2021
5 min

The world consumes an astonishing 80 billion pieces of clothing every year, translating to an annual $1.2 trillion for the global fashion industry.

Our desire to purchase cheap clothes, and discard them at a frighting rate is described as ‘fast fashion’, a method spearheaded by Zara founder Amancio Ortega back in 1950. Yet this practice of cheap, throw away fashion comes at a high price, for both people and planet.

Our desire to purchase cheap clothes, and discard them at a frighting rate is described as ‘fast fashion'

Fast fashion is hurting the planet

- 10% of total global emissions come from the fashion industry, this is more than international flights and shipping!

- 75% of all clothing products contain cotton. Cotton is a thirsty crop and carries a significant environmental footprint- 10,000 litres of water are needed for 1kg of cotton

- Each year the US alone sends 10 million kg of clothing to landfill a year

But fast fashion also has a huge human cost

Garment workers across the globe are the centre of a human rights crisis; exploited, subject to poor wages and forced to work in unsafe working conditions. These workers are literally risking their lives to produce cheap fashion. After countless warning about the integrity of the Rana Plaza clothing factory in Bangladesh, the building collapsed in 2013 taking 1,135 lives and injuring a further 2,500. 

Unsafe and exploitative working conditions are not exclusive to the Global South. It was recently revealed that garment workers for Boohoo in Leicester, United Kingdom were paid as little as £3.50 an hour. 

What is very clear is that major fashion companies are prepared to make huge profits at the expense of garment workers across the globe. When an early wave of the COVID-19 pandemic hit the world in March 2020, many huge brands cancelled garment orders and refused to pay up. An estimated $40 billion in unpaid contracts meant that workers were left without payment.

With 80% of the people making our clothes are women aged between 18 and 24, fast fashion is a feminist issue. The fashion industry has exploited women’s unequal position in society to curate a cheap workforce. 

Enough is enough

It is evident that fast fashion is fundamentally flawed, harming both the planet and society. Although we need big brands to step up, take responsibility and promote slow, fair fashion as individuals we can make choices to incite hope and change.


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Haidari. (2020). The Guardian. 

Ahram & Slow Factory Foundation. (2020). Teen Vogue.

San Segundo. (2020). Fashion Revolution.