So what is fast fashion? Well, “Fast fashion” refers to brands that release new collections almost weekly. They pump out inexpensive clothes made with low-quality materials (like polyester), produced overseas where labor is cheapest. But why is fast fashion bad, you ask? Let’s dig into some fast fashion facts you need to know and fast fashion brands to avoid.
(Warning: this post will make you second guess your shopping habits, but we promise it's for the best.)
Why is fast fashion bad?
So, why is fast fashion bad anyway? For starters, fast fashion prioritizes profits over safety — both in terms of environmental safety and the safety of garment workers (many of whom are women and children). If there’s one thing the fast fashion industry lacks, it’s transparency.
You may not see it as you stand in a brightly lit Zara surrounded by pictures of pristine models and perfectly steamed clothes. But behind the scenes, it took a lot of shady practices to create the clothing you see before you.
The Rana Plaza tragedy is a perfect example of the dangers of fast fashion. When this eight-story building, which housed several garment factories, collapsed in 2013 in Bangladesh, it killed over 1,100 workers and injured 2,500 more.
Investigations revealed that the owner built the top four floors without permits — and forced workers to operate even after it was clearly unsafe. Brands like Walmart, The Children’s Place, and Primark all had garment tags among the rubble.
Suddenly that $5 shirt doesn’t seem like such a good deal, right? But that's not even half of it. Here are some very concerning fast fashion statistics you need to be aware of.
Fast fashion facts about the environment
There’s no doubt that fast fashion is convenient. It’s affordable, and it’s easy to find something you like in the latest on-trend collection. But is it really worth it? The answer is definitely, no. Especially when it comes to damaging mother earth. So here are some fast fashion statistics you should know about:
The textile industry is one of the most polluting in the world, with fast fashion at its core
- 8% to 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions come from the fashion industry — more than flying and maritime shipping combined! (UNEP)
- Polyester is the most commonly used fabric in the world. It takes an estimated 342 million barrels of oil to produce each year. (CFDA Materials Index)
- Because it's a plastic-based fiber, polyester clothing takes over 200 years to decompose in landfills — and less than 1% of it gets recycled each year. (Common Objective)
- Fashion is a major contributor of microplastics in the ocean. It's estimated that up to 35% of microplastics come from clothing products alone. (McKinsey State of Fashion)
- The climate impact of the fashion industry is expected to increase by 49% by the year 2030. (Quantis)
Fast fashion facts on unethical practices
So many fast fashion brands get their clothes from sweatshops, where workers earn very low wages and often work in appalling conditions. By buying fast fashion, you’re supporting these unethical practices whether you realize it or not. Here are some facts about fast fashion labor practices:
Many fast fashion brands underpay their workers and mistreat their employees
- 93% of fast fashion brands aren’t paying garment workers a living wage. (Fashion Checker)
- Only 5 of the 250 largest global fashion brands publish data on the number of workers in their supply chain who are paid a living wage. (Fashion Transparency Index)
- 80% of garment workers are women who are routinely underpaid and subject to more verbal, physical, and sexual abuse than their male counterparts. (Fashion Checker)
- Roughly 160 million children work as child laborers worldwide — many of whom produce textiles and garments for U.S. and European-based fashion brands. (UNICEF)
- Only 47% of the 250 biggest global fashion brands disclose which manufacturing facilities they use. (Fashion Transparency Index)
- Only 27% disclose which wet processing facilities and spinning mills they use deeper in their supply chains. (Fashion Transparency Index)
- 67% of consumers say they’d stop or significantly reduce their spending with brands who mistreat their employees or suppliers. (McKinsey State of Fashion)
Fast fashion facts post COVID-19
Here's another fast fashion fact for you: It's estimated that garment workers were among the hardest hit during the coronavirus pandemic as big brands and retailers canceled orders out of fear of losing profit. So here are a few post-pandemic fast fashion statistics:
Fast fashion practices may have gotten worse since the pandemic
- 55% of consumers expect fashion brands to care for the health of employees in times of crisis (McKinsey State of Fashion), yet, 97% of global brands failed to disclose which percentage of their workers were laid off during COVID and if those workers received back wages. (Fashion Transparency Index)
- The Clean Clothes Campaign estimates that garment workers lost between $3.19 billion and $5.79 billion in wages in just the first three months of the pandemic alone. (Clean Clothes)
- Progress to end child labor has stalled during COVID-19, putting nine million more children at risk of being forced to work in garment factories and textile mills. (UNICEF)
Fast fashion facts on overconsumption and waste
Fast fashion is all about instant gratification. You see something you like, you buy it, and you wear it once or twice before getting rid of it. This creates a society where clothes are seen as disposable, and it’s bad for the environment and our economy.
Fast fashion creates a throwaway society that overconsumes
- More than 17 million tons of clothing are produced each year. (EPA)
- One in three young women considers a garment to be “old” after they wear it once or twice. (The Guardian)
- The average American throws away 81 pounds of clothing per year. (Saturday Evening Post)
- Three out of five fast fashion items end up in the landfill within one year. (Clean Clothes)
- Recycling programs have become increasingly popular at fast fashion stores, yet only 22% of brands disclose what they do with these items. (2021 Fashion Transparency Index) In other words, these programs can make you feel like an environmentally friendly shopper in the moment, but they could just be a ploy for overconsumption.
Fast fashion fact: It's bad for your wallet, too!
Last but not least, fash fashion is also bad for your bank account. Fast fashion brands constantly pump out new collections every week. As a result, you're forced to buy something the moment you see it instead of having time to go home and think about it.
They also use cheap materials that aren’t built to last, forcing you to constantly buy more clothes. When that $12 shirt doesn’t hold up in the wash, you may find yourself buying a new one once a month. Suddenly you’re spending $144 a year to replace one item of clothing — not so cheap!
Cost per wear — a new way to think about clothing costs
Next time you go shopping, I challenge you to think about the price of an item in terms of cost per wear (i.e., the price of the item divided by how many times you think you’ll wear it).
For example, suppose you’re stuck between two pairs of shoes: $60 heels from Zara or $150 sneakers from Veja (one of my favorite sustainable shoe brands).
On the surface, the heels seem like the cheaper option (they're almost one-third of the price!). But if you only wear them five times a year for special occasions, those heels cost you $12 per wear (60/5=$12).
On the contrary, if you wear those white sneakers twice a week because they're comfy and pair nicely with your wardrobe, that’s only $1.44 per wear (150/(52x2)=1.44). Those sneakers suddenly become a much cheaper option.
Fast fashion brands to avoid
Now that you know these important fast fashion statistics are you ready to take a stand for the environment and workers by not supporting these types of companies? If so, then you need to know what fast fashion brands to avoid.
Basically, any brand that follows a “high volume, low price” model where they constantly pump out new collections every few weeks is fast fashion. Some popular retailers who follow this model include:
- Gap and Old Navy
- American Eagle
- Forever 21
- Urban Outfitters
- Victoria’s Secret
- Nasty Gal
- TJ Maxx
- Free people
Several of these brands — including REVOLVE, DKNY, SHEIN, Express, DSW, Ross, Macy's, and Bloomingdales — all scored a 10% or less on the 2021 Transparency Index. Remember the facts about fast fashion when shopping so you aren't tempted to support these companies' practices!
Slow fashion brands to support instead
It can be disheartening to find out some of your favorite clothing brands are at the helm of the fast fashion movement. But, don't despair! If you’re looking for slow-fashion companies who treat their employees fairly and create clothes built to last, try out:
- Pact Apparel
- Amour Vert
- MATE the Label
- Jenni Kayne
- Eileen Fisher
- Fair Indigo
Although you may spend more money on slow fashion remember that you get more cost per wear! So you actually are saving money in the long run. Plus, you are supporting companies that care about the environment and their employees.
Shop responsibly now that you know these fast fashion facts!
These facts about fast fashion are hard to swallow to say the least. Who would have thought that where you spend your money can have such a significant impact on the environment and employees? So keep a list of the fast fashion brands to avoid and shop with slow fashion companies instead.
Also, if you’re looking for high-quality clothes that will last, fast fashion is not the way to go. Instead, look for clothes made from natural fabrics, buy from sustainable brands, shop secondhand, and upcycle your clothing. Your wallet and the environment will thank you for it.
You can learn how to create a budget that includes a category for your slow-fashion wardrobe with our completely free budgeting course! Also, tune in to the Clever Girls Know podcast and YouTube channel for more tips on how to be fashionable on a budget!