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The Ethical Price of Fast Fashion

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Fashion
Wordcount: 3672 words Published: 8th Feb 2020

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Fast fashion is no longer about fast production but more about how fast the turnaround is and how quickly the high street shops can reach maximum sales before another collection is put in place, according to (Perry, 2018). As a result of this I have chosen to compile my report on the price people pay for fast fashion, as it has a large amount of ethical issues behind the process which is not seen by many consumers, therefore I will show an insight in the fast fashion industry and consumer behaviour, discuss the disasters which have happened to workers who make the clothing, how bad fast fashion is for the environment, designers who make an difference. As a designer I have chosen to educate myself on a controversial topic to support future career aspirations, as we need to make a change in how we see the fashion industry as fast fashion is not sustainable or ethical. (The True Cost, 2015) ‘‘Ultimately something has to give, either the price of product has to go up or manufactures have to shut down or cut corners to make it work’’.

Consumer behaviour

Rauturier (2018) says ‘Fast fashion can be defined as cheap, trendy clothing that samples ideas from the catwalk or celebrity culture and turns them into garments in high street stores at breakneck speed.’ Therefore, the turnaround for high street clothing is vast, from catwalk to store in a short amount of time. According to Lejeune (2018) as products need to be shifted as quickly as possible it means that the production of products needs to be as little cost as possible; with a vast volume and constricted deadlines this puts a large amount of pressure on suppliers. Furthermore, Lejeune also said that ‘Initially ‘’fast fashion’’ was about increasing the speed of production, reducing the time it takes to go from fashion design to final product on shelves’. Now it’s about trends and how fast much profits a company can make. This is shown in figure one as the number of catwalks we as consumers are faced with is vast due to many successful fashion designers all have collections with significantly different styles, unsurprisingly there is the immense amount of fast fashion as retail outlets aim to get as many fashion items available for the public to increase sales.

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The fast fashion industry tends to keep information secret to consumers and for many reasons; according to The Fairtrade Foundation (2018) stated that ‘The UK spends £27 billion on clothes each year and there’s no sign that our obsession for fast fashion is slowing down’. Therefore statistical data shows that we as a country have no plan on cutting our connection with the fast fashion industry resulting in further downfall. Within fast fashion there is Globalized Production meaning all the production of products has been sourced outside of the country to low-cost economies therefore wages can be kept very low, meaning that companies who are at the top of the value chain can pick and choose where their products are being made in order to receive the best rates for their business, whether that being low prices or low wages According to (The True Cost, 2015).

                    Figure 1- Catwalk (fast fashion)

Rauturier (2018) stated that Fast fashion does not just impact the environment and the workers is also impacts the consumer themselves, as it encourages a ‘throw- away’ philosophy due to the constant need for new products and as the process is done in vast speed at which trends are produced customers feel that the clothing they previously brought is no longer ‘stylish’ and as the next trend is very different their built-in obsolescence. Rauturier (2018) also reported that ‘Fast Fashion makes us believe we need to shop more to stay on top of trends, creating a constant sense of need and ultimate dissatisfaction’. consumers in a developed country have wardrobes which are saturated with clothing items as retailers are subconsciously telling customers that the clothing they have already is no longer fashionable, therefore it is no longer useful which is why there is a constant tempt for new clothing and due to the need for fashionable clothing, According to Perry (2017).

If fast fashion in retail brands was not enough there is now a rise in supermarket apparel which is very accessible to consumers which can be purchased along with their weekly shop; and due to the consistent amount of seasonal sales it makes clothing appear to be ‘disposable’ said Perry (2017). Fashionistas come out of clothing stores with a grin across their faces and shopping bags which are bursting; feeling pleased that they have just spent their money on what seems like a good investment, however not recognizing that they have just brought a low-quality product in the name of a discount according to Rudolph (2018). Likewise, Rudolph also stated that the there is a large amount of pressure on consumers to keep up to date with the recent ‘must haves’ could have an emotionally as well as financially impact; Due to clothing brands changing their stock frequently, keeping up with the latest trends has become more of a encumbrance if anything, as shown in figure 2.

Labour behind the Label

With consumers buying clothing at a cheap price, workers are on much less than what it retails for; According to The Fairtrade Foundation (2018) the process of making clothing is difficult and involves a team of people and corporations around the world. Companies aim to keep their profits as high as possible and their costs down so that they can make a higher turnover, however to do this they will move production orders to different factories so that they are getting the cheapest possible rate. Furthermore, as the factories are usually low- economy countries they will compete with others to pay the lowest price as they themselves need the production orders to keep workers in work and bring money in; this comes with a price, as the factories aren’t earning enough money, they have no chose but to cut corners on health and safety which could have detrimental effects.

Story after story, tragedy after tragedy fill the news and we as consumers don’t act upon it, due to corporate greed and corruption disaster struck. In 2013 three of the worst tragedies in the entire history of fashion happened all in that one year. The rana Plaza disaster had a death toll of 1,134 and Approximately 2,500 were injured when the factory in which they worked at collapsed, as the death toll rose surprisingly so did the business, the profits had generated to an all-time high and following the year after the disaster it was the industry’s most profitable; due to that the industry had accumulated an income of £2 trillion according to The True cost (2015). However Verdict (2018) reported that five years on from this disaster nothing has changed in terms of health and safety with in the fashion industry, nor has there been anything to implement practical change to safeguard another rana plaza incident.

In addition, it is not just the factory workers whom work in bad conditions it is also the farmers themselves; according to the Fairtrade Foundation (2018) ‘Cotton is the world’s oldest commercial crop and one of the most important fibre crops in the global textile industry’. Therefore there are a lot of ethical concerns surrounding this industry; the cotton industry is vast, with more workers than initially first thought. The Fairtrade Foundation reported that developing countered there are 100 million households that are affected in the production of cotton and with an estimated 300 million workers in each sector of the cotton production chain. Cotton farmers in India they face many challenges, ranging from poor prices for pesticides and cotton seeds to the ever changing effects of climate change. According to The true cost (2015) over 250,000 farmers in India have committed suicide due to debt from buying pesticides and seeds; this is because wages in which farmers are paid to the expense of production items being very different therefore they can’t keep up. And the more

Another ethical concern is child labour; particularly in the cotton industry. According to Hymann (2017) in Uzbekistan the government force children to work on the cotton fields in the summer months whilst they aren’t at school and if they do not obey then they are given consequences such as expulsion from school. Furthermore Hymann also added that in cotton mills in south India some young girls are pressured to work in what is essentially bonded labour, in addition to this some of these girls are having hormones put in their food by the factory managers to essentially stop them from hitting puberty as these workers are all adolescent children. This is because the factory managers see women as less productive whilst they are menstruating. “Fast fashion has engendered a race to the bottom, pushing companies to find ever-cheaper sources of labour,” says Hymann.

In addition to that Bédat (2016) reported that recruiters tell the parents of the child in disadvantaged areas that their child will have a more advantaged life ahead of them with three nutritious meals a day, schooling and training opportunities as well as a large wage payment each semester; however this is not the case for many children. Unknowingly parents send their child off thinking that their life will be better but that child is faced with horrendous working conditions and a small wage package which is now what we call ‘modern day slavery’. Peoples (2018) said ‘over 218 million children are hard at work — 73 million of those are working in hazardous conditions that “directly endangers their health, safety, and moral development’. Taking into account that this is not ever child counted for, with ever consumer who buys a pair of jeans at a discounted price, those jeans have been hand dyed by children; with dye that is toxic to them and they do this on a daily basis. That discount is not actually a discount when it comes at a much riskier cost to others. Due to our greed for fast fashion forced labour is becoming too apparent and will continue to increase if we don’t start being mindful about where our clothing has come from and who has made it. Referring to figure 3, workers and consumers have started to notice that the process of fast fashion needs to change.

Figure 3- Ethical protest

Fashions Footprint

Due to fast fashion consumers are carelessly buying clothing that fits a trend, and then a couple of months later decide that it is no longer ‘fashionable’ as a result they throw it away, this has long lasting effects on the environment as most of the clothing that is thrown away ends up in landfill which accumulates there for a number of years. In a recent vogue article Newbold (2017) reported that Due to fast fashion and the amount of waste consumers throw out to landfill each year, The fashion industry’s has now become the world’s most second polluted industry; with a staggering 87 percent of fashion products end up in landfill each year. However Smithers (2017) stated that the amount of clothing that is now sent to landfill has dropped by 14%: the amount of clothing that we sent to landfill in 2016 was 300,000 tones. Therefore it has dropped meaning that consumers have started to think about their actions. WRAP UK (N.D) reported that ‘The value of unused clothing in wardrobes has been estimated at around £30 billion’. ‘It is also estimated £140 million worth of clothing goes into landfill each year’. Finally, according to Perry (2017) that due to consumers buying more clothing than they actually need; textile waste is an unpremeditated outcome of the fast fashion industry, this is shown in figure 4.

Figure 4- unwanted clothing

Landfill is not the only issue within the fast fashion industry, due to the vast amount of clothing being produced yearly there has to be some environmental impact that comes along side. It has been reported that because of textile dying it is now the globally second largest polluter to clean water, this is due to the amount of colouring and toxins we use to dye our clothing each year and when added with prints and fabric finishes the outcome is appalling (Perry 2017). A large amount of fabric dye is washed away in water due to it not binding well on the fabric, an article for Trusted clothing by Admin (2016) stated that ‘Approximately 10-15% dyes are released into the environment during dyeing process making the effluent highly coloured and aesthetically unpleasant’. They also reported that an average t-shirt will accumulate 16-20 litres of water when in the dying stage, as a result of this discharge from the process will end up in to the water system; that being 40,000- 50,000 tons. Due to this, water will end up in contact with the public which is then very harmful if they were to consume it; and when they are to wear the item of clothing those toxic chemicals will be absorbed from the clothing in to the skin causing damaging effects inside of the body. A recent article in vogue by Newbold (2018) reported that ‘53 million tonnes of clothes are produced every year with manufacturing techniques that use land and water, the extraction of fossil fuels, and the emission of toxic chemicals’. This is appalling especially when in the last 15 years our need for fast fashion has doubled.

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Furthermore, Perry (2017) stated polyester is the most used fibre in the fashion industry; this fibre is much more harmful to the environment than first thought. When polyester is washed it gives off miniscule microfibers which add to the plastic level in our oceans, this is detrimental as the amount of fast fashion consumers purchase means more plastic particles will be released into the ocean harming living organisms. As these particles do not biodegrade the amount of them is increasing every day. After the particles have made their way into the oceans small fish such as plankton eat them not knowing what they are which in effect make their way up to the food chain to fish consumed by humans. The more we continue with our fast fashion consumption the more we will leave detrimental effects on our environment. Referring to figure 4, the quantity

Of pollution in the ocean will have long lasting effects, even small fragments pay a large price in the end.

Figure 5- water pollution

Designers making a difference

   ‘There have been rumblings and reports about the darker, unsustainable side of fast fashion, and designers like Stella McCartney and Suno have long focused on the environmental impacts of production’  Reported Plummer (2015) in a vogue article about fast fashion. Stella McCartney is truly thinking about the world she wants to live in, when she reveals her fashion collections/ lines she does it in a way that makes the consumer think about their actions. In an article in the Guardian written by Cartner-Morley (2018) Stella stated “I come at fashion with lightness of heart. I shot my last ad campaign in a landfill site for a reason, and to make a point, obviously’’.

Fast fashion should not be taken lightly, this is a process in which is ruining the planet, and something has to change. There are numerous ways that would help the environment in which we take for granted, one being the use of dyes. Instead of using chemical compound dyes the use of natural dyes would be more beneficial; take something from the earth that can be renewed to provide colour to garments instead of polluting it. As a fashion designer I owe the environment and myself the privilege of not polluting it, therefore I will use natural resources where possible in order to keep the planet ‘clean’.


In conclusion we are ruining the planet one jumper at a time, the more we focus on trends and status the more long-term effects on the environment we create. Each item of clothing has a story whether that being the person who has made it or the pollution it has caused; fashion should not be damaging, it should be empowering. Therefore if we as consumers start to consider who made our clothing or more accurately who suffered for our need; we as a nation will start to make a difference. Hunger for newness is not as cheap as we all once thought.


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  • Cartner-Morley, J.C.M. (2018) Stella McCartney: ‘Only 1% of clothing is recycled. What are we doing? [online] Available at:https://www.theguardian.com/fashion/2018/apr/18/stella-mccartney-designer-ethical-fashion-interview (Accessed: 19/11/18).
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  • Newbold, A.N. (2018) MPs Launch New Inquiry into the Environmental Impact of UK Fashion Industry. [online]  Available at: https://www.vogue.co.uk/article/mp-inquiry-environmental-impact-of-uk-fashion-industry (Accessed: 13/11/18).
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  • Rudolph, C.R. (2018) How fast fashion is impacting the lives of consumers. [online] Available at: http://gal-dem.com/fast-fashion-impacting-lives-consumers/ (Accessed: 18/11/18).
  • Smithers, R.S. (2017) UK households binned 300,000 tonnes of clothing in 2016. [online] Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/jul/11/uk-households-binned-300000-tonnes-of-clothing-in-2016 (Accessed: 19/11/18).
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Image List

  • Figure 1:  Stella McCartney Catwalk [photograph]. (N.D) Available at: https://www.vogue.com.au/fashion/trends/how-your-fast-fashion-habit-is-harming-more-than-the-earth/news
  • Story/b67985de72be083a05570255ee8bdc2c (Accessed: 17/11/18)
  • Figure 2: Consumers buying [Photograph]. (N.D) Available at: https://inhabitat.com/ecouterre/how-ethical-are-your-favorite-fast-fashion-brands/ (Accessed: 18/11/18)
  • Figure 3: ‘No one should die for fashion’ [Photograph]. (N.D) Available at: https://www.vogue.co.uk/article/rana-plaza-fifth-anniversary-how-has-fashion-industry-changed (Accessed: 18/11/18)
  • Figure 4: Clothing in landfill [Photograph]. (N.D) Available at: https://www.irishtimes.com/life-and-style/fashion/how-clothes-become-car-seats-keeping-high-street-fashion-out-of-landfills-1.2882360 (Accessed: 19/11/18)
  • Figure 5: Plastic in ocean [photograph]. (N.D) Available at: https://eic.rsc.org/feature/the-massive-problem-of-microplastics/2000127.article (Accessed: 19/11/18)


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