Zara, H&M, and Forever 21 are fashion empires of the 21st century, known for their affordable prices and trendy pieces. New designs appear in these stores every few weeks, and shoppers can browse a multitude of items both online and in stores.
These stores are favorites of many people because of the ease that comes with them. When a new trend comes along, you can purchase a cute and inexpensive top, and when the trend goes, you don’t really care because it was only $15. That top either goes to the back of your closet, donated, or thrown in the trash.
The issue with this cycle, and buying items from these stores, is that it is absolutely destroying our planet. Zara, H&M, and Forever 21 take part in a cycle known as fast fashion. The definition of fast fashion, according to Investopedia, is “inexpensive designs that move quickly from the catwalk to stores to meet new trends”. These stores take expensive, high end designs from fashion week, and turn them into cheap pieces that are easily affordable.
Although fast fashion may seem harmless, it’s effects are wildly dangerous for the planet. It causes landfills to fill up with clothes, produces CO2 emissions, depletes our resources, and pollutes the air.
According to the Huffington Post, 26 billion pounds of used clothing and textiles are dumped in landfills every year. We are buying more cheaply made and inexpensive clothing than ever before, and it doesn’t last very long. Whether the reasoning for throwing it away is that the clothing tears or we just get sick of the trend, fast fashion pieces often end up in the dumpster. There are limited recycling options for fibres like cotton and polyester, so 60% of all clothing is disposed within a year of production (according to ABC News Australia). The clothing simply doesn’t last, and it’s not easy to recycle.
Producing clothing is also terrible in terms of pollution and the air. Textile production is in fact one of the most polluting industries, according to Carbon Trust, producing 1.2 billion tons of CO2 per year. For reference, that’s more emissions than international flights and maritime shipping. Also, a material that is frequently used to produce clothes is polyester, which can take decades to degrade. Polyester’s carbon footprint is almost three times that of cotton, and it emits fossil fuels.
With all of this being said, many companies are working towards producing clothes in a more environmentally friendly way. H&M in recent years has set up a Sustainability group, where the CEO Karl-Johan Persson states that “I’m convinced our new sustainability strategy presented in this report will take us closer towards our vision; to lead the change towards circular and renewable fashion while being a fair and equal company.” Companies such as H&M are at least making an effort to stop the environmental destruction that fast fashion is causing.
But, there are other, more personal efforts that can aid in solving this problem. We must be conscious consumers. We can start shopping at brands that use more environmentally friendly materials to produce clothes, shop a little less, shop at thrift stores, and sell used clothes. To solve this problem, we must first acknowledge it.
We must acknowledge that although we think a trend is cute, we don’t need to buy a clothing piece. We must acknowledge the damage that is being done, and that we have power to change it.