The environmental cost of fast fashion

Fast fashion allows consumers to get trendy clothes for cheap, but it's leaving a devastating impact on the environment.


September 23, 2021

Photo by Maniglia Romano/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images

They say there’s no such thing as a biological free lunch, and the same principle seems to apply to fashion.

Fast fashion — the overproduction of trendy clothes at low cost by mass-market retailers — has created big problems in Ghana, where many of the clothes end up.

Americans are buying 5x the clothes they did 30 years ago…

… and getting a fraction of the usage. The average item is only worn 7x before being disposed of.

Leftover clothes from donations and thrift stores get shipped to salvage markets abroad, where market traders purchase them in bulk, fix them, and resell them.

But fast fashion has stunted that cycle for 2 reasons:

  • There are way too many clothes now
  • Fast fashion materials are poor quality and difficult to reuse

Accra, Ghana’s capital, receives ~15m items of used clothing per week, and sends ~40% of it to landfills. When the landfills get full, the clothes end up spilling onto beaches, creating mountains of trash.

Consumer behavior could be the answer…

… and seems to be moving in the right direction. In a recent study from GlobeScan, 74% of respondents acknowledged that they need to consume less to protect the environment.

Whether it’s as simple as purchasing less, or adopting trends like circular fashion, it’s clear that fast fashion could use a speed bump.

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