The Impact of Fast Fashion and Why I Mostly Shop Second Hand

Ethical Fashion, Sustainable Fashion, Slow Fashion….We’ve all heard these terms popping up over the past few years. More and more clothing companies are using recycled materials and fabric for their clothes in hopes of reducing negative environmental effects. Many are also choosing their sources of materials and manufacturing more carefully: ones that implement fair trade practices and ethical work conditions. I’ve heard a lot about all of the problems that fast fashion is causing to humanity and the environment. Because of how much information is all over the media and the internet, it’s sometimes hard to tell what is truth. My response to this was to take a deep dive and really research the industry of fast fashion. This, for me, meant finding reliable sources and scholarly articles to get down to the truth of it all. I figured I’d put my findings all together here and share with everyone what I found.

Labor Practices

A lot of big brand names never disclose all or any of their labor practices to the public. Oxfam Australia explained that in Bangladesh, “only 2 percent of the price paid for an item of clothing goes toward factory wages.” In addition to these factories receiving next to nothing, a lot of the countries that these factories are in set their minimum wages lower than the cost of living. (1)

Factory workers are often overworked and live in dangerous work environments. This was made very apparent after the collapse of the Rana Plaza building in Bangladesh. The building had been evacuated the day before due to cracks in the building and the next day it collapsed, killing thousands.

Water Usage

The textile industry uses a large amount of fresh water to produce clothing. This water usage is from ” Most of the textile industrial processes, such as scouring, washing, bleaching, sizing, dyeing, and finishing” of the garments.(2) To put things in perspective of how much water this industry really uses take this into consideration: It is estimated that it takes 500 gallons of water to produce one pair of jeans. (3)

Waterfootprint is a super eye opening and informative organization and website to show your “water footprint” according to the products and food you consume! Water waste is not just limited to the fashion industry!

Water Pollution

The process of dying textiles and using synthetic materials to construct garments is contributing to widespread water pollution. This is apparent by the “swirling flotsam of plastics [that are] accumulating in the oceans. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch has become a cause célèbre. This place, with no fixed coordinates but extending almost across the width of the North Pacific, has gone from being a hidden phenomenon to a vortex of trash and a visible relic of global environmental change. ” (4) Even cotton production uses fertilizers and pesticides, which are then found in wastewater runoff.

Poor Quality

A lot of these fast fashion brands are more worried about rapid turnover of clothes and the next fleeting trend. They source low quality and synthetic materials that don’t last a long time. This becomes a vicious cycle in whch the consumer buys a trendy item, wears it a few times for one season, and then throws it away because it starts to show premature signs of wear and tear.

Clothing Waste in Landfills

A lot of the clothing end up in landfills. Even some clothes that end up being donated are such poor quality that they ultimately end up in landfills. According to World Wear Project, “Consumers throw away shoes and clothing [versus recycle], an average of 70 pounds per person, annually.”(5)

Promising Practices

  • Many brands are trying to make a difference by recycling plastic and textiles to make them into new clothes.
  • Brands are participating in the recycling of clothes (i.e. Madewell and H&M, among others)
  • Others are sourcing their textiles from organic farmers and looking more into labor practices
  • Many clothing brands are also using leftover deadstock fabric to make their clothes instead of sourcing brand new materials

What Can I do?

Shop Second Hand – instead of buying a brand new piece of clothing, you can buy a gently used piece that doesn’t take any additional resources or labor to create!

Shop Ethical/ Sustainable Fashion brands with transparency when it comes to their sourcing and labor practices. Research brands that use organic materials that don’t use pesticides with their textile production. Some of these brands are:

  • Everlane
  • Reformation
  • Christy Dawn
  • Eileen Fisher

By shopping second hand and buying from ethical fashion brands, you can invest in higher quality materials that will last you a longer time than those of the fast fashion industry. A lot of ethical and sustainable fashion brands come with a higher price tag, but you’ll end up saving money in the long run because these clothes will last longer and you won’t have to continue buying new clothes every season.

Though it may feel like a small impact, you as a consumer can make a difference by shopping smarter and choosing carefully which brands you support!

If you’d like more tips of shopping second hand, check out this article.


  1. S Nayeem Emran and J Kyriacou, What She Makes. Power and Poverty in the Fashion Industry (Oxfam Australia 2017)
  2. Advances in the sustainable technologies for water conservation in textile industries
  3. Water Usage in the Textile Industry
  4. Fashion, Sustainability, and the Anthropocene