Story: Leah Napier-Raikes

How fast fashion’s marketing affects the environment

Fast fashion brands such as Shein, Primark, FashionNova, and other similar outlets have doubled in sales to 200 billion units a year. While, the average number of times an item of clothing is worn has decreased by 36%. Proving the key to profits within the fashion industry is to satisfy the demand for following every clothing trend shown on social media, even if this results in lower quality, and short lasting items. The popularity of these products can be attributed to their low prices compared to quality clothing, as women’s T-Shirts from Shein are typically priced between £2-£5, compared to Levi’s clothing designed for durability, whose women’s T-Shirts range between £25-£35. During the current ‘cost of living crisis’ faced by the United Kingdom, many consumers will opt for the cheaper option as disposable income has decreased for most households.

 The result of consumers disregarding sustainability in where they choose to shop for clothing catastrophic for the environment, with fast fashion outlets using polyester which may not degrade for centuries, causing 92million tonnes of textile waste per year creating half a million tonnes of microplastic, and accounting for 10% of global carbon emissions. Companies such as FashionNova who have low priced items use unethical methods to ensure labour is as cheap as possible, asin 2019 they were reported to pay factory workers as little as $2.77 an hour and owing workers $3.8million in wages.

The Problem with ‘Green’ Products in Fast Fashion

 Some corporations have acknowledged the increased awareness from the public surrounding unethical manufacturing practices and how ‘buy once, wear once’ attitude in brand is harmful to the environment and have now adapted methods to address these concerns, branding themselves as ‘ethically sourced’. Primark’s line ‘Primark Cares’ and H&M’s ‘Conscious Collection’, which have caused both companies to be accused of ‘greenwashing’, which is defined as marketing a product or company as being environmentally friendly without meeting these claims or providing no evidence of these claims. In H&M’s case, they have been found liable for capitalising on ‘green trends’, resulting in being sued in a Missouri federal court in 2022 for not upholding these claims. Likewise, Primark has been criticised for branding a sustainable line as their fast fashion model cannot be sustainable regardless of materials used, as it promotes overconsumption which results in landfill in third-world countries such as Ghana, who’s residents commonly refer to the mounds of textile waste dumped in their country as “obroni wawu” – dead white man’s clothing. Furthermore, companies producing an alternative line which is ‘ethical’ while still producing their regular line of clothing shows a lack of accountability on their behalf for their business practices as it places the responsibility of being environmentally conscious and reducing carbon emissions in the customers hand as opposed to them reforming their entire clothing production to be sustainable, deflecting this blame prevents them from facing any pressure from environmentalist groups to take legitimate action in reducing their harm on the planet.

 Facing economic inflation can limit us as consumers from choosing the most sustainable and environmentally friendly products as independent, ethical brands can often be more expensive than large chains. Thankfully, even when on a budget, there are alternatives to fast fashion that can help us make a change! 

 Shopping second hand through charity shops or online tools such as Facebook Marketplace or Vinted allow us to purchase pre-used, quality clothing to reduce fabric waste by making use of what we already have. We can also challenge the overconsumption promoted in fast fashion by limiting how often we engage in short-term fashion trends and investing in higher quality, staple items of clothing that we know will last and will not be considered unfashionable by next season.