The Hidden Costs of Fast Fashion

Words by Angelica Haskins


It’s no secret that our world moves fast. Fashion used to shift with the seasons, but now trends are changing rapidly —and not just because of climate change. As such, fashion is faster than ever.


But what exactly is fast fashion? Exactly as the name implies, fast fashion is a method of design, manufacturing and marketing that focuses on expeditiously producing large amounts of clothing to rapidly satisfy a consumer. 


Large garment enterprises specialising in fast fashion, such as Shein and Fashion Nova, leverage global trends, capitalising on the sartorial choices of supermodels and mega-influencers to produce low-quality, albeit cheap, pieces of clothing for direct consumption by shoppers.  


While this framework ensures speedy production of clothing, and guarantees that consumers can net their purchases in rapid time and at low cost, it has harmful effects with repercussions on all facets of life. 


In addition to ripping off the work of small artists for capitalistic gain, the fast fashion industry also has a heavy hand in large scale societal issues, such as the irreversible deforestation of the Amazon rainforest, slavery and pollution. 


A report conducted by environmental research firm and the Slow Factor, a non-profit organisation advocating for environmental justice, recently unveiled that over 100 well-known fashion labels have supply-chain links to Brazilian leather exporters which engage in the deforestation of the Amazon rainforest.


The report reveals that in the last decade, over 16.5 million acres of the Brazilian Amazon rainforest biome have been lost. The most significant driver of such deforestation is due to the insurmountable cattle industry which supplies much of the leather of the fashion world. In actuality, the cattle ranching which occurs in the Amazon rainforest causes 2% of the world’s entire CO2 emissions annually; this is equivalent to the emissions produced from all global airplane flights each year!


Disturbingly, evidence suggests that much of this cattle ranching is conducted illegally. While the majority of the companies which rely on the Brazilian leather industry disappointingly lack any kind of relevant policies which ban deforestation, about a third appear to be actively breaching their  explicit policies. 


As such, the deforestation of the rainforests is occurring at an unprecedented rate, and this has hugely devastating impacts on the entirety of the globe. The Amazon rainforest used to be considered one of the world’s largest carbon sinks, that is, a region of the natural environment that absorbs more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere than it emits. However, the cattle ranching and deforestation of this area in recent years have subverted the rainforest’s former role in the global biome; in actuality, the Amazon rainforest emits more carbon than it can absorb. 


Furthermore, these rainforests serve as the habitat of millions of plant and animal species. 

Consequently, the loss of these regions have led to inordinate levels of biodiversity loss, killing off entire species of flora and fauna, and threatening current and future plant medicines. 


This damage to the boreal forests of the world may be irreversible, leading us to uncharted levels of ecosystem collapse and tipping us one step further to the point of no return, in regards to our climate crisis. 


As if that isn’t enough, the extensive damage caused to the Amazon rainforest as a result of the fast fashion industry is not just an environmental issue, but also a human rights one. 


More than 400 Indigenous tribes currently reside in the Amazon rainforests, and despite having already suffered enormous losses, they are continuing to defend their land against the ceaseless deforestation tactics engaged by the fashion industry. An estimated one million Indigenous American persons have been displaced by such deforestation; this blatant lack of care and respect for such tribes by the fashion industry has, in actuality, contributed to modern world genocide and ethnocide. 


Many of these Indigenous people are uncontacted or living in voluntary isolation. Hence, their involuntary displacement because of the inhumane methods of the fast fashion industry forces them off their ancestral lands, giving them no option but to make contact with outsiders in an unfamiliar world. This leads to exposure to diseases that their immune systems have never known, thus resulting in the deaths of entire communities of such Indigenous persons. 


It is clear that fast fashion is destroying the world, and that inaction will lead to irreversible damage and the death of millions.


So how can you help? There are many things you can do, including limiting your shopping hauls and thrifting instead. Buying less and investing in long term sustainable pieces can drive a greater societal shift towards more ethical fashion. Similarly, educating yourself on the sustainability rating of your favourite brands and sourcing more environmentally conscious alternatives can also have a positive impact. 


And the very first thing you can do is shift your fashion thoughts from the virtual platform to recognise the real-world importance of the original Amazon. 


Angelica Haskins

The author Angelica Haskins

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