The Impact of Fast Fashion on the Environment and how to Break the Cycle

by | Dec 28, 2023 | Lifestyle

In Pakistan, the word ‘fashion’ is synonymous with consumption. One cannot be accurately identified as ‘stylish’ or ‘fashionable’ if they are not adding more and more garments to their wardrobe, following the latest styles. This trend-driven purchasing behavior is fueled by the rise of ‘fast fashion’.

In a nutshell, fast fashion refers to a production model that prioritizes cheaply made clothing and accessories that capitalize on the latest fashion trends in record time[1]. Under this model, styles can go from the catwalk to the clothing stores in days, due to fast-paced design (often including plagiarizing the creative works of other designers) and production.

Because such a production model entails lower price points, many in Pakistan fall into the cycle of filling their wardrobes with fast fashion’s latest offerings[2].

However, in every aspect of life, there is no such thing as a free lunch. There is a price of fast fashion, and we pay it in the long run.

The Environmental Impact Of Fast Fashion

Excess production has impacted the environment in devastating ways. And fast fashion, despite its glamorous veneer, is no exception. In 2019, it was estimated that the fashion industry accounts for 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions[3]. It is anticipated that the global apparel industry’s greenhouse gas emissions will increase by 50% by 2030[4].

And we are already witnessing the individual impacts of what this increasingly detrimental situation will look like. In terms of waste alone, it is estimated that about 92 million tonnes of garments end up in landfill sites every year[5]. In Pakistan, it is estimated that about 87,000 tons of solid waste is generated every week[6]. Approximately 2% of this consists of textiles with leather accounting for another 1%. This waste, given Pakistan’s mismanagement of waste, pollutes the environment, impacting the quality of life across major cities.

Add to this fast fashion’s impact on water resources. It has been estimated that 700 gallons of water are needed to produce a single cotton shirt[7]. Simultaneously, dyes often used for clothes can be toxic, and approximately 20% of industrial water pollution is caused by the global fashion industry[8]. In 2022 France 24 posted a detailed report about Faisalabad, the country’s “textile hub” where more than 300 factories operate, often amid residential areas[9]. It detailed how residents struggle when untreated textile waste flows into the city’s water supply. This is particularly devastating because according to the Pakistan Institute of Development Economics (PIDE) Pakistan can be categorized as an “extremely high water-risk” nation[10].

Break The Fast-Fashion Cycle

Because fast fashion is a business model that relies heavily on consumption trends, how you continue to buy clothes can impact it significantly. So, if you want to reduce your environmental impact from fast fashion, here are some alternative approaches to consider.

1. Buy Less, Buy Local, Buy Informed

The first step is the simplest, and the most important. If you want to reduce your environmental impact, a simple alternative is to simply reduce your consumption. Once you do this, it will also be easier for you to make more informed decisions. Consider local, small-batch producers and brands as an alternative to global fast-fashion brands. Typically, brands that produce in smaller batches have a smaller environmental impact.

2. Opt For Quality Over Quantity

fast fashion pollution

Sardonically, fast fashion is also referred to as ‘disposable’ fashion. This is because of the subpar quality which means that a garment is not worn more than a handful of times. So, instead of buying in bulk, opt for fewer pieces that will stand the test of time. The longer you continue to wear something, the longer you keep it out of landfill sites.

3. Switch To Local Practices

Perhaps Pakistan’s love for textiles shouldn’t be surprising considering our own textile traditions. And in some ways, opting for those local practices instead could help the environment. For example, brightly colored prints are a Pakistani staple. But instead of machine-printed fabrics, which rely on toxic dyes, opt for block-printed garments. Block printing is a beautiful part of our heritage, and since the practice is done by hand and uses biodegradable ‘vegetable’ dyes such garments have a lower environmental impact[11]

4. Adopt A Holistic Approach to Style

Be mindful of why you care about fashion. If your personal style is supposed to be a reflection of who you are, then instead of spending time, money, and nonrenewable resources on it, curate a smaller, capsule wardrobe that reflects that. A few carefully selected, quality pieces can do more to reflect your sense of self than a wardrobe full of disposable fast fashion ever could.













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