Fabrication of an Industry

Fast Fashion is not Sustainable, Here are Better Alternatives and Brands to Avoid

With permission by Unsplash

Becca McHaffie

With permission by Unsplash

What is fast fashion, and why is it so unsustainable and unethical? 


The phrase “fast fashion” was first used in the 1990s by the New York Times as a description of the new brand “Zara’” and their goals to produce garments in only 15 days. Although this quick turnaround has its advantages in being able to offer cheap clothing for consumers, this method of production comes at a great cost. The fast fashion industry is the second largest water consumer and produces more carbon emissions than the airline and global shipping businesses combined, according to the UN Environment Programme.


Fast fashion encourages over-consumption because of the plethora of garments being released every season. A ‘season’ used to be 4 times a year to correspond with the changing intervals of weather, but has now evolved into 52 periods. This means a whole new line of clothing is created every week. A report from Business Insider turned up the shocking statistic that 85% of all fabrics go to the trash each year. They also state that 80 billion articles of clothing are bought every year, which is 400% larger than it was just 20 years ago. 


Fast fashion doesn’t just have environmental impacts, it has social consequences as well. The fashion industry is the most labor dependent, with 1 in every 6 people working for some element of the industry. But these garment workers universally suffer from poor working conditions and low wages, some forced to work long hours in unsafe settings. Almost a decade ago in Dhaka, Bangladesh, an 8 story garment factory building collapsed, killing over 1000 workers and injuring over 2000 workers. Building standards were not maintained, and the resulting disaster brought the safety failures out in the open. But the industry has failed to respond with any meaningful changes.

Knowing about the shady background of the fast fashion industry can leave consumers wondering how their clothing choices can affect change in the fashion industry. Here are some ideas to help you get started.

What brands are the culprits behind fast fashion? 

Listed below are some of the brands that have been called out for greenwashing and practicing in an unsustainable and unethical manner

Greenwashing is a form of advertising that is deceptively used to persuade consumers that the organization’s products and policies are environmentally friendly, when in reality the company spends more effort trying to show that they are sustainable than actually carrying out their pledges. 


H&M, which is the second largest fashion retailer in the world, has a troubled history following ethical workplace practice. For example, it was revealed in 2018 that the company hadn’t paid 850,000 garment workers the living wage.

Shein, a Chinese fashion company, adds 500 new products each day to their website, this contributes to the harmful and wasteful practice of “throw away fashion.” The brand is also not transparent about their environmental and ethical conduct. 

Forever 21 is an American fashion company that is under fire for unethical practices. The United States government investigated a Forever 21 garment factory in Los Angeles, California that paid its workers only $4/hour. This wage is much less than California’s minimum wage, which ranges from $14-15 an hour. 

So now you might be wondering what the best way to shop sustainably is, if so many brands and stores practice fast fashion? The best answer (at present) is going thrifting and being mindful of unnecessary spending or impulse purchases. 

Thrifting is a process that doesn’t buy into overconsuming new goods, and promotes recycling and upcycling old clothing. 

Here is a list of thrift stores in and near Oakton/in Fairfax County: 


-Plato’s Closet

-Pennywise Thrift Shop


-The Closet


Some ethical, sustainable, and affordable clothing brands are:

-Tentree, a climate neutral and fair trade certified brand based in Vancouver, Canada, plants ten trees for every purchased clothing item. So far planting over 73 million trees, their clothing is manufactured globally in an ethical manner. 

-Pact, an ethical fair trade brand based in Colorado, USA, practices carbon offset shipping and has a donation program for used clothing. Their packaging is recyclable and biodegradable. 

-Patagonia is a fair trade brand based in California, USA, with an environmentally sustainable initiative. This company was one of the first to focus on sustainability and environmental ethics as well as using recycled materials and organic cotton. 

 What are the takeaways?

If we want to create a healthy and equal world, fast fashion will need to be addressed. And unlike some global issues like ocean acidification, which you might not be able to affect on an individual level, you can do something in your life to contribute to a healthier fashion industry. From thrifting and cutting back on consumerism, to advocacy…where would you like to start?

Sources: earth.org, thegoodtrade.com, sustainably-chic.com