Appetites for fast and ultra-fast fashion continue to grow. Statista recently published this chart forecasting the growth of the worldwide fast fashion market through 2026. In 2021 the market value was 91 billion USD; this is expected to grow to over 133 billion USD by 2026. Rachel Monroe, writing for The Atlantic, explains that Americans buy a piece of clothing every five days. Clearly, consumers can't get enough cheap, throw-away textiles. And Americans are definitely throwing them away. Monroe provides these statistics about textile waste:
The volume of clothes Americans throw away has doubled over the past 20 years. We each generate about 75 pounds of textile waste a year, an increase of more than 750 percent since 1960. Some thrift shops, glutted with flimsy, synthetic wares, have stopped accepting fast-fashion donations. Discarded clothes get shipped overseas.
It doesn't seem to matter to most folks that the fast and ultra-fast fashion industries are terrible for the environment. Because what happens to the clothes we discard? Monroe explains:
Last year, a mountain of cast-off clothing outside the Ghanaian capital city of Accra generated so much methane that it exploded; months later, it was still smoldering.
Manufacturing the clothes is also awful for the environment:
Producing clothing at this scale and speed requires expending enormous amounts of natural resources. Cotton is a thirsty crop; according to Tatiana Schlossberg, the author of Inconspicuous Consumption: The Environmental Impact You Don't Know You Have (2019), producing a pound of it can require 100 times more water than producing a pound of tomatoes. But synthetic textiles have their own problems, environmentally speaking. They're a major source of the microplastics that clog our waterways and make their way into our seafood. McKinsey has estimated that the fashion industry is responsible for 4 percent of the world's greenhouse-gas emissions; the United Nations says it accounts for 20 percent of global wastewater.
Fast fashion is also terrible for workers who assemble the clothes, as the industry is notorious for awful—and even deadly—working conditions and pitiful wages.
Given this history and context, it comes as no surprise that one of the biggest ultra-fast fashion companies, Shein, is "even worse than you thought," according to a new investigation by UK's Channel 4. Sangeeta Singh-Kurtz, writing for The Cut, explains:
A new investigation by the U.K. broadcaster Channel 4 has uncovered details about the business practices of the Chinese fast-fashion company Shein. The outlet sent an undercover worker to film inside two factories in Guangzhou that supply clothes to the fast fashion giant.
In one factory, Channel 4 found that workers receive a base salary of 4,000 yuan per month — roughly $556 — to make 500 pieces of clothing per day and that their first month's pay is withheld from them; in another factory, workers received the equivalent of four cents per item. Workers in both factories were working up to 18-hour days and were given only one day off a month. In one factory, the outlet found women washing their hair during lunch breaks, and workers were penalized two-thirds of their daily wage if they made a mistake on a clothing item.
You can read the rest of the article here. And please, I'm begging you, stop buying fast and ultra-fast fashion! Instead, you can seek out more sustainable clothing brands. Here's a website that analyzes fashion brands and grades them based on their impact on the environment, workers, and animals. Better yet, shop in your own closet and practice minimizing your consumption. Remember the old "Reduce, Reuse, Recycle" slogan? It's been expanded to help you think of better ways to act more sustainably. Check out this chart, provided by the University of Colorado, that expands the 3Rs to 7Rs: Rethink, Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Repair, Re-gift, and Recycle.