Fast Fashion: Check Your Tags

For my junior year research paper, I chose to write about fast fashion- and I learned so much about the industry I want to pursue. If I'm being honest, it worried me. But I am looking at the problem as my way into the field. Everything I learned about fast fashion has motivated me to keep pushing By Hollis to be as safe and environmentally-friendly as we can be. I am proud to say we design and print all of our clothing here in Pennsylvania. :) But there is always room for improvement, and I'm eager and ready to keep going. 

Take your shirt off.

No, really. All jokes aside, take your shirt off. Take your shirt off and look at the tag. Where was your shirt made? Was it made in Bangladesh, China, India maybe? You see, that tag does not do your garment justice. Behind your garment lies an inspiration, a design. Dig deeper. Behind that idea lies the execution; the process and the pain, the fabric and the fear, the buttons and the blood (Chappatte). All for you to have that one garment that, I am guessing, you have nearly-identical versions of dangling in your closet. Pieces that differ by one more killed worker, one extra dead species. Fast fashion, or the rapid production of clothing to keep up with the current-day trends, is abusing the environment and endangering the lives of workers worldwide. Monetary precedence is mean and murderous, as is consumer ignorance. Fast fashion has detrimental, unseen externalities on the environment and foreign workforces by creating an increasing deadly demand, an expected fulfillment, and overconsumption from consumers.

If the earth was food on a cutting board, fast fashion would not only be chopping it, but slaughtering it. The repercussions are born from an innocent cycle; when a designer is looking to create a garment, they produce sketches and patterns. Then, the designer takes their idea and outsources it, or has it made in another country. The country does not have essential protective regulations or fair wages; therefore, allowing for price to plunge. Profits are everything, and in a demanding industry like fashion, designers cannot afford low margins. Designers decide on the cheapest production cost because losing money on each garment could eventually kick them out of the market. Fast fashion has been a product of this process, especially in countries like China. In fact, professor of international business at the McDonough School of Business of Georgetown University, Pietra Rivoli, wrote that Americans purchase an estimated one billion garments yearly from China- that amounts to four garments per U.S. citizen (Claudio). This insane profusion of resources is not properly manufactured, and consequently, ends up in landfills- but improper manufacturing sounds ornamental. Sensibly, improper manufacturing is production of cheap material through air-damaging, chemical concoctions. Farmers in China know the color of the season before any of us, just by looking at the color of their rivers, due to the textile industry’s dye runoff, and that is no exaggeration. Fashion journalist Claire Press claims, “there's a zero-discharge initiative that a lot of the brands are realising that they need to really put pressure on suppliers in China around hazardous chemical waste into water” (Fast Fashion: Rivers Turning Blue). That cheap material is then taken to a deprived manpower, working long hours under crumbling buildings, breathing in dirty, rancid air. A workforce that is trying to support a family, and a community, on as little as 12-18 cents per hour. Factories like this are surviving because “emerging economies are aiming to get their share of the world’s apparel markets, even if it means lower wages and poor conditions for workers” (Claudio). If they did not compete, they would have little to no revenue coming in. Furthermore, only 21% of yearly garment purchases are retained- over 68 pounds of clothing are thrown away per person annually, becoming latent waste to be dumped into clothing landfills dubbed the “national wardrobe” (Claudio). This vicious cycle has evolved into the formation of big-business-brands like Topshop, Zara, and H&M.

H&M is the world’s second-largest clothing retailer, and with 4,200 stores and counting, they are the definition of fast fashion today. Taking in $20 billion in 2016, H&M is not planning on ending the fast fashion phenomenon, in fact, they are promoting it. H&M plans to put a spin on fast fashion’s connotation by investing in recycling plants, as they hope to create a “closed-loop system” by using clothing fibers from old, donated pieces as raw materials. H&M partnered with the Hong Kong Research Institute of Textiles and Apparel and has put forth $5.8 million to develop technology to recycle (previously unusable) blended fabrics (Clendaniel). While these solutions appear to fix the problem, clothing being sold at incredibly low prices is not made to last, which results in further landfill pileup. H&M is merely covering their tracks- they are the reason the fast fashion mess exists. Clothing is still being manufactured rapidly in order to target current trends, leaving the spoiled consumer wanting more at others’ expense. Designer Clara Vuletich shared that the manufacturing process (from idea to store) now takes less than a week, something that “was never heard of before” (Fast Fashion: Rivers Turning Blue). This ability to stay on top of a consumer-based market allows for more sales, more revenue, and more profit. Some companies, including the outdoor brand Patagonia, have rebelled against the idea of fast fashion by focusing on quality-based products and safe environmental practices. Founder of Patagonia, Yvon Chouinard, started his company out of his love for rock climbing, and he continues to make eco-conscious decisions that sets nature up for success, even if it means losing sales, revenue, and profit. Besides, Chouinard has been the pioneer for environmental innovation. “In 1996, Patagonia switched all its cotton to organic and has never looked back. Only recently have apparel giants such as Nike and Timberland started to do the same.” Chouinard even created the “1 percent for the planet club,” a effort that encourages big companies to participate in paying the “earth tax” (either 10 percent of profits or 1 percent of sales, depending on which is greater). Patagonia itself has donated over $25 million to environmental groups, Chouinard saying, “we measure our success on the number of threats averted: old-growth forests that were not clear-cut, mines that were never dug in pristine areas, toxic pesticides that were not sprayed” (Lee). Efforts by big-business companies like Patagonia are beginning to bring light to the responsibility of being in the clothing business (Chouinard is sure to note that Patagonia is not in the “fashion industry,” as their products are practical, not trendy). Patagonia lives by a minimalist mindset, owning fewer, better-quality items- and they are not scared of broadcasting their beliefs and eco-friendly morals (Lee).

While Patagonia is proudly sharing their environmentally-friendly beliefs, many designers are taking “pride in the fact that the sustainability of their clothing is not immediately recognizable.” The green label is an addition that some consider a setback, a vision to “shapeless eco-fashions of yesteryear, when words like "hemp" and "organic" inspired visions of hippies in a hacky sack circle” (Belli). Looking forward, eco-friendly designers imagine an industry where no green labels exist, because all garments are unrecognizably earth-friendly and well made (fast fashion free). Moreover, designers are sharing that they do not want to be “boxed in by a green label” (Belli). This feat is easier said than done, however, because most organic fabrics resemble overused earth tones, colors that do not appeal when creating bold looks. Despite the setback, designers are witnessing the research being done and anticipating the gap in the fabric market to close. As companies are trying to find solutions to the problem, they are also taking needed steps towards sustainability. Levi’s released a line of organic eco-jeans, while Gap and American Apparel created lines with organic cotton. Creating these environmentally-friendly lines manifest minuscule drawbacks. “It's the fashion-savvy who seem to think about the content of their clothes, while the majority of shoppers are influenced mostly by price—an arena where organics have trouble competing” (Belli). The tree-hugging designers of the world are encouraging consumers to understand their clothes on a deeper level and to be willing to pay more for better quality, morally-righteous pieces. Without that mindset, consumers will continue to demand the newest looks, putting the environment in a tough position- and Yvon Chouinard put it best- “there is no doubt that we’re not going to save the world by buying organic food and clothes- it will be by buying less” (Lee).

Fast fashion has ties to almost any negative aspect of the fashion industry- poor working conditions, surplus raw materials being wasted, harmful environmental practices, and nevertheless, it continues to have consumer support. Big clothing retailers are leaving consumers in the dark, and the ignorance must die. Money can only run the world for so long before human rights kick in. Imagine if you were that laborer, being treated like a slave, forced to put on a brave face for you family while you still have one. Considering the painful piece you put on this morning, I dare you… Check your tags.


Belli, Brita. “Green Fashion Is the Future of the Fashion Industry.” The Fashion Industry, 2010, Accessed 4 Apr. 2017.

Chappatte. “After Bangladesh.” The English Blog, 15 May 2013, Accessed 12 Apr. 2017.

Claudio, Luz. “Waste Couture: Environmental Impact of the Clothing Industry.” Environmental Health Perspectives, Sept. 2007, Accessed 4 Apr. 2017.

Clendaniel, Morgan. “How H+M Is Trying To Balance Fast Fashion With Revolutionary Recycling.” Fast Company, Fast Company, 21 Dec. 2016, Accessed 12 Apr. 2017.

“Fast Fashion: Rivers Turning Blue and 500,00 Tonnes in Landfill.” ABC Premium News, 28 Mar. 2017, Accessed 4 Apr. 2017.

Lee, Matilda. “No Fashion Please.” Ecologist, vol. 37, no. 9. Nov. 2007, pp. 58-60. EBSCOhost, Accessed 4 Apr. 2017.