Can fast fashion be eco-friendly?

By Hannah Wilson

Society is becoming increasingly  aware of the consequences our actions are having on the  climate crisis. Specifically, consumerism is widely discussed in regards to fashion and the detrimental effect that its accessibility and affordability is having on the environment.. In recent years, brands such as Shein and AliExpress have taken over the youth’s wardrobes and also the landfills as most returns end up being thrown out  because it costs more for businesses to put them back in circulation [1]. The fashion industry contributes hugely to the climate crisis with estimates that as much as  20,000 litres of water is needed to produce just 1kg of cotton (equivalent to a single t-shirt or a pair of jeans). [2]. Manufacturing clothes also  poses problems in terms of pollution as well as their transportation through the release of greenhouse gas emissions.. The transportation of fast fashion products is estimated to emit 1.2 billion tons of greenhouse gases each year (about 2% of global greenhouse gas emissions). That is more than international flights and maritime traffic combined. Additionally, our clothes contain micro plastics, such as nylon, polyester, elastane or even acrylic, which are released  during washing cycles. Too small to be filtered, they end up in the ocean and are sometimes eaten by fish [3]. The consequences of consuming from fast fashion brands is a vicious cycle that is ultimately perpetuating the  environmental degradation and the climate crisis. It is important to be aware of the long-lasting effects that buying and throwing away clothes  has on the planet. It is not just the landfills that are affected but our  our oceans, air, and water.

Throw-away culture

It is not just the exporting and use of materials that contribute to the on-going climate crisis but our adoption of  a throw-away culture. . Micro-trends surfacing from Tik-Tok that are  promoted by influencers heavily impact the production of  fast fashion. . For example, the 2000’s ‘y2k’ fashion trend resurfaced during 2020 with Juicy Couture, micro-skirts and cow print bags re-entering wardrobes.. Yet, as these trends fizzle out and we aimlessly move onto the next wave of popularity, what happens to these items? Drawing on my own  research, in July 2022, there were over 3200 cow print bags on Depop despite having moved onto the next trend. . People are enticed by the lower price tag and desperate to conform to  current trends without realising the damage their purchases causes to the environment. It is important to acknowledge that  huge corporate chains have a responsibility to shift their products into the eco-friendly and sustainable route. 

Break the fast fashion chain

The use of sustainable materials is  been on the rise, with recyclable materials in clothing and packaging from brands such as ASOS and H&M. Becoming eco-friendly is a journey and not something that happens overnight.  Fashion brand H&M, for example,  aim to have 100% of their materials and products recycled or sustainably sourced by 2030, meaning a system in which all products fully decompose or can be reused. Currently, 57%  materials used by H&M in their clothing are recycled or sustainably sourced. Their commitments mean that reducing carbon emissions is key if the fashion industry wants to help combat climate change [4]. Little changes are more visible within these brands as more brands have been using non-plastic packaging for their online orders, such as Pull&Bear. What will happen when fast fashion brands gradually become more sustainable? Using the smaller, independent, sustainable clothing shops as examples of future trends, prices will perhaps increase and perhaps they will have stock fewer items of clothing. This now begs the question – why is sustainable, eco-friendly clothing more expensive?

Affordability of sustainable clothing

Stepping back from fast fashion brands for a moment, it is important to consider  the affordability and accessibility of clothing. Small and independent businesses create pieces that are sustainably sourced, made and packaged and also seasonal. For example, Djerf Avenue, founded by Matilda Djerf, is a Swedish brand that prides itself on classic, sustainable  pieces. However, as  some pieces are priced at over £100, it is extremely unaffordable for a lot of people. Why does sustainable clothing have a higher price tag? Instead of synthetic ones that fast fashion brands use is the main factor as well as the fact that they rely on small-scale productions unlike larger brands which can optimise from low cost forms of production, particularly as it is usually outsourced to developing countries. [5]. These sustainable items tend to be pieces that can be  worn  for years to come due to their high quality. Thus, timeless, sustainable clothing that you will get a vast amount of wear out of is worth the initial investment relative  to the hundreds of cheap, micro-trend items that will be thrown out in  less than a year.

What now?

Fast fashion brands have made their promises to help tackle the climate crisis. So, can fast fashion ever be eco-friendly? Taking little steps, these brands can begin to adopt more eco-friendly and sustainable practices, particularly with regard to  how they package clothing, the materials they use and the wearability and diversity of their items.


[1] Dilys Williams, Shein: the unacceptable face of throwaway fast fashion, The Guardian,, Accessed 25/07/2022.[2] Mark K. Brewer, 2019, Slow Fashion in a Fast Fashion World: Promoting Sustainability and Responsibility, The New Frontiers of Fashion Law,[3] Hind Ben Zekri, 2021, Globalization And The Fast Fashion Phenomenon: The Impact Upon Labors, Environment And The Consumer Behavior,  MAS Journal of Applied Sciences,[4] Emily Chan, Is fast fashion taking a green future seriously?, Vogue,, Accessed 26/07/2022[5] Emily Chan, Why Isn’t Sustainable Fashion More Affordable, Vogue,, Accessed 26/07/2022
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