But will this trend suit both people and the environment?
“Fast fashion”, the designer of cheap, mass-produced clothes, has rapidly expanded in the past few decades. And there is no doubt that this has seen its benefits. For example, allowing for lower income families to afford clothing, and giving everyone an opportunity to wear trendy clothes (known as the democratisation of clothing). It is well known now about the rampant overconsumption that has begun to grip the western world – as fashion becomes increasingly cheaper and new trends come in increasingly faster. But what are the costs of this? Can the environment survive it?
SHIEN is one of the main culprits for fast-fashion, with it creating 315,000 styles this year alone. An ecommerce website that advertises itself as a B2C (business-to-consumer) – its obsession over new trends has allowed its revenue to grow from $2 billion in 2018 to £15.7 billion in 2021. But another thing allowing this growth to take place is the inhumane conditions it creates for factory workers.
Recently, a Public Eye investigation into the 17 factories supplying SHIEN found that workers within the global south were being overworked and exploited. It was reported that workers work 75 hour weeks – violating labour laws within not only China, but every country where SHIEN sources clothing. And as well as this, jobs are in a permanent state of insecurity due to workers being paid per item that they produce. This goes against the strict laws laid out within SHIEN’s own labour contracts, which state that they “comply with fair labour guidelines”.
And what about the environmental costs of fast fashion? Fast-fashion is not simply the fast paced manufacturing of clothes, but also the rapid disposal as well. This has drastic knock-on effects on the environment, as currently fashion is the second largest polluter. The US exporting 500,000 tonnes of clothes – and the majority of it ending up in landfills (as of 2020 only 1% of clothes were recycled).
And the production method can also be problematic – as 90% of clothing is made with cotton or polyester. Polyester is a famous synthetic, made up from oil, and cotton requires enormous amounts of water and pesticides to grow. In fact, every person’s clothing consumption within the EU emits 270kg of carbon yearly. And by 2050 the fashion industry may use a quarter of the world’s carbon budget.
However there is improvement taking place, and it is an improvement that can be easy to contribute to. Clothing is produced as a response to consumer needs, meaning individuals can change over manufacturing occurring if they decrease in consumption. Alternative fashion choices, such as shopping second hand or trading clothes, can decrease the demand for new clothes to be manufactured.
As well as this, governmental policies are beginning to take place – as seen within the new EU laws created last month. With pledges to push sustainability, creating long-lasting products, and decreasing the amount of greenwashing, there is a promising future for the decline of fast fashion – and also for the environment.
Whilst these policies are not being pushed within UK legislation (government rejecting 2019 environmental audit committee’s recommendations) there can be ways to push the movement towards sustainability. Writing to MPs, or signing petitions, can force the government to face the mounting environmental damages occurring.
How to help:
 Ugochukwu, Nnaemeka., 2021, https://ecowarriorprincess.net/2021/06/what-if-i-am-too-poor-to-care-who-made-my-clothes/  Mahmood, Zainab., Guardian., April 2022., https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2022/apr/18/ultra-fast-fashion-retail-sites-shein  Fressynet, Ines., Euronews., April 2022., https://www.euronews.com/green/2022/04/05/welcome-to-the-dark-side-shein-is-the-biggest-rip-off-since-fast-fashion-was-born  SHIEN., https://www.sheingroup.com/how-we-do-business/  Tabishat, Tala., 2022., How Clothes Harm the Environment., https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/15365042221083011  Bick, Rachel., Halsey, Erika., Ekenga, Christine., The global environmental injustice of fast fashion., 2018., https://ehjournal.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12940-018-0433-7  Briggs, Helen., BBC., Fast Fashion: European Union reveals fast fashion crackdown., March 2022., https://bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-60913226