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Fast fashion: A brief overview of the impacts and explanations

Fast fashion is a term that describes an industry producing clothes quickly and at low prices. This sector has up to 52 collections per year, meaning astronomical quantities of clothing. Consumers often need to be made aware of the impact of these practices on the environment. Indeed, if fast fashion benefits our wallets, it harms society and the environment. Although the prices are low, the quality, conditions, and production techniques are terrible.

Environmental impact

The fast fashion industry is devastating on many points, one of them being water overconsumption. Approximately 3,000 liters of water are required for a single t-shirt. A large part of the world’s water consumption comes from this industry. In addition to consuming a lot, the fast fashion industry is also very polluting. Indeed, in some regions with insufficient environmental regulations, large quantities of contaminated water are discharged into the oceans.

The low price is justified by the materials used for the production. Polyester is an artificial material derived from oil. It is the most used textile fiber in the market (70% of synthetic fibers are used for clothing). Similarly, viscose is very polluting. Globally, synthetic materials are not recyclable and are derived from fossil fuels. Three hundred forty-two million oil barrels are used yearly to produce synthetic fibers. This contributes enormously to the emission of greenhouse gases.

The microplastics contained in these low-quality materials are also damaging. 35% of microplastics are held in clothing. They cause significant damage to water pollution and ecosystems. In addition to polluting the water, these microplastics can be ingested by fish and end up in our plates. The industry emits the equivalent of 1.2 million tons of CO2. Every step, from raw material to garment disposal, has a negative impact.

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The evolution of Fast-fashion

Another problem with fast-fashion consumption is overconsumption. Since fast-fashion articles are cheap, of poor quality, with a short life cycle, and considering all the new items produced (overproduction), consumers buy and accumulate without thinking about the consequences. Nowadays, fast-fashion products are so cheap that sustainable alternatives seem too expensive.

Online shopping has expanded in recent years following the COVID crisis. Studies show a global increase in online shopping. Another reason for this expansion is the new media. Indeed, new communication channels such as social media are fundamental sales tools, especially for the younger generations. By simplifying the purchasing process, e-commerce encourages a culture of compulsive buying and overconsumption. Even if carbon emissions come mainly from production and not from distribution, the CO2 impact and digital pollution remain essential.

Information needs to be sufficiently expressed, made available, and popularized. Consumers need to be better informed about the impact of their consumption. The big fast fashion brands favor profit or greenwashing at the expense of the environment.

Achieving better and more responsible consumption is essential when CO2 emissions must be eliminated by 2050. Reducing the consumption of fast fashion considerably could reduce toxic substances, create better water management, and especially a considerable reduction in greenhouse gases. This mission is directly linked to Sustainable development goal number 12.

Consumption decision process

Consumers’ approach to consumption is significantly affected by how they make their decisions. Indeed, some consumers consider fashion and purchases to be related to their desires and personal needs. Their person is the most important thing. In contrast, others see the welfare of the community and humanity as essential. Indeed, their consumption is more focused on the need and less on the desire. They place global well-being first and their needs second. Overall, self-focused people are more likely to consume fast fashion, with a prevalence of pursuing their needs without considering the environmental or social consequences. The consumption of fast fashion and sustainable alternatives is based on balancing personal finances (short-term) and environmental and social well-being (long-term). People who consume fast fashion are more concerned with their wallets than their purchases’ situation and impacts. They are generally indifferent to sustainable issues. On the other hand, individuals focused on global rather than personal well-being will perceive the problems resulting from fast fashion. These people will be more likely to turn to alternatives or reduce their consumption if they do not need to.

Besides personality and sensitivity effects, the situation also plays an important role. Impulse buying, for example, means that consumers are more likely to make the wrong choice and turn to fast fashion. They will need more time to consider their purchases or possible sustainable alternatives. The contrary applies in the case of hedonic behavior. Indeed, hedonic choice responds to psychological satisfaction rather than an impulse. In this case, the purchase will be thoughtful and made primarily for well-being. The alternatives will have been evaluated, and the purchase decision will be made with full knowledge of the facts.

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Limits to behavior change

Correct choices in hedonic situations result from good consumer knowledge. Education and information are vital. Even if consumers are aware of issues, they need to realize them. They need to know the negative impacts and alternatives and how to deal with them.

Today, there are many alternatives to fast fashion. On the one hand, more sustainable clothing exists thanks to their origins, the materials they use, the production, or the fact that they can be recycled, for example. Also, many second-hand platforms or physical or online thrift stores have appeared. They give a second life to clothes, reducing waste and direct consumption. Also, consumers can care about the origin of their purchases and educate themselves on materials or quality. However, it is essential to accelerate the process, help them, and provide them with information directly. For example, data must be easily accessible and popularized. Generally, it is challenging for a non-specialist in the field to understand the terms used easily for sustainability issues. Also, it is difficult to find the information as it is not easily accessible.

Manon Guiraud
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Covid-19 has changed online shopping forever, survey shows. UNCTAD. (n.d.). Retrieved June 27, 2022, from https://unctad.org/fr/node/28850

McNeill, L., & Moore, R. (2015). Sustainable fashion consumption and the fast fashion conun- drum: fashionable consumers and attitudes to sustainability in clothing choice. International Journal of Consumer Studies, 39(3), 212-222.

Bhardwaj, V., & Manchiraju, S. (2017, January). The role of impulse buying, hedonism, and consumer knowledge towards sustainable consumption of fast fashion. In International Textile and Apparel Association (ITAA) Annual Conference Proceedings. St. Petersburg, Florida. Re- cuperado de https://lib.dr.iastate.edu/itaa_proceedings/2017/presentations/151

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