Fast fashion is a large sector of the fashion industry whose business model relies on cheap, rapid, and large-scale production of low-quality clothing. While affordable prices and items that reflect the latest fashion trends are extremely attractive, especially to younger shoppers, the environmental and social impacts of the industry are often overlooked. Here are 11 fast fashion facts you should know to help you become a more conscious consumer.

1. 100 Billion Items of Clothing Are Produced Each Year

That translates to nearly 14 items for every human being on the planet. Based on these jaw-dropping high figures, it should come to no surprise that global clothing production represents the third largest manufacturing industry in the world, preceded only by the automotive and technology industries.

2. The Average Person Only Wears 20% of Their Clothes 80% of the Time

The modern shopping model – which relies on rapid production and cheap deals – encourages excessive consumption as people are inherently attracted to low-priced goods. For individual buyers, it is also easier and more economic to snatch up cheap clothes that have short lifespans compared to splurging on high-quality, long-lasting pieces that will very shortly fall out of popularity. Yet, despite owning large quantities of fashion items, studies show that most people wear the same things over and over, while in most cases at least 50% of their wardrobe is left untouched. 

3. The Target Audience for Fast Fashion Retailers Is Largely Consumers Aged 18 to 24 

A 2016 study found that brands consciously target young consumers, often students with low incomes, with females of this age group found to shop in fast fashion retailers more than any other demographic groups. Not surprisingly, cheap prices and trendy styles are the key attractions for such audiences. In fact, the authors of the study argue that young consumers are usually more willing to sacrifice premium quality for a lower price and more variety.

4. Fast Fashion Companies Generate More Pollution Than International Aviation and Shipping Combined 

Given its business model, fast fashion is inherently among the most environmentally damaging industries in the world and it is contributing to global pollution and climate change in an astronomical way. If fast fashion were a country, its carbon emissions would rank almost as high as the entire European continent. The emissions derive not only from the manufacturing process itself but also from the shipment of clothing around the world, as well as their disposal. 

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5. 60% of Clothes Are Made With Plastic-based Materials

On top of CO2 emissions being one of the major sources of pollution deriving from the fast fashion industry, garments are also a huge source of microplastics. A large portion of clothing made today uses durable and cheap materials such as nylon or polyester. It is estimated that approximately 60% of fast fashion items are produced with plastic-based (which is made from fossil fuels) fabrics. Throughout their life cycles, these fabrics are significantly contributing to the worldwide plastic pollution crisis. With each wash and dry, especially the latter, sheds microfilaments that move through our sewage systems and end up in waterways. Researchers estimate that half a million tons of these contaminants reach the ocean each year.

6. The Fashion Industry Consumes Around 93 Billion Cubic Metres of Water Each Year

To produce a typical pair of janes alone, it takes around 2,000 gallons (7.6 cubic metres) of water. When you put together all the jeans and clothing produced each year, the sector is consuming monstrous amounts of water. However, that is not the only issue concerning environmentalists. Much of the water used is left contaminated by toxic chemicals. According to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), 20% of global wastewater comes from textile dyeing alone. 

7. We Discard 92 Million Tonnes of Textile Waste That the Industry Generates Annually

From clothes that do not fit anymore, items that have gone out of fashion, or even clothes that have never been worn, consumers discard enormous quantities of fashion items each year. In America alone, the average person throws away around 81 pounds (37kg) of clothing yearly. This leads to a staggering 85% of textile produced in the country ending up in landfills or being burned. 

8. More than USD$500 Billion Are Lost from Lack of Recycling and Clothing Underutilisation 

While we are constantly coming up with new, innovative technologies to recycle textiles, we are still not doing enough. It is estimated that less than 11% of fashion brands have implemented recycling strategies for their items. The main reason why recycling is so hard is because of the materials we use to manufacture fashion items. Most are produced with synthetic fibres that are made with crude oil, which makes them almost impossible to reuse in other ways. Fortunately, data shows that the sustainable and ethical fashion market is growing rapidly, offering alternatives that produce clothing with more environmentally friendly materials, that are grown and harvested in a sustainable way, and produced with fewer resources and less toxic materials.

fast fashion facts

Figure 1: The Expansion of the Global Ethical Fashion Market

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9. 80% of Apparel is Made by Young Women Between the Ages of 18 and 24

Besides the environmental impacts, fast fashion also has huge social repercussions. Low price tags are often a signal that something is wrong behind the scenes. Too often, the industry is associated with issues such as child labour, the exploitation of workers as well as violations of basic workers’ rights, such as the lack of safety rules, low salaries, and excessive working hours. Fast fashion brands prioritise mass production and profit over human welfare. Some go as far as describing the fast fashion industry as a ‘modern form of slavery’. A 2018 US Department of Labor report found evidence of forced and child labour in the fashion industry in Argentina, Bangladesh, Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Philippines, Turkey, and Vietnam. 

10. 59% of All Sustainability Claims by European Fashion Brands Are Inaccurate and Misleading

More often than not, environmental claims from fast fashion companies are nothing more than a marketing strategy, as a 2021 investigation by the Changing Market Foundation found. Having a sustainable clothing line does not automatically mean that the brand is eco-friendly. Greenwashing occurs when companies spend much more time and resources marketing their sustainability plans than actually executing them. Fashion giants promote misleading information to make consumers believe they are ethical or appear to value transparency by sharing information regarding their emissions only to forget to set clear targets to lower them.

11. The European Union is Moving to Tackle Fast Fashion Industries

In April 2022, the European Commission announced plans to put an end to fast fashion by 2030 by introducing a mandatory minimum use of recycled fibres and banning companies from sending any unsold clothing and textile products to landfills. Under the new expansion of the EU’s existing eco-design rules, which set down energy efficiency standards for consumer goods such as toasters and washing machines, companies operating in the bloc will be required to include a certain amount of recycled content in their goods, or curb the use of materials that make them hard to recycle

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