Fast Fashion has many secrets that the apparel industry has been trying to hide from its customers. But unfortunately, it has a negative impact on the environment and the people who work in the sector. So we’ve created an extensive list of fast fashion facts as a reference resource.
Retailers and brands in this industry make a lot of money by aggressively selling low quality and cheaply made new clothes without much consideration for the environment.
The supply chains of these operations work like well-oiled machines, and catwalk looks can be turned into high street fashion rapidly. New products are usually brought into the store weekly, and stores can have up to 52 micro seasons. Yes, that’s right, 52 new trends.
With these tactics, the industry has changed our perception of clothing and the lifespan of a single garment, pushing us to shop more often for low prices. Unfortunately, this has led to an oversupply of apparel. Some of which will end up in a landfill, unworn, somewhere in the world.
How Does the Fast Fashion Industry Affect the Environment?
Fast fashion brands have a significant environmental impact, especially regarding carbon emissions, waste management and pollution.
According to Quantis, the fashion industry contributes roughly 8.1% of global carbon emissions. The UN Alliance estimates this to be around 10%. Regardless of who’s estimate is correct, that is more emissions than international shipping and aviation combined.
Note that there might be slight duplications and variations on our list, but we wanted to create this page as a comprehensive reference page for current research and reports. Of course, research isn’t always perfect, but it gives us a good understanding of the state of things.
We’ve created an infographic previously with some of these facts. Feel free to share and help spread the word. You can find the fast fashion statistics infographic here.
Fast Fashion Facts: General Production and Climate Impact
- The global fashion industry is responsible for 10% of global carbon emissions, UN Alliance for Sustainable Fashion 2019
- An astonishing 20% of clothing may never be worn, 2018
- A single pair of jeans requires a kilogram of cotton, UN Alliance 2018
- Clothing production doubled between 2000 and 2014, Greenpeace 2017
- The Sales of clothing have almost doubled between 2002 and 2015, rising from 1 trillion USD to 1.8 trillion USD, Greenpeace 2017
- The average person will buy around 60% more clothing than they need and keep them roughly half as long as they would’ve done 15 years ago, Greenpeace 2017
- In one single month, new clothing bought in the UK had a more significant carbon footprint than flying a plane around the world 900 times, Oxfam 2019
- A single new cotton white shirt produces the same amount of carbon emissions as driving 35 miles in a car, Oxfam 2019
- Footwear and apparel account for around 8.1% of global climate impact (3,990 million metric tons CO2eq), Quantis 2018
- Dyeing and finishing, two energy-intensive processes, are the primary drivers of the apparel industry’s climate impact globally, Quantis 2018
- Production’s impact on climate change in the fashion industry increased by 35% between 2005 and 2016 and is projected to rise steadily until between 2020 and 2030, Quantis 2018
- People in North America consume 37kgs of textiles each a year, the most significant amount globally.
- Western Europe consumes 22kg of textiles a year.
- Africa, the Middle East, and India average around 5kg of textiles per person per year
- Overall, clothing is worn less. The average number of times a garment a piece of clothing is worn has decreased by 36% over the last 15 years, Ellen MacArthur Foundation, 2017
- Emissions from producing textiles equated to 1.2 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent, more than the combined emissions of international flights and maritime shipping, Ellen MacArthur Foundation, 2017
- More than 54% of fashion brands score 20% or less in the Fashion Transparency Index, 2020
- Only 7% of fashion brands are publishing their raw material suppliers, Fashion Transparency Index 2020
- Up to 30% of Wood-based natural fibres used in textiles come from endangered and primary forests, D.G. McCullough, 2014
- Water and soil pollution from toxic chemicals used in plantations drive habitat loss and endangered species unless the process is 100% closed loop, McKinsey 2020
Fast Fashion Facts: Working Conditions and Wages in the Industry
- Around 75% of garment workers in factories are women.
- Export factories often employ young, single women and let them go when they get married or get pregnant, Wiego
- Quite often, some of the higher-skilled tasks in garment factories are done by men, Wiego
- Working hours in garment factories are long and can range from 14 to 16 hours a day, 7 days a week. Sustain Your Style.
- Female garment workers are often too scared to speak, driven by a culture that blames the victim for inflicted violence.
- In some cases, overtime is not even paid.
- Some workers may work until 2 or 3 am during peak times to meet set deadlines, Clean Clothes Campaign.
- Around one in eight workers in the world is involved in the Fashion and textile industry.
- Garment factories often subcontract work to those who work at home. In Ahmedabad, India, these home workers earn between as little as US$0.43 and US$4.32 per day, but most make under US$2.00, Wiego
- In Lahore Pakistan, the wages of subcontractors vary between $0.25 and $5.21, but many earn less than $1.00, Wiego
- Garment workers tend to be recruited under “flexible” contracts: where they are hired during peak seasons and let go during quieter periods, Wiego
- In most leading apparel-exporting countries, wages of garment workers have either declined or stagnated over the last ten years.
- Most garment workers in clothing factories aren’t unionised and don’t have a set minimum wage. They also get no benefits.
- Buildings are often poorly ventilated, leaving workers to breathe in toxic substances, blasted sand in unsafe buildings or fibre dust.
- Accidents, fire and illness are frequent in garment factories.
- On many occasions, workers face verbal and sometimes physical abuse.
- Sadly workers are sometimes taught to lie to auditors sent to check up on working conditions.
- Despite widespread criticism, child labor is still common, especially in the cotton industry, World Vision.
- Both physical and sexual abuse of child cotton labourers have been reported, World Vision.
- In some countries, the removal of children from schools is Government sanctioned to harvest cotton, World Vision.
- By exploiting workers, large fashion houses throughout the world have made huge profits, Fashion Revolution.
- 93% of brands surveyed by Fashion Checker aren’t paying their garment workers a living wage
- Only 23% of retailers publish their approach to achieving a living wage for their workers, Fashion Transparency Index 2020
Fast Fashion Facts on Water Consumption and Pollution
- The fashion industry generates 20% of global wastewater, UN Alliance 2018
- A kilogram of cotton requires about 7,500–10,000 litres of water to produce, UN Alliance 2018
- When producing fibres, cotton production uses 24% of the total water consumption for all fibres produced, Quantis 2018
- Cotton accounts for around 16 % of global insecticide use, World Vision.
- Textiles production uses around 93 billion cubic metres of water a year, Ellen MacArthur Foundation, 2017
- 25% of all water pollution caused by industrial activity globally is due to the dyeing and treatment of textiles, European Parliamentary research service, 2019
- Three Thousand litres of water is needed to produce one cotton shirt, Pulse of the fashion industry 2017
- The impact of organic cotton on water pollution is shown as 98% less than non-organic cotton production, Water Footprint Network.
- It is estimated that around 8,000 synthetic chemicals are used to produce textiles.
- Wastewater from textile production contains toxins such as lead and mercury, contaminating aquatic life.
- Most Fast fashion companies use an open-loop cycle method when disposing of products during production. This means waste goes straight outside to pollute water and land, The New York Times, 2019
- Apparel supply chains are linked to soil degeneration and waterway pollution, McKinsey 2020
Facts About Plastic Use and Micro Plastics in Fast Fashion Garments
- Up to 64% of all fabrics are made of plastic, Friends of the Earth 2018
- A single washing load of clothing can shed up to 17 million tiny plastic fibres into the water supply, Friends of the Earth, 2018
- Microfibres have been found in the air, rivers, drinking water, beer, table salt and the arctic ocean, Friends of the Earth 2018
- The industry aims to double its use of polyester by 2030, Greenpeace.
- Roughly half a million tonnes of microfibre plastics are shed during the washing of plastic-based fabrics such as nylon, acrylic and polyester and end up in our oceans every year, Ellen MacArthur Foundation, 2017
- It’s estimated that 35% of microplastic pollution in the oceans comes from the washing of synthetic textiles, Julian Boucher and Damien Friot, 2017
- Microplastic pollution has been found near the summit of Mount Everest and the deepest point on the earth – the Mariana Trench, The Guardian 2020
- Microplastics have been found in the placentas of unborn babies, The Guardian 2020
How Much Waste Does Fast Fashion Brands Produce?
- In the UK, roughly 350,000 tonnes of clothing ends up in landfill every year (WRAP 2012)
- The used clothing industry reached 4.3 million tonnes, and many of these items are unlikely to be worn ever again by Greenpeace.
- Less than 1% of the textiles and materials used to produce garments are recycled into new items, 2019 Fixing Fashion.
- Even though some countries collect high rates of textiles for reuse and recycling, most of the collected items are exported to countries with no collection infrastructure, which means it still ends up in a landfill.
- The supply of unwanted clothing donated for reuse far exceeds its demand, according to the 2018 Clothing Sustainability Research Group.
- More than 32% of people surveyed by Nottingham Trent University aren’t interested in buying second-hand clothing, 2018 Clothing Sustainability Research Group.
- More than 28% of people surveyed by Nottingham Trent University admitted that they buy more than they need, 2018 Clothing Sustainability Research Group.
- One in three young women consider a garment worn once or twice as being old in the UK, The Guardian 2019
- 73% of textile waste is incinerated or ends up in a landfill, which will release pollutants into its surroundings, Ellen MacArthur Foundation, 2017
- Anywhere from 30 to 300 species per hectare can be lost during the creation of a single landfill site, Sciencing 2018
What Can You Do to Help?
Below are a few ideas of what you can do to help reduce the impact of your wardrobe on the environment. These action points are linked to some of the posts we’ve written on the topic previously, so feel free to read those articles for more info:
- Invest in sustainable fashion brands rather than buying from fast-fashion retailers
- Look out for sustainable swimwear made from recycled fibres rather than virgin fibres.
- Consider buying second hand from thrift stores.
- Learn more about how the clothing recycling process works
- Think about the end of life of your clothing. What to do with clothing that can’t be donated, for example?
If you have any additional stats to add to this list, please leave them in the comments below.