All You Need to Know About Fast Fashion

How does fast fashion impact the environment? Should we continue to buy fast fashion if it means hurtling towards an even more grave state of global warming?

Carbon Footprint 👣


6 min


July 1, 2022


Table of contents

What do you need to know about fast fashion before you head off to the mall for your well-deserved shopping spree?

It turns out that customers, and even companies – are being made aware of the harsh carbon footprint that fast fashion leaves behind. 

Clothing retailers, trying to create a steady consumer base in an age where newer is better and what constitutes as, “in style” keeps getting shorter and shorter – often turn to fast fashion to keep profits high, customers seeking the newest fashion trends happy, and to maintain industrialization costs despite how it negatively affects the environment. 🌎

Fast fashion does absolutely nothing to promote corporate sustainability 

So, why do companies keep promoting fast fashion – and why we do keep buying into it?

❓ What is Fast Fashion?

First of all, what is fast fashion?

Fast fashion is most commonly referred to as mass produced, cost-effective clothing that mimic the latest fashion trends and are quickly produced in order to promote a company’s stylistic and modernized awareness for the consumer. 

Fast fashion gets its name from its business design – where everything is done at rapid fire speed. 🔥

The process of fast fashion includes quickly designing the garment, sped-up production, distribution, and instantaneous marketing – and this is all done at a swift speed so that retailers can produce large quantities of these garments and proceed to sell them at a cheap price, all while still making a profit and pertaining to stylistic trends currently depicted on social media. 📱

👗 How did fast fashion start? 

How did fast fashion start? 🤔 The term, “fast fashion” was first used at the beginning of the 1990s, when Zara opened in New York.

The New York Times used the phrase, “fast fashion” to explain Zara’s goal to take a fashion piece from the stages of being designed to hanging on a clothing store rack in a mere 15 days. 📅

Hence the term fast fashion – a garment of clothing not highly anticipated, and that can be produced quickly without much notice or genuine thought to how that industrialization may negatively affect other sectors, such as the environment. 

The primary purpose of fast fashion is to sell the new style concept as soon as possible before another fashion trend gets the chance to. 

Why did Fast Fashion become so popular?

Why did fast fashion become so popular?

As consumerism and capitalism dominated the culture of the United States – fast fashion became an easy way to feed into these stereotypical American ideals: that more and newer and cheaper is better.

In other words, fast fashion subscribes to the American notion that quantity is better than quality. 

It’s “cooler” for a millennial or Gen Z to be wearing something trendy than sustainable. 

💭Think about it: a fifteen-year-old in sophomore geometry class isn’t going to know if their classmate’s t-shirt was bought from a sustainable clothing brand – but they will immediately recognize if it’s a popular style. 

Fast fashion has provided young consumers with the opportunity to follow fashion trends at an affordable price, and therefore – has continued to skyrocket at the pace that it has due to its opportunity to provide trendy garments at affordable prices.

Why is fast fashion bad for the environment?

So, why is fast fashion so detrimental to the environment? Because fast fashion is contingent on inexpensive, accelerated production – fast fashion promotes unnecessary, excessive consumption.

It is more appealing for someone to be able to go to a store like Forever 21, and buy 10 new dresses for the same price as one at a more sustainable clothing store. 

The lifespan of the clothing garment isn’t the predominant thought that comes to mind when shopping: it’s how much can I buy with the little money that I have? 💵

This problem of quantity over quality in fast fashion continues to support the business model of fast fashion, which is an inevitably deleterious cycle that only adds on to the existing textile waste created by clothing every day.

Not only is most fast fashion not biodegradable, but the industrialization of fast fashion impacts water usage, microplastics, and energy consumption.

Fast fashion provokes the need to use non-renewable resources, which in turn causes a higher emissions of greenhouse gases and large amounts of water. 💧

Unbeknownst to most, the fashion industry uses nearly 700 gallons of water to produce one 1️⃣cotton shirt – and the process of dying clothing is toxic to the environment as all, as residual dye is often outsourced into clean water resources like streams or rivers. 

Fast fashion makes use of synthetic fibers such as polyester, nylon and acrylic – which aren’t biodegradable friendly.  In fact, one third of microplastics in the ocean are from the materials used to produce fast fashion. 🤯

The process of creating these plastic fibers for fast fashion demands a large use of energy, such as petroleum and other gasses that emit harmful substances into the atmosphere.

It is also imperative to note the social impact of fast fashion. 

Fast fashion easily persuades consumers to purchase their clothing garments, even if they aren’t good for the environment, solely for the sake of staying on trend in the fashion industry – which only further contributes to the poor impact that fast fashion has on the environment. 

😈 Which clothing brands are the worst for the environment?

So, what are the worst clothing companies that you should avoid if you’re seeking to be more eco-friendly in your fashion choices? 

Forever 21

It turns out the ‘forever’ in Forever 21 isn’t as eternal as we thought.

Forever 21 is notorious for using cheap materials that harm the environment once the clothes are thrown away. In short, the fabric that Forever 21 uses to manufacture their clothing isn’t biodegradable – meaning once it’s made… it takes a long time for it to disintegrate.


Though Zara is the flagship company for the concept of fast fashion, they have been trying to establish more transparency and better environmental sustainability – such as aiming to reduce harmful chemicals in textile production, waste in landfills, and water waste. 

Still, Zara is currently emitting these toxic chemicals into the environment for their textible production – which doesn’t make them the most sustainable choice for clothing at the moment. 


Similar to Forever 21, H&M promotes fast fashion that is sourced through fabrics and microplastics that harm the environment.

H&M’s disposable garments ultimately end up sitting in landfill after the fashion trend has passed. 


UNIQLO also follows the fast fashion business model that negatively impacts the environment. 

Despite the fact that this clothing brand offers basic wardrobe items and doesn’t subscribe to the notion of copying recent fashion trends – they still produce disposable clothing that isn’t sustainable for fashion. 

Urban Outfitters

Marketed to appeal to millennials and hipster trends for aesthetically pleasing, instagrammable fashion – Urban Outfitters isn’t just a hit in North America, but there are over 200 stores globally. 

However, Urban Outfitters is awful for the environment – they don’t measure their carbon emissions, don’t promote transparency with their customers, and 

It is important to note that just because a store like Urban Outfitters is more expensive than a store like Forever 21 – doesn’t mean it immediately qualifies as more sustainable. 

🤩 What is slow fashion?

Now that we’ve talked about fast fashion, what is slow fashion?

Slow fashion is a solution in attempts to counteract the negative effects of fast fashion. ↩️

Slow fashion strives to reduce superfluous, accelerated production, poor supply chains, and continuous consumption – by respecting their employees as well as the environment and animals. 🐒

💚 Which clothing brands are most sustainable for the environment? 

If you’re able to do some searching on the internet before shopping to see which clothing brands are more sustainable and worth purchasing – the planet will thank you. 

And it’s becoming easier too – as most of our shopping is being done online anyways as e-commerce continues to grow. 

Luckily, at Greenly we’re making it even easier for you – and we’ve compiled a list of the most affordable, sustainable fashion brands for you to check out next time you’re shopping online or in person for clothes!

1. For Days

For Days is the future of sustainable fashion – every piece of clothing the sell is made of recyclable materials, and they even offer for their garments to be returned after you’ve outgrown it to promote a closed-loop system for sustainability. 

👉 What is a closed-loop system? A closed loop system is the concept and method of keeping already made garments in circulation for as long as possible – for instancing, repairing already existing garments or thrift shopping.


ABLE is a female empowered, fair-trade sustainable clothing brand that aims to create equal opportunities around the world. 

This slow fashion brand accomplishes this goal by abiding to responsible sourcing, and even cooler – all the bags, shoes, and day-to-day garments are made by women who have faced extraordinary circumstances. 

ABLE also allows their customers to try the clothes before they buy them, even though they are an online retailer. By doing this, ABLE prevents textile waste – because people often purchase the wrong size clothing, and are too lazy to return it.

3. Patagonia 

Patagonia is a great choice for sustainable clothing as they strive to lessen their environmental impact and market to their customers the importance of only buying what you need.

Patagonia also uses recycled materials to avoid textile waste, and offers free-repair on any Patagonia garment.

4. Levi’s

Did you know that this beloved denim brand is also sustainable? 

Levi’s has made it their mission to sustainably source their cotton, reduce water waste, and increase their use of recycled materials. ♻️

Overall, it is smart to read the labels of the clothes you plan to buy before heading to the checkout counter – more sustainable fabrics include wild silk, organic cotton, linen, hemp and lyocell. 🌱

💪 Should you stop buying fast fashion all together?

Should you shop at stores like Forever 21, Zara, or H&M at all?

Now that there are so many options for sustainable clothing that don’t break the bank – the need for fast fashion isn’t as necessary as it once was.

However, American holidays like Halloween call the need for quick, cheap costume ideas that most will still turn to fast fashion for. 

Think of fast fashion like eating in moderation. It’s not going to kill you to eat pasta or chocolate every now and then – but it’s best to not get in the habit of doing it on a daily basis

✅ 3 Ways You Can Help the Environment even if you still buy fast fashion!

Can’t afford high quality, sustainable clothing? Here are a few tips on some things you can do to make the most of your fast fashion pieces so that they don’t go to waste or straight to landfill.

1. Thrift Shopping

Thrift shopping has become more popular than ever – but did you know that it’s also better for the environment?

Thrift shopping promotes the concept of second-hand fast fashion – which lowers the costs of clothing production all while improving the environment by reducing textile waste. 

Thrift shopping is a great alternative to fast fashion that is better for both your wallet 👛and the planet! 🌏

2. Donation

Do a closet clean out! 👔 One of the easiest ways to promote fashion sustainability is to donate your old clothes so that they are put to good use elsewhere instead of unnecessarily sitting around, or worse – in a pile of landfill.

The time-old motto really is the best way to decide if you really still need to keep something in your closet – if you haven’t worn it in a year, the chances you’ll wear it in the next year are slim.

Skim through the hangers in your closet, because the truth is – a lot of us hoard clothing that we don’t wear often enough to keep in our wardrobe. 

There is someone out there who could really use whatever you aren’t wearing, and then any fast fashion pieces that you bought won’t really be going to waste – they will be reused and recycled for a worthy purpose.

3. Ensure the piece you buy will be worn

Being in my early twenties living in a cosmopolitan city, I myself can’t afford to shop at some of the sustainable fashion stores mentioned above. Admittedly, much of my wardrobe is from Forever 21.

So, does that make me a contributor to fast fashion? 🕶 Yes and no. 

While I have contributed to purchasing fast fashion in the past – I still own and wear many pieces of clothing I bought from Forever 21 several years ago. 

Quantity over quality in general isn’t good when it comes to promoting sustainability in fashion, but because I have so many pieces from Forever 21 – they don’t get worn as often as they would if I had fewer, higher quality pieces of clothing. 

If the cheap, ethically unsustainable basics you buy will be worn for years to come – they ultimately become sustainable. 👏🏻

In all, fast fashion isn’t good for the environment – but if you can justify the reasoning for your fast fashion purchase, and aim to do better for the environment in terms of fashion in the future, those are all good first steps 👣 to take to make the world a better place. 🌍

🍀 What About Greenly?

If reading this article about fast fashion and its environmental impact has made you interested in reducing your carbon emission to further fight against climate change – Greenly can help you!

Greenly can help you make an environmental change for the better, starting with a carbon footprint assessment to know how much carbon emissions your company produces.

Click here to learn more about Greenly and how we can help you reduce your carbon footprint. 

🚀 if you enjoyed reading this article, here are a few more :

Help us spread awareness

Ines Gendre

Join hundreds of companies trusting in Greenly with their ecological transition