It’s no secret that the world of fashion today is far from perfect. As one of the world’s top polluting industries, it is becoming increasingly hard to ignore the problematic practices it perpetuates. At the moment, the fashion industry is responsible for producing 100 billion items of clothing a year, while at the same time  ~11 million tons of textiles end up in landfills.


As you may have guessed, the scale at which fashion is currently produced has a devastating effect on the planet. As trends come and go at an unprecedented rate, the pressure to stay “in style” has never been higher. This resulted in lower prices as well as quality for the items produced by fast fashion companies, encouraging a throwaway culture where a piece is worn half as often as it was just 15 years ago (Ellen MacArthur Foundation). And what happens with the clothes afterwards? Most often than not, they end up in a landfill in the Global South, where they pollute the land of those who have the least to contribute to the issue.

But what makes overproduction possible while the prices of fast-fashion clothing are ever-decreasing?

1. Lack of fair wages in the supply chain

Good Clothes Fair Pay

As you can see from this diagram by Good Clothes Fair Pay, only 3% of the price of a T-shirt goes to the people who made it. According to the Made In Poverty report by Oxfam, the wages garment workers are paid deny them the ability to meet their basic needs. Pressured by retailers to meet deadlines, squeeze profits and remain competitive, factory owners are forced to employ temporary and casual workers, while also straining their own workforce. Forced overtime, wage deductions, and piece rates are just a few means of forcing workers to produce as much as possible.

These informal employment arrangements typically exclude garment workers (predominantly women) from standard labour legislation and benefits such as paid maternity leave, health insurance, and pension schemes. As a result, workers are outside the scope of many labour laws and have little recourse to justice when their rights are violated. Moreover, when demand falls as it did at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, the lack of formal employment contracts results in rapid lay-offs without unemployment benefits or social protection. 

2. Unsuitable health and safety measures across the supply chain

Another consequence of this race to the bottom is the fact that garment workers are also exposed to factors such as abuse, harassment, exposure to toxic chemicals, poor hygiene, as well as dangerous and long journeys home. Many garment workers are forced to operate in unsafe conditions and can be afraid to speak out for fear of retaliation. The situation culminated in 2013 when the Rana Plaza garment factory complex in Dhaka (Bangladesh) collapsed, killing 1,134 workers and injuring thousands more. The global garment industry is complicit in this tragedy.

3. Use of fossil-fuels derived fabrics

Synthetic fabrics such as polyester, nylon, or acrylic are fast fashion favourites. They are cheap to produce and can be used for any type of garment - from t-shirts and dresses to sportswear and even knitwear.

Polyester is a versatile plastic derived from petroleum, and its uses extend beyond the fashion industry. It’s the most used fibre in the world, with polyethylene terephthalate (PET) being the most commonly used variety of polyester in clothing. However, its production is closely linked to the oil manufacturing industry, which is the world’s largest polluter.

The connection with the fossil fuels industry aside, synthetics don’t break down in the environment. Instead, they pile up in landfills and shed “microplastics”, creating dangerous amounts of pollution.


Include, but are not limited to:

  • Slowing down production
  • Paying garment workers fair wages
  • Ensuring proper health and safety measures across the supply chain
  • Using natural or innovative fabrics and phasing out virgin plastic from clothing
  • Implementing truly circular models and having brands take account for the waste they create

There are many people and organisations that are already fighting to change the industry, such as The OR Foundation, Fashion Revolution, Collective Fashion Justice or Clean Clothes Campaign, and they need as much support as possible. This is where you and I come in!

Although these issues are systemic and deeply entrenched in how capitalism works, consumers still hold a tremendous amount of power. Here are some things you can start doing today to help make the fashion industry better:

  • Be more mindful of your purchases by supporting smaller businesses and reducing buying new when possible.
  • Sign petitions and call on big brands to change their practices (e.g. Sign the GoodClotherFairPay campaign or email Nike and Adidas to pay their workers).
  • Bring these issues up with your friends and spread awareness.
Andra Andrus

About the Author

The above great blog has been written by Andra Andrus.

Andra is a software engineer who is a passionate advocate of climate justice and what it means in the context of fashion.

Check out her Insta site where she shares tips on how to give up fast fashion.

101 Ways to Give Up Fast Fashion