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Fast Fashion Materials and Their Environmental Impact

Fast Fashion has been sweeping the nation for its accessibility and price. However, these quick and easily-accessible clothing brands aren't as harmless as they appear. As Fast Fashion grows, so does the environmental impact it leaves behind. 

Fast Fashion consists of  clothing produced inexpensively at a rapid rate, usually by mass-market retailers, who seek a quick method to sell the latest trends. These mass-market retailers consist of stores found on popular websites and in almost every mall.

In order to keep up with the latest trends, Fast Fashion brands search for the cheapest and fastest way to keep up with the latest trends. Many clothing items are mass-produced young cotton, nylon, and polyester materials. These materials may appear harmless to the eye, but they have a greater impact on the environment than most people believe.  

Cotton is the most profitable non-food crop in the world. The cotton industry makes up 7% of all labor in developing countries. Cotton, however, is not very safe for the environment once it's mass produced for clothing. Cotton cultivation, the process of  plowing the stalks and leaves of the cotton plants under the soil to grow new cotton, actually degrades the quality of the soil in which it is grown. For the past 70 years, cotton has depleted the soil of these farming areas. Cotton production usually involves the use of fertilizers and pesticides, which not only pollute the soil, but also the water through contaminated runoff. Many farmers and civilians face health risks because of the pollutants contaminating their rivers, lakes, and other wetlands. Cotton may be produced by the environment, but the mass production of the plant is only hurting it. 

Nylon, unlike cotton, is a completely synthetic material. It is the first fabric to be made entirely in a laboratory, and is a polymer thermoplastic produced from polyamide monomers extracted from oil, or petroleum. Nylon is not biodegradable, and its production is an energy-intensive process that creates toxic gasses and releases them into the atmosphere. ​​Adipic acid, which is used in making most nylon fabrics, releases nitrous oxide into the air. Nitrous Oxide is considered to be 300 times worse than Carbon Dioxide to the environment. Nylon production also releases microplastics into the waterways. Since microplastics aren’t biodegradable, they reside in landfills and pile up on land, where they remain indefinitely. Thankfully, some forms of this material are recyclable, but not all possess this trait. 

Polyester is a synthetic material similar to Nylon, and is made out of petroleum. This fabric is one of the world's most popular and cheapest fabrics to make. Polyester originally began its climb to popularity in 1926 as “Terylene,” which was first made in the UK by W.H. Carothers. British scientists further perfected the ethylene fabric, which caught the eyes of American producers. Ethylene polyester is the most commonly-produced form of the fabric. The compound ethylene serves as a polymer, which interacts with other chemicals. Polyester has environmental impacts at every stage of its lifecycle. The use of fossil fuels to create petroleum is only the beginning of polyester’s detrimental environmental impact. After petroleum is produced, Ethylene is processed Polyethylene Terephthalate fibers, a procedure that releases more harmless gasses into the air. Once the polymer clothing is made, washing it releases microfibers into the environment, specifically in waterways. Polyester is one of the most dangerous materials to the environment. 


Although these harmful materials exist and are being mass-produced throughout the world, that doesn't mean there is nothing people can do to diminish the impact of Fast Fashion on the planet. These materials are not unavoidable, and here are some alternatives to harmful clothing materials:

Hemp does not require the use of pesticides to produce its fabric. It also requires less water for its production than cotton does. Hemp clothing is very soft and nearly twice as durable as cotton clothing. Hemp comes from the Cannabis Sativa plant, and it contains a lesser amount of THC. Hemp fabric is created from long strands of the stalk, which are separated from the plant in a process called “retting.” It is then spun together and woven into a fabric. Hemp can grow in almost every climate, which makes it a highly-sustainable fabric.

Recycled polyester is a great choice, too, as it turns something old and non-biodegradable into something new. Once polyester clothing is worn down, it can be recycled and made into new clothing. It takes less energy to use recycled plastics than it does to create new plastics. However, there is still a concern with the chemicals involved in recycling polyester getting into waterway systems. The process of re-dying the plastic materials also involves heavy chemicals that are harmful to the environment. Although it's a better alternative, recycled polyester still has its flaws. 

Linen is a flax-based material that is woven from the flax plant stem into fabric. It is pulled from the stem of the flax plant to be woven into yarn. There are little to no chemicals used in the plant’s production. It requires low levels of water to grow, and emits much lower concentrations of Carbon Dioxide than cotton. Although there are typically no chemicals used in linen production, the occasional chemicals that are involved in the production process don't end up in the final product. Linen, while still a soft fabric, also has a crisper feel to it. This fabric is often used in sheets rather than clothing, but can be worn nonetheless. 

If you haven't already bought these clothing items, try them out. Once you're done with them, sell them online or donate them to the local thrift store.

Despite various companies making clothing out of harmful materials, it's up to you to put a stop to it. With these harmful materials ending up in our landfill it's important to take a change in your spending. Try shopping for more ethical materials or thrifting clothing. And when it's time to get rid of old clothes, don't throw them away. Instead of having your clothes become landfill, sell them, or even donate them to somebody else. Fast Fashion isn't always the most avoidable, but there's various ways to limit the use of fast fashion, so why not try some out today.

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