Why I Stopped Buying Fast Fashion

In a life mandated by social medias and validations, we all want to look our best. We dress nicely and post snaps of our outfits and our feeds are flooded by others showing off theirs. I mean, who wouldn’t want to jump on the latest trends, being the most up-to-date within your social circle and receive compliments from your peers that are not as fashionable as you? To the fashion-savvy, dressing nicely is not just a matter of looking presentable, but a way of life. Fashion is a way of making a statement, a way of accentuating your idea, your personality. An intricate yet subtle form of communication. However, if you source yours from the likes of H&M and the many more fast fashion outlets that dots your go-to malls, then to me at least, the only statement you made is how ignorant you are.

If you make it to the list of people offended by that last sentence, me from two years ago would most definitely make the list too. My first year in university is when I started to invest more time and thoughts into dressing better. As with many other students, a resonating issue that comes between me and the outfits I want to wear is money. Nice clothing is expensive, there’s no two ways about it. That was when I discovered the deceptively vibrant and welcoming world of fast fashion. The industry builds a bridge between my desires to look stylish and to spend as little as possible. For once, looking presentable and trendy is financially viable to me, and I ignorantly went on a shopping spree.

This went on for more than a year, and I only stopped when I ran out of space to store all the garments I impulsively bought that was on sale. I fell prey to the price slashes, but I didn’t regret it then. “There’ll be a day when I will probably need this”, I foolishly thought. To this day, there are still shirts that I never wore, collecting dust in my wardrobe. To add to that, those that were lucky enough to be worn by me didn’t last and never reached my expectations. Loose stitching, pilling after several wears and bad fit are just some of the issues that I have identified with fast fashion articles that I own. Then it dawned upon me, no matter what fast fashion brand I bought from, the issues persist. I made the decision to delve into the less vibrant side of fast fashion, and it turned me to advocate against my style saviour. 

The Fast Fashion Distinction

Fast fashion, as the name suggests, is fashion that is churned from the drawing board to the shelves in a relatively quick period. Historically, fashion is slow. Fashion houses would unveil their collections on the runway seasonally, often through the SS (Spring/Summer) and FW (Fall/Winter) cycle. They advertise and sell new line-ups only twice annually, allowing them to put more thoughts on the quality of their garments, the sustainability of their supply chains and on the fashion side, to assemble a creative and thoughtful assortment of ready-to-wears that allows their clients to express themselves in accordance with the fashion houses’ ethos, something fast fashion retailers clearly lacks. Instead of setting the trend, they recognise, adopt, and mass-produce whatever is trending within a matter of weeks1. This is something I had to privilege to observe with my own eyes. A friend of mine recently told me that parachute style pants are now trending on social medias, and within weeks, every fast fashion retailers have it in their collection. 

Their response towards the market shift suggests that they don’t invest much in a creative team of their own, only adding a little here and there on a silhouette that is currently in style. The design fluidity of fast fashion means that they do not have much identity, and they lack distinction and personality. Their shelves are stacked with repetitive, thoughtless designs most of the time. Yes, you can argue that a certain jacket or jumper may look pleasing to the eye, but I bet I can just walk into the store next door and find the exact same design sans the brand label. Fast fashion sticks to no beliefs or ideas, something I personally think makes a fashion brand interesting and worthwhile.

The only major distinction of fast fashion is their affordable price points. The allure of purchasing a £20 jeans is simply irresistible knowing the prices of jeans may as well reach more than £100 per piece from more respectable denim manufacturers. But have you ever wondered why the price difference is so immense? That is because you are not the only one paying for it. 

Outsourced and Overworked

Anyone with a shallow knowledge of economics knows that reducing cost in a globalised economy is possible through outsourcing. Why make everything in-house when you can have others make it for you for much cheaper? The economic model of fast fashion revolves around sourcing the cheapest labour and materials in order to sell it to consumers at the cheapest prices. And with cheap labour, comes the affiliated human rights issues. Garment workers in Bangladesh makes about $96 per month working in unsafe conditions2. Even worse, evidence of forced and child labour in the industry have been found in Argentina, Bangladesh, Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Philippines, Turkey, Vietnam and other countries2. Matter of fact 97% of fast fashion is being produced in developing countries with poor labour and human rights protections, where abuse and negligence is often concealed3. Death and accidents due to poor safety standards are also not unheard of. 

It is disheartening to see the poor working conditions and the human rights abuse that the garment factory workers have to endure in order to bring us the latest fashions. Stories like messages and cries for helps found hidden in fast fashion clothing have also revolved throughout the internet. One that stuck with me was a message written on a roll of paper found in a high-end ski jacket, as told by someone in a reddit forum I stumbled upon some times ago. Written was something along the lines of “after it goes out of here, it gets to see paradise”. It made me imagine how harsh the person assembling the jacket have been treated, and the best they could do was to imagine and fantasise of all the place the jacket would go, knowing they are probably stuck there indefinitely. Fast fashion is an orchestrated perpetration of human rights abuse arising from the never-ending demand of cheap clothing. 

Think of the Environment

Besides violation of human rights, fast fashion is also almost always associated with harming the environment. The business model of fast fashion preys on a belief that often accompanies the cheap price of a product – it’s fine to just throw it away and buy a new one later. This ‘throwaway culture’, as the European Parliament calls it, leads to as much as 85% of garments being disposed after only several wears3. According to The World Resources Institute, one garbage truck of clothes is burned or landfilled every single second2. That is 2625 kilograms of clothes, some are likely in very good conditions and a fraction might even be new. The fast fashion industry churns out 100 billion garments a year, but only recycles less than 1% of that4. Thus, no matter how much recycling you do as an individual, the disposal of unsold stock would simply undermine your efforts, not that I encourage you not to recycle. Even if you sent your old clothes for recycling, they might just end up being imported to Africa and disposed there anyways4.

Besides waste, fast fashion uses up a lot of resources, most notably, water. The production of textiles uses a huge amount of water, most of which ends up as wastewater, filled with contaminants such as dyes and acts as pollutants due to negligent waste management. It takes 2,700 litres of water to make a cotton shirt2, enough water for a person to drink for 2 and a half years. On a grander scale, the industry consumes a mind-boggling 79 billion cubic meters of water annually3. This is a huge issue to countries that supplies cottons to the garment plants. Two major powerhouses, Pakistan and India, has had water scarcity issues due to the amount of water pumped to cotton farms rather than people’s house. If current trends does not change the amount of water consumption is set to increase even more in the future, with some suggesting values of up to 40% increase by 20303

Other environmental issues connected to fast fashion includes CO2 emission and microplastic pollutants. The industry is responsible for 1,715 million tonnes of CO2 emissions per annum3. That is more than the emission from aviation and maritime shipping combined. Next, the usage of cheap, synthetic fibres in fast fashion clothing makes up about 35% of all the microplastic pollutants in the ocean5. Microplastics are non-biodegradable plastic fragments measuring under 5mm in size, known to be highly detrimental to marine animals, leading to poisoning and increasing mortalities6. Laundering synthetic textiles such as rayon, nylon and polyester releases microplastics into the sewage system, which will ultimately reach the ocean. 

A Change is Imperative

I don’t know about you, but the staggering data that I have researched and compiled further droves me away from ever purchasing from a fast fashion retailer ever again. Change is needed, and thankfully as the issue isn’t new, some changes have been seen, like retailers swearing to never source their cottons from producers with known labour abuse allegations and shifting to processes that uses less water to produce their garments. However, greenwashing isn’t unheard of, so I tend to not put much faith in fast fashion brands and made a vow to myself to simply not buy from them anymore. 

But does that mean I will only buy from luxury fashion houses from now on? Not necessarily. Although luxury is often associated with quality, the converse isn’t essentially true. You don’t have to spend a wad of cash to buy clothing that will last for years, provides the labour a fair wage and environmentally sustainable. Although they tend to cost higher, investing in guilt-free fashion is worth it if you ask me. 

What I Did

Although I vowed to not buy fast fashion anymore, suppressing the desire to buy new clothes isn’t easy, and every now and then I’ll find myself wanting to buy this and that impulsively. One thing I always do when going to a clothing store is to check the labels inside of a garment. Usually, you will find where the garment is made and of what material it is made of. If it is made in the countries that is listed above, I will promptly change my decision to buy it. For starters, I always try to look for clothing that are not made in developing countries, but instead is made in places with no known human rights issues. There are multiple brands that are available in the UK that produces their wears in Portugal, while still offering prices that are lower than some entry-level designer brands with garment plants in Bangladesh. 

Unfortunately, this is not such an easy thing to do in Malaysia. I remembered going shopping with my family in Sogo and almost everything I touched had no ‘made in’ label, signifying that Malaysia is still a long way to go in fashion transparency. This is an interesting issue that I might explore and discuss further in the future.

Although it seems a bit shallow to judge whether a shirt is worth buying or not based on where they are made, a little generalisation has to be made if no other information is available. I have seen outliers such as a Burberry t-shirt made in China, so I can’t possibly say that everything that is produced there is of poor quality and made by forced labour. Most brands don’t have much transparency in their supply chain, but this is where sustainable fashion brands jump in. Fashion brands like these take pride in their sustainability and ethics, and will gladly present you information such as where their cottons are harvested, to how much CO2 is released per garment produced. In essence, a little research needs to be done before buying any sort of clothing to ensure that it is sustainable and ethical, which most of the time leads to better quality. However, I am not aware of such brands opening their stores in Malaysia, so this might not be quite an easy thing to do in Malaysia.

Finally, an alternative is to jump into circular fashion. That is just the fancy word for buying preloved fashion. I, for one, take pride in finding luxury wears in the second hand market for cheap, something I learned from my father but never understood why he did so until recently. Not only do you avoid unwanted clothing from filling the landfills, you can be glad knowing that you didn’t cost the world another 2,700 litres of water for that shirt you bought. 


In the end, it boils down to consumer’s practise. The reason fast fashion keeps on thriving is due to the ignorance of consumers on what goes on behind the scenes, and what consequences their purchases have on others. It’s simple to just ignore when we don’t know anyone who has been forced into working at a garment factory to pay off their debt or when we don’t live anywhere close to where most of the pollutions caused by fast fashion production occurs. It’s easy to throw away torn jeans after a wearing it for a month since it’s so cheap anyways. But just because it is easy to do so, doesn’t mean that it is okay to do so. The next time you find yourself in a fast fashion store, check out the price of their products and ask yourself, what happens to the others who pays the rest of the costs?

About the author: Haris KZ is a Medicinal Chemistry undergraduate in Scotland.


  1. Sull, D. and Turconi, S. (2008), Fast fashion lessons. Business Strategy Review, 19: 4-11. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-8616.2008.00527.x
  2. Reichart, E. and Drew, D. (2019), By the Numbers: The Economic, Social and Environmental Impacts of “Fast Fashion”. World Resources Institutehttps://www.wri.org/insights/numbers-economic-social-and-environmental-impacts-fast-fashion?_ga=2.67275857.1145206815.1654243238-874537035.1654243237
  3. Azubuike, M. (2021), The Price Of Fast Fashion: How Consumerism Fuels The Climate Crisis And Threatens Human Rights. Human Rights Pulse. https://www.humanrightspulse.com/mastercontentblog/the-price-of-fast-fashion-how-consumerism-fuels-the-climate-crisis-and-threatens-human-rights
  4. Liberatore, S. (2022), Fast fashion is ‘choking Africa in dead white people’s clothes’: Mountains of garments promised to be reused by brands like H&M and Zara are instead flooding waterways of Ghana. Dailymail.com. https://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-11391883/Mountains-garments-promised-reused-brands-like-H-M-flooding-streets-Ghana.html
  5. Maiti, R. (2022), Fast Fashion and Its Environmental Impact. EARTH.ORG. https://earth.org/fast-fashions-detrimental-effect-on-the-environment/ 
  6. ClientEarth (2021), What are microplastics and why are they a problem?. ClientEarth. https://www.clientearth.org/latest/latest-updates/news/microplastics-what-are-they-and-why-are-they-a-problem/ 
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