Environmental detriments caused by fast fashion






As the Industrial Revolution became rampant in the 1800s, clothing became an iconic product that came from the labor-intensive era. [1] In the 1990s to early 2000s, the fashion industry in America became inundated with copious amounts of clothing, which coined the term “fast fashion.” As consumers become more and more aware of the environmental and ethical detriments that the industry causes, they have been initiating waves of smaller movements dedicated to slow the impacts of fast fashion. With their newfound awareness, people began to kickstart multiple revolutions and efforts to lessen the impact and fight against fast fashion companies. The movement against fast fashion is particularly important, as the fashion industry is the second-most pollutive industry in the world. [2] The burgeoning #FastFashion movement exposes the environmental consequences of the fashion industry to consumers, who utilize Twitter to raise awareness and vocalize their stance on reducing their environmental footprint.



Fast fashion impacts not only consumers in America and other first-world countries but particularly third-world countries. Major fast fashion companies solicit the help of workers in third-world countries to make cheap clothing in a timely fashion. The social media, #FastFashion, primarily focuses on America. People began learning about the environmental impacts of fast fashion from Elizabeth L. Cline’s book, Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion. Following the growth of people’s awareness about this pressing issue, people started to voice their concerns against fast fashion.



Dhaka Garment Factory collapses and kills over a thousand people.  This occurrence in Bangladesh made national news and drew attention to the issue of fast fashion. 

The devastating collapse of Rana Plaza led people to reach a better understanding of the tragic impacts of the fast fashion industry [4].

One of the pioneering activists against fast fashion, Cline writes about the overconsumption of fashion in America [5]. The book also sheds light onto the environmental consequences of fast fashion, once unknown to the public.

#FastFashion Overdressed Book Cover
“Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion” helped Americans understand that their consumption was debilitating to the environment [6].

Fashion Revolution Day mourns the tragic anniversary of the Ranza Plaza building collapse. Each year, Fashion Revolution Day intends to raise awareness of the social and environmental impacts to consumers. This led to the popular #WhoMadeMyClothes hashtag, which confronts large fashion brands’ for their lack of compassion.


During Zara’s annual shareholders’ meeting, the fashion empire promised to focus on sustainability [9]. Zara made the ambitious goal to make all of its fabrics out of sustainable materials by 2025.


September is markedly known for people making constant purchases for autumn and winter clothing articles. With this in mind, Oxfam challenges shoppers to not buy a single article of clothing for the month of September via their Second Hand September campaign [10]


With the rise of globalization and increase in overseas production, fast-fashion became rampantly consumed by people all over the world. Big retail brands being to seek out developing countries to produce low-quality clothing with extremely low pay and abusive working conditions. America shifted from producing 95% of their clothing to a mere 3% — the remaining 97% is produced all in third-world countries [3].


H&M launched its first Conscious Collection, in which clothes are made with sustainable materials [7], launching one of many movements to promote sustainable clothing.

#FastFashion H&M Conscious Collection
H&M, a company known for its fast fashion tendencies, launched its Conscious Collection in 2010 in efforts to strive for sustainable clothing [8].

Analog Antecedents

The Climate Movement was the most influential and widespread movement preceding scrutiny of the fashion industry. [11] In order to raise awareness of the harm that #FastFashion has on the environment, there first had to be a movement that identified the effects of environmental degradation. The Climate Movement is far-reaching and covers many different subcategories; some issues surrounding climate are related to the impact of eating animals which emit CO2, such as addressed in the documentary “Cowspiracy,” while others are tied to consumerism, such as addressed in the documentary, “The True Cost.” The moment “The True Cost” was broadcasted to the masses marked a pivotal moment in the history of the Sustainable Fashion movement, as well as facilitating increased awareness about other civil and human social movements.  All issues surrounding the Climate Movement are each vital, but have their own identity and supporters. Although climate change is a pressing modern-day movement, the Climate Movement goes as far back as the 1900s when the first international treaty was signed, titled, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). [12] Following this treaty, numerous In 2014, the first major event happened in this movement which was the 2014 People’s Climate March which amassed over 300,000 participants. [13] As more attention is mounted on this growing problem, celebrities bang using their voices to raise awareness as well. In 2014, Matt Damon created The YEARS Project which is a campaign that generates informative videos of the climate crisis through their youtube channel and other social media outlets. [14][15] #TheYearsProject is a social movement that streamlines the climate change movement while #PutAPriceOnIt is more of a political push. The phrase ‘put a price on it’ is in reference to legislation that would tax carbon. Other key players are organizations such as National Geographic which make films like ‘years of living dangerously’ that draw attention to how pressing an issue environmental degradation is. [16]


Key Actors


Stella McCartney

Stella McCartney has always supported sustainable clothing since she became a designer, inspiring other fashion designers to do the same [18].
Stella McCartney is a luxury designer who immensely focuses on comfortable, eco-friendly clothing. She ensures hospitable, humane working conditions with small business suppliers in Europe. Since the nineties, she went against the grain and ventured outside of the growing fast fashion industry [17]. McCartney has always been vocal about promoting ethically crafted clothing.


Elizabeth L. Cline

Elizabeth L. Cline published Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Clothing in 2013. This book sent shockwaves among consumers in America, as they were just realizing the environmental consequences of fast fashion [19]. Cline’s book was a pioneering force for sustainability efforts in the fashion industry. Moreover, this book was a key point for finally bringing awareness to Americans.


Millennials/Gen Y

Millennials/Gen Y consumers are essential players who contributed to America’s gradual path to sustainable fashion. Though they understand that fast fashion is much more affordable, many have decided to support sustainable clothing through their dollars [20]. Consumers are extremely important, as they can decide the fates of the industries. Though fast fashion is still a rampant issue in the world, people are gradually lessening the problem with where they spend their money.



Paul T. Horgan

As a writer for The Conservative Woman, Horgan asserts that fast fashion is a choice that consumers make, benefiting the global economy. He also asserts that the third world countries that produce the clothing have a stronger economy [21]


Celebrity Endorsers

Taylor Swift

Artist Taylor Swift announces her collaboration with designer Stella McCartney to launch a sustainable collection of clothing [23].
Taylor Swift released her Lover album in August of 2019, along with a collaboration with Stella McCartney. While promoting her album, Swift publically wore the collection pieces to various events [22]. Swift has a massive influence over young girls; her outfits and fashion have the potential to introduce her fanbase to sustainable fashion.


Ellie Goulding

Singer Ellie Goulding won an Eco Award for her persistent sustainability efforts, promoting environmentally friendly clothing [25].
In September of 2018, Ellie Goulding received the Eco Award at the Fashion 4 Development’s First Ladies Luncheon [24]. She has constantly been a fierce advocate who promotes sustainable fashion with her wardrobe pieces and accessories. 


Chrissy Tiegan

In March of 2017, Chrissy Tiegan attended an event to view the H&M Conscious Exclusive Collection [26]. She has previously made various appearances to promote sustainable fashion, conveying that she is an ally for ethical clothing.


Other Related Figures

Brooke Roberts-Islam

Brooke Roberts-Islam is a Forbes journalist who focuses her pieces on the modern fashion industry. She reports on the latest updates of sustainable fashion and how fashion is coinciding with technology. She often writes about mobile applications that promote reusable fashion, which takes advantage of the current gig economy.


Aine Rose Campell

Aine Rose Campbell models sustainable fashion with her fellow models at Model Mafia. They oversee promotions regarding ethical fashion on social media platforms [28].
Aine Rose Campbell is a model and co-founder of Model Mafia [27], which consists of a group of models who promote sustainable fashion through social media. She is an activist for environmentally conscious clothing, as she models clothes and jewelry that are ethically made. She believes that this modern age is a prime time for people to turn towards ethical fashion.

Social Media Presence

For this particular social movement, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn and independent blog forums were the primary platforms that inspired individuals, or activist groups would use to educate others on the horrors of the Fast Fashion Movement. While there are certain demographic changes across the realm of these social media platforms, activists used various hashtags to centralize all the relevant content as well as establishing a more consistent and powerful virtual presence.  As advocacy groups and concerned individuals started popularizing select hashtags and keywords, the centrality of coverage would allow for the movement to establish stronger network internalities across a plethora of groups and organizations. Twitter posts using these keywords and hashtags are more frequently referenced by journalists or other media publications as opposed to Facebook groups or Instagram posts. The fact that there are a plethora of popular hashtags that renounce the environmental impacts of Fast Fashion, such as #WhoMadeMyClothes, #SecondHandSeptember, #SustainableFashion, #Sustainability and #SlowFashion allows for this movement to maximize the user base that sees the content in hopes that it would lead to a greater level of user engagement.

Social media has directly helped increase consumer awareness of the issue behind the fast fashion industry. Rather than placing sole responsibility for radical change in the hands of the companies or designers themselves, social media has allowed for anyone to vocalize their perspectives on this issue, or even take it a step further and take action into their hands. Considering that the Fast Fashion movement calls its user base to expose the harsh environmental and humanitarian injustices imposed by select corporations, it can be perceived that social media platforms facilitate the widening of the Overton Window, or allow for a broader range of unrestricted ideas and discourses. Since the success of a brand is correlated to their public perception, ensuring that their virtual presence is favored by the majority of the global population is a major priority. Social media allows for the brand to connect to their consumers as well as give an insight into what needs to be changed. 

The #FastFashion movement, specifically focusing on sustainability issues, is considered to have undergone an Organic growth. While there were a couple events that had facilitated increased social media awareness, such as the textile factory that burned down in India in 2013 and Stella McCartney’s exposing campaign video, the majority of the awareness has been spread through your “average millennial  consumer” due to the fact that they are much more active online. While there are a select few celebrities, such as Chrissy Teigan, Kate Wood, Taylor Swift and Ellie Goulding that have individually expressed their concern for the lack of sustainable sourcing methods employed by many leaders of fashion industry’s practices, their presence on social media in support of this social movement do not classify them as movement leaders, but rather as endorsers willing to provide their large social media user base as a growth mechanism for social change.

When looking at the #FastFashion movement, there is a huge offline presence that advocates for better sustainability methods. One of the most impactful offline campaigns that has been implemented across many brands is pushing services that prioritize restoring and reusing their clothing rather than replacing them. Brands such as L.L Bean and Harvey Nichols implemented a “Pull Factor Framework” which is a new methodology that strives to make sustainable innovation more enticing for consumers and producers alike. One way brands successfully utilize the Pull Factor Framework [29] is by facilitating radical transparency in various aspects of their business such as their shedding light on their supply chain production, or informing their customers about their ethical sourcing methods. In 2013, designer Stella McCartney created a video campaign that exposed the horrendous environmental problems caused by many brands. Since then, she has shifted her business model where the emphasis is placed on creating a totally sustainable brand, ranging from their production methods to their supply chain. Her efforts to promote ethical fashion was a catalyst for many other high fashion and fast fashion brands to change their business models so that they are more environmentally conscious. H&M and Zara, the two most notable companies that contribute to Fast Fashion have implemented new collections that focused on creating sustainable pieces directly after consumers bashed them for their lack of environmental consciousness.

Impact of Movement

After the release of the documentary ‘The True Cost’ and ‘River Blue’, there was attention drawn to companies that have fast fashion practices. One of the largest scapegoats of this criticism is H&M, which has tremendous revenues amounting to some 25 billion dollars in the fiscal year of 2016. However, their stock and image have taken a hit since consumer awareness has spread of their outsourcing practices and disregard for environmental and humane issues.

#FastFashion H&M Brand Image & Stock Price
Online stock prices depicting a decrease in stock value, likely due to decreasing brand image, due to the #FastFashion movement. Photo Credit: Google Stocks [30]
Because of the audience that #FastFashion has accumulated, organizations such as the United States Fashion Industry Association have devoted some of their attention to ‘social compliance and sustainability’. [31] To see national recognition of a movement and what it stands for is encouraging. In November of 2017 the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, a charity in the UK, put out a report which showed just how wasteful the textile and fashion industry truly is. Following this report there were multiple implementations of regulation. [32]

In addition to prompting lawmakers to create policies in favor of ethical fashion practices, the #FastFashion movement has grabbed global attention. The movement has spread major awareness within the fashion community and has mobilized both consumers & designers in the fight for environmentally-conscious practices.

Critiques of Movement

Because the Climate Movement is so broad, it is difficult to call attention to all aspects of the movement. Additionally, channels that call attention to fast fashion brands aren’t mainstream enough and don’t get enough attention. The closest that the movement came to breaking barriers is at the time of the 2013 Dhaka garment factory collapse which sparked controversy over labor practices in third-world countries. However, there hasn’t been a single event to call attention to the many people that have been negatively affected by the toxic chemicals from the fashion industry which cause mental illness in those in closest proximity. Much has yet to be brought to light and much accountability has yet to be taken.

The #FastFashion movement isn’t accessible to all. “Sustainable clothing” is often quite expensive due to the cost of fabric, the cost of labor and far wage, the ‘niche market’ allowing higher prices, and retail markup. Until sustainable shopping becomes more common and widely adopted, it will continue to not have enough competition to drive down the prices and therefore it is inaccessible to lower income populations.



Though various fast fashion companies have vowed to initiate sustainable clothing, fast fashion continues to harm the environment. Influencers and prominent figures who support environmental justice were able to help raise awareness regarding fast fashion’s environmental impacts to a population where it was otherwise unknown. With the people’s newfound awareness, they have attained various milestones; their voice and shopping habits were made known to huge corporate retailers. Additionally, individuals and organizations have designated campaigns to combat the debilitating effects of fast fashion. Although the social movement against fast fashion spans across almost a decade, it is still a relatively nascent movement. Fashion companies have attempted to alter their ways of creating fabrics, but a simple solution to reverse the environmental effects is yet to be found.


Author Biographies

Christine Sin | christinesin@berkeley.edu

Christine is a fourth-year English major at UC Berkeley, graduating in Spring of 2020. She is enthusiastic to spread her knowledge regarding ethical, sustainable fashion to help better the environment.

Paul Ruback | paulruback@berkeley.edu

Paul is a third-year Conservation and Resource Studies major at UC Berkeley, graduating in spring of 2021. After attaining a Bachelors of Science, Paul then hopes to attain a Law Joint Degree with a Masters in Environmental Management and a Juris Doctor from Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. With this, his hope is to work in the EPA or for a non-profit and practice Environmental Law.

Kush Kakaiya | kkakaiya98@berkeley.edu

Kush is a fourth-year Interdisciplinary Studies major at UC Berkeley focusing on the intersection between Business, Innovation and Global Development. He is particularly excited about this project because of his immense love for the fashion industry and hopes to educate himself, as well as the global population about how to be a more ethically conscious consumer in the 21st century. After graduating in the Fall of 2020, Kush is hoping to utilize his breadth of knowledge by working for a tech company or start-up, specifically as a Business Development or Strategy associate.

Raaghav Goel | rgoel@berkeley.edu

Raaghav is a third-year Electrical Engineering and Computer Science major at UC Berkeley, graduating in the spring of 2021. He has always had an interest in the fashion industry and hopes to educate readers about the need for a move towards sustainable practices in the fashion industry. After graduating, Raaghav hopes to work in the tech industry as a Product Manager armed with the interdisciplinary perspectives that he developed during his time at UC Berkeley. 

Works Cited

[1] Linden, Annie Radner, “An Analysis of the Fast Fashion Industry” (2016). Senior Projects Fall 2016. 30. https://digitalcommons.bard.edu/senproj_f2016/30

[2] Morgan, Andrew, Michael Ross, Lucy Siegle, Stella McCartney, Livia Firth, Vandana Shiva, and Duncan Blickenstaff. The True Cost. , 2015.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Manik, Julfikar Ali, and Jim Yardley. “Building Collapse in Bangladesh Leaves Scores Dead.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 24 Apr. 2013, www.nytimes.com/2013/04/25/world/asia/bangladesh-building-collapse.html.

[5] Cardella, Avis. “Attention, Shoppers.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 8 Feb. 2013, www.nytimes.com/2013/02/10/books/review/overdressed-by-elizabeth-l-cline.html.

[6] “Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion by Elizabeth L. Cline.” Goodreads, Goodreads, 14 June 2012, www.goodreads.com/book/show/11797414-overdressed.

[7] Gabriel, Wendy. “H&M Launches Conscious Collection.” RecycleNation, 13 May 2011, recyclenation.com/2011/05/hm-recycle-conscious-collection/.

[8] “Conscious-Products-Explained.” H&M, www2.hm.com/en_gb/ladies/shop-by-feature/conscious-products-explained.html.

[9] Conlon, Scarlett. “Zara Clothes to Be Made from 100% Sustainable Fabrics by 2025.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 17 July 2019, www.theguardian.com/fashion/2019/jul/17/zara-collections-to-be-made-from-100-sustainable-fabrics.

[10] Roberts-Islam, Brooke. “Second-Hand Is The Answer To Sustainable Fashion, Says Oxfam.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 1 Sept. 2019, www.forbes.com/sites/brookerobertsislam/2019/08/31/second-hand-is-the-answer-to-sustainable-fashion-says-oxfam/#2397f6999832.

[11] Faramarzi, Charlie et al., “#ClimateChange.” #MoveMe. <https://moveme.studentorg.berkeley.edu/project/climate-change/#impact-of-movement>

[12] “Climate Movement.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Climate_movement.

[13] Alter, Charlotte. “NYC: People’s Climate March Demands U.N. Action on Global Emissions.” Time, Time, 21 Sept. 2014, time.com/3415162/peoples-climate-march-new-york-manhattan-demonstration/.

[14] “Matt Damon – Correspondent, Years of Living Dangerously.” The Years Project, theyearsproject.com/correspondent/matt-damon/.

[15] Years, director. The YEARS Project. YouTube, YouTube, www.youtube.com/user/Years/videos.

[16] Geographic, National, director. Trailer | Years of Living Dangerously. YouTube, 1 Aug. 2016, www.youtube.com/watch?v=juXzfwvVHZQ&feature=youtu.be.

[17] “5 Sustainable Luxury Designers For Eco-Friendly Fashion.” The Good Trade, The Good Trade, 10 Jan. 2019, www.thegoodtrade.com/features/luxury-eco-friendly-designers.

[18] Starostinetskaya, Anna. “Stella McCartney Challenges Students to Create Vegan Wool.” VegNews.com, vegnews.com/2018/3/stella-mccartney-challenges-students-to-create-vegan-wool.

[19] Spellings, Sarah. “Really, Anyone Can Shop Clothing Sustainably.” The Cut, The Cut, 20 Aug. 2019, www.thecut.com/2019/08/interview-elizabeth-cline-author-of-the-conscious-closet.html.

[20] Sorensen, and Johnson Jorgensen. “Millennial Perceptions of Fast Fashion and Second-Hand Clothing: An Exploration of Clothing Preferences Using Q Methodology.” Social Sciences, vol. 8, no. 9, 2019, p. 244., doi:10.3390/socsci8090244.

[21] Horgan, Paul T. “Why the Lefties Hate Fast Fashion.” The Conservative Woman, 1 Oct. 2019, conservativewoman.co.uk/why-the-lefties-hate-fast-fashion/.

[22] Campbell, Maeve. “Taylor Swift Collaborates with Sustainability Icon Stella McCartney.” Living, EuroNews, 21 June 2019, www.euronews.com/living/2019/06/21/taylor-swift-collaborates-with-sustainability-icon-stella-mccartney.

[23] Mendes, Shawn. “Taylor Swift Is on the 2019 TIME 100 List.” Time, Time, time.com/collection/100-most-influential-people-2019/5567666/taylor-swift/.

[24] “Ellie Goulding Thrilled to Receive Sustainable Fashion Honour.” People Magazine, 26 Sept. 2018, www.peoplemagazine.co.za/celebrity-news/international-celebrities/ellie-goulding-thrilled-to-receive-sustainable-fashion-honour/.

[25] 2018, 26 September. “Ellie Goulding Wins Eco Award for Fashion.” Female First, 26 Sept. 2018, www.femalefirst.co.uk/lifestyle-fashion/stylenews/ellie-goulding-wins-eco-award-fashion-1164837.html.

[26] Fowler, Brandi. “Chrissy Teigen and Hailey Baldwin Make Sustainable Fashion Look So Good.” InStyle, www.instyle.com/celebrity/hm-conscious-exclusive-collection-celebration.

[27] Igneri, Jenna. “9 Sustainable Fashion Activists Have One Message For Us All.” NYLON, NYLON, 8 Nov. 2019, nylon.com/earth-day-activist-fashion-editorial.

[28] Ibid.

[29] COURTNEY, LIZ. “Fueling the Sustainable Fashion Movement.” Bbmg.com, 24 Jan. 2020, bbmg.com/fueling-the-sustainable-fashion-movement/.

[30] “Stock Price: H & M Hennes & Mauritz AB.” Google Stocks, Google, www.google.com/search?safe=off&sxsrf=ALeKk00GrZ14-cu6geMpP_mjtn980tsjIw%3A1586959266315&q=STO%3A%2BHM-B&stick=H4sIAAAAAAAAAONgecRoyi3w8sc9YSmdSWtOXmNU4-IKzsgvd80rySypFJLgYoOy-KR4uLj0c_UNkrPTDcsMeBaxcgaH-FspePjqOgEAEvUT5kYAAAA&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwjKvd36y-roAhWIXSsKHbSnAaMQsRUwJnoECA0QAw&biw=1440&bih=742.

[31] “Social Compliance & Sustainability.” USFIA – United States Fashion Industry Association, www.usfashionindustry.com/policy/social-compliance-sustainability.

[32] “One Garbage Truck of Textiles Wasted Every Second: Report Creates Vision for Change.” Ellen MacArthur Foundation, www.ellenmacarthurfoundation.org/news/one-garbage-truck-of-textiles-wasted-every-second-report-creates-vision-for-change.