• Discounts and special offers
  • Subscriber-only articles and interviews
  • Breaking news and trending topics

Already a subscriber?

By signing up, you accept Moneywise's Terms of Use, Subscription Agreement, and Privacy Policy.

Not interested ?

Fast fashion is cheap — but comes with consequences

From big brands such as H&M and Zara, to celebrity-endorsed e-retailers like Shein and Fashion Nova, the global fast fashion industry is projected to grow 8.8% this year, according to a report from market research firm Research and Markets.

Half of fast fashion shoppers believe that fast fashion is harmful to the environment, but they seem to be primarily motivated by its affordability and convenience, says thredUP.

“The road to hell is paved with good intentions,” says consumer behavior expert Michael Solomon. “People are more affected by the pocketbook than they are by their ideals.”

The push to constantly switch up your wardrobe and post a quick selfie of your outfit on Instagram can also pose a problem. One-in-five fast fashion shoppers say they feel pressured to have the latest styles due to social media.

However, “buying a $5 dress isn’t a victimless crime,” notes Aja Barber, U.K.-based stylist and consultant and author of the book Consumed — which tackles colonialism, climate change and consumerism.

“The fast fashion industry runs on a bubble of exploitation because if the clothing were priced in a fair way, with fair wages in our 2022 world, the clothing would be a lot more expensive.”

Fast fashion can be a race and feminist issue since most garment workers tend to be impoverished women of color, Barber says.

It also worsens the climate crisis. The fashion industry as a whole accounts for up to 10% of the global carbon dioxide output and 20% of global wastewater.

Fast fashion relies heavily on polyester (a synthetic material made from plastic), since it’s both inexpensive and versatile. Just doing the laundry releases half a million tonnes of plastic microfibers into the ocean every year.

“Because we're all buying so much clothing, or donating so much clothing … it's an ecological disaster in the parts of the world where our clothing ends up,” Barber explains.

Kiss Your Credit Card Debt Goodbye

Millions of Americans are struggling to crawl out of debt in the face of record-high interest rates. A personal loan offers lower interest rates and fixed payments, making it a smart choice to consolidate high-interest credit card debt. It helps save money, simplifies payments, and accelerates debt payoff. Credible is a free online service that shows you the best lending options to pay off your credit card debt fast — and save a ton in interest.

Explore better rates

How can you determine what’s really sustainable?

Solomon believes businesses are facing more pressure to offer and promote sustainable clothing. However, as more and more brands face accusations of “greenwashing”, it can be difficult to determine what’s really ethically sourced from what’s not.

You can get started by checking whether the company comes with certifications — like B-corp brands, which demonstrate transparency and high standards of social and environmental performance.

Just ask the companies upfront, advises Barber. She says even if you’re unsure about the sustainability credentials, you can look into whether these companies have guaranteed they’re paying their employees fair wages and how much clothing they produce annually.

“Right now, the fashion industry pumps out 150 billion garments a year, the human population is only 7.9 billion. And 50% of our planet cannot afford to participate in this system.”

Elety typically looks for items made with natural materials or designed by artists, or “slow fashion” — which prioritizes quality over efficiency and ensures that the production process respects both the people behind the clothes and the environment.

Solomon recommends that vintage stores — which typically offer curated and sometimes rare and pricey items — provide as much information about their clothing as possible.

“I call it brand genealogy,” he says. “People want to know the history of how that thing was made, and of course, the conditions under which it was made and so on.”

What other options do shoppers have?

“Realize your privilege,” says Barber. “When the average shopper buys 68 items of clothing a year, that is a lot of non-essential buying that's happening.”

She suggests shoppers who are willing to spend that much money on inexpensive clothing can opt to purchase fewer items from an ethically sourced brand for the same cost.

“Going cold turkey is really hard, because systems of consumerism indoctrinate us from a very young age,” says Barber, who advises that people start by just re-wearing the clothes they already own.

Elety agrees, explaining that it’s important for her to be intentional with what she purchases. “If I really do need to buy something new, I go thrift first because buying secondhand is making sure that a garment has a new life as well as it being affordable.”

However, she adds that shoppers who do massive thrift hauls may also be contributing to the issue of buying more than what you need. And there can be other drawbacks as well — thrift stores are increasingly carrying lower-quality fast fashion items and charging more for their older but higher-quality clothing.

Online platforms like Depop can make it easy and affordable to purchase and sell second hand as well. ThredUP projects 50% of total secondhand dollars will come from online resale by 2024.


This 2 Minute Move Could Knock $500/Year off Your Car Insurance in 2024

Saving money on car insurance with BestMoney is a simple way to reduce your expenses. You’ll often get the same, or even better, insurance for less than what you’re paying right now.

There’s no reason not to at least try this free service. Check out BestMoney today, and take a turn in the right direction.

Serah Louis is a reporter with Moneywise.com. She enjoys tackling topical personal finance issues for young people and women and covering the latest in financial news.

Explore the latest articles

What is a buy now, pay later plan?

Tech behemoth Apple is entering the BNPL arena, while the U.K.’s Klarna struggles. What does this mean for shoppers?

Samantha Emann Senior Associate Editor


The content provided on Moneywise is information to help users become financially literate. It is neither tax nor legal advice, is not intended to be relied upon as a forecast, research or investment advice, and is not a recommendation, offer or solicitation to buy or sell any securities or to adopt any investment strategy. Tax, investment and all other decisions should be made, as appropriate, only with guidance from a qualified professional. We make no representation or warranty of any kind, either express or implied, with respect to the data provided, the timeliness thereof, the results to be obtained by the use thereof or any other matter.