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fast fashion facts

For many people shopping is a form of therapy. Fast fashion made it as affordable as possible. You can go to a mall with 50 dollars and buy five to ten new pieces. A dress for a price of a cup of coffee. Isn’t it marvelous? Not really. And here is why.

What is Fast Fashion? 

First of all, let’s define what fast fashion is. We use this term to describe a specific business model of apparel manufacture and distribution. Its main idea is to produce a huge amount of clothing at a very low cost. The masterminds behind these businesses sample ideas from catwalks, celebrity trends, or high-end designers, and then replicate them with cheaper materials in low-income countries. Therefore customers can have inexpensive, in-style, and disposable garments. With this approach, we tend to buy more clothes, wear each piece less and throw it away as soon as there is a new trend to buy. 

Unlike luxury designers, fast fashion brands can’t afford to release two collections a year. They strive to update their assortment every two or three weeks. They produce more and more garments to satisfy the ever-changing trends and tastes of their audience. 

The ethics of this industry is a topic of endless discussion. But we won’t insist on any opinion here. Instead, we gathered the 50 most interesting and eye-opening fast fashion facts that will allow you to form your own position. 

what is fast fashion?

Fast Fashion Economy Stats   

1.The global apparel market is valued at 1.5 trillion dollars in 2020, which is a downfall from the previous year. However, it is projected to recover and rise to 2.25 trillion by 2025, because of the growing population and demand. (Statista)  

2.The three largest markets for apparel are the United States, China, and Japan. The Asia Pacific region is expanding the fastest. (Statista)

3. Fast fashion is relatively young. It started only in the late 1980swith Zara being a pioneer of the industry.

4. The production and consumption of clothes have doubled over the last 15 years. The main force behind the growth is the increase in population and its income, especially among the middle class in developed economies. (Ellen McArthur Foundation)

5. Today we consume four times more clothes than in 2000. (The True Cost)

6. An average fast fashion brand releases 52 micro-collections per year. This means new designs every week. The breakneck speed is needed to meet customer demand and tastes. (The Good Grade)

7. For a piece that cost you 20 dollars, the worker who made it was paid about 20 cents. (Vox.com)

8. While women are the main market for clothes,less than 14% of fashion brands are led by female managers. (Business Of Fashion)

9. The three brands with the biggest market share are Uniqlo, H&M, and Zara. The major factor of their popularity is the speed at which brands can deliver new designs to the store. (Forbes)

10.In 48 hours H&M produce 1,000 tons of clothing (Lucy Siegle)

11. The pandemic year has shifted the fast fashion industry towards online. According to McKinsey, up to 25,000 brick-and-mortar stores have closed in the US only. However online fashion market continues to generate growth and will increase by 30% in 2021. Some 40% of fashion executives expect 2021 to be even worse. The market will be recovering until 2023 or even longer. 

fast fashion economy stats

Fast Fashion Consumer Behavior Stats 

12. People around the world buy 80 to 150 billion items of clothing annually.That is roughly 12 to 15 items per person on the Earth. (McKinsey). Americans are the biggest buyers. On average, they purchase 64 pieces of clothing and 7.5 pairs of shoes a year. 

13. 88% of Americans tend to shop in fast fashion stores. In Europe, this number is almost twice as low (46%) and in China - 21%. 

14. An average household in the US spends $1,866 a year on clothing and footwear. This number is steadily growing. To compare, the average annual expenses for entertainment are some $3,000. (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2018)

15. People of 17 to 34 years old are the main buyers of apparel.(Statista)

16. Three out of five garments are disposed of within a year or two. An average person throws away seven items every 12 months. This is because access to cheap trendy things changed people’s attitude to clothes. They became too easy to buy and let go.

17. We tend to wear an item seven to eight times. And then either throw them away or donate to charity. Another research says that the average lifespan of a garment is two years. (Business of Fashion Report).

18.Most women wear less than 30% of their wardrobe. Moreover, one in three women regularly discharges a garment worn once or twice. (Business of Fashion)

19. 60% of US customers are willing to spend more on sustainable and ethical clothes. (entSight) 

20. During the pandemic, customers tend to spend less on clothes.Experts predict that it is unlikely that the industry returns to its pre-COVID state until 2023. (McKinsey)

21. More and more people are becoming conscious about sustainability. Over one-third of people surveyed say they value knowing the social and environmental impact of the clothes they wear. (entSight) 

fast fashion labor

Fast Fashion Labor and Working Conditions Stats 

22. 75 million people are engaged in fast fashion production. Most of the labor force is concentrated in developing countries like Bangladesh, Indonesia, Vietnam, China, and India. (UNECE)

23. 97% of fast fashion items sold in the US are produced overseas, in countries that have poor labor laws and working conditions. Even when production facilities are based in the US or UK, companies often use unethical business practices like pay pers garment system. (CNBC)

24. An hourly rate for some garment workers in Australia is 7 dollarswhen a minimum wage should be $17.49/hour. (Choice)

25. 80% of workers at sewing factories are women, mostly ages 18-24.Most of them cannot negotiate their wages. 

26. 93% of fast fashion companies aren’t paying their workers a living wage, which is sufficient money to afford a decent living. The UN considers a living wage a basic human right. (Fashion Checker)

27. The average garment worker’s salary in Bangladesh is 96 dollars per month.This is less than a minimum wage. Oxfam counted that increasing every price tag in a shop by 1% would be enough to pay all the workers a living wage.

28. The collapse of the Rana Plaza garment factory in Bangladesh in 2013 took the lives of 1,138 people and injured 2,500. (Fashion Revolution)

29. In 2018 U.S. Department of Labor reported that there is evidence of child labor and forced labor in fast fashion production in countries like Bangladesh, Vietnam, Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Philippines, and Turkey.

30.The biggest fast fashion brands like Forever21 score only 10% on the Fashion Transparency Index. The index shows the availability of information about the clothes production and supply chain (Fashion Revolution). 

fast fashion eco impact

Fast Fashion Ecological Impact Stats 

31. 8 to 10 % of global greenhouse gas emissions are the product of the apparel industry. This is more than all international flights and maritime shipping produce together. Half of the pollution comes from fiber and yarn production, dyeing, and finishing of polyester. Add to it extended supply chains and long-distance shipping. 

32. If nothing changes, the carbon budget of fashion production will jump by 49 percent in the next 10 years. The projected amount of CO2 emission is almost 5 gigatons annually. This can be compared with the entire climate impact of the United States as of today. (Quantis) 

33. Most fast fashion clothes are made with polyester. Not only does it require 70 million barrels of oil each year to produce the fiber, but it also takes 200 years to decompose. Polyester is derivative of petrochemicals, the same substance we use to make plastic dishes, plant fertilizer, and a lot of other stuff.

34. The production of some synthetic fiber emits N2O (Nitrous oxide, ironically also known as laughing gas), which has almost 300 times bigger effect on warming potential than CO2.

35. Cotton is not so ecological either. A pair of jeans in production emits as much CO2 as a car that drives over 80 miles. Moreover, it needs 2,000 gallons of water (7,570 liters) to grow cotton for that jeans. This water is enough for a person to drink for 10 years. (WWF)

36.The fashion industry uses 1.5 trillion liters of water annually.It makes our clothes responsible for 20% of the global waste of water and pollution of rivers and ocean. Water is required at every production stage: from growing the cotton plants to produce manmade fibers like polyester and dyeing them. (UN Alliance for Sustainable Fashion)

37. Cotton farming is the biggest user of pesticides in the world. It consumes 24% of all insecticides and 11% of all pesticides globally.(The True Cost.) The idea that cotton fabric is sustainable is a common misconception. 

38. Garment production uses about 8,000 different chemicals.(Common Objective). Some of them are known to be particularly toxic and cause damage to our health. It takes one kilogram of chemicals to make one kilo of fabric. A lot of them end up in water waste. 

39. Over 20,000 liters of hazardous waste is dumped into rivers by leather factories every day in Bangladesh only. The apparel industry is known to be the second biggest polluter of water. 

40. Every time you wash your synthetic clothes, they release millions of microplastics.The microplastics shed by textile are tiny, less than 5 mm long. That is why it’s very easy for them to pass through any filtration system. 

41. Synthetic closes release 19,000 tons of microplastics every day. That makes fashion accountable for 20 to 35% of microplastics in the ocean (McKinsey) 

42. About 85% of produced clothing end up in the landfill each year.A rough estimate shows that every second we throw away or burn one garbage truck of textile (Ellen MacArthur Foundation).

43.Over 21 billion tons of textile end up in the landfill each year. (UN)

44. Americans are responsible for most of it. They throw away 30kg of clothing per person annually. (EPA)

45.95% of textile that goes to landfills could be recycled.(Edexpo) The environmental impact of recycling apparel is way smaller than of making new. 

46. Only 1% of clothing is actually recycled into new clothes.Ellen MacArthur Foundation report says this is not only bad for the planet but also is a loss of 100 billion dollars worth of materials every year. 

47. 55% of fashion brands surveyed by McKinsey plans to source at least half of their products with sustainable materials by 2025. 

48.The number of products described as “sustainable” has doubled since 2017. However, this may be another marketing trick, since little evidence of sustainability is provided. Eco, organic, or recycled have become common buzzwords. (Research and Markets). 

49. 150 companies signed a pact where they agreed to make the fashion industry more sustainable. This means “science-based” targets to lessen emissions and single-use plastics by 2050. 

50. We can decrease our impact on the environment impact by wearing things more. Forbes calculated that a garment that we wear 50 times during a year produce four times less greenhouse gas emission than a piece worn 5 times and kept only for a month. 

Conclusion

These facts are nothing short of astounding. To tame the huge environmental and social impact of fast fashion we can look for alternatives. For example, buying vintage clothing or opt for the circular economy. But the easiest way is to buy less clothing, choose only pieces that will matter, and bring us joy for years. 

Main sources: 

Statista 
McKinsey
Ellen McArthur Foundation
BoF's 2019 State of Fashion Report 
Fashion Revolution
Fashion Checker 
Quantis
Edgexpo
The True Cost