The Environmental Economic Principles Illustrated by Fast Fashion

Delving into Environmental Economics Related to the Most Polluting Segment of the Fashion Industry

This post examines how environmental economic principles manifest in the practices and consequences of the fast fashion industry.

Fast fashion is known for its rapid turnover of trendy clothing at very low prices and has been incorporated more and more in our day-to-day clothing. However, behind the illusion of trendy and cheap pieces, this pressure to minimise costs and speed up production leads to a complex range of environmental and economic implications.

Some of the reasons fast fashion is becoming a progressively bigger issue for the environment include its use of toxic and heap textile dyes, polluting waterways as well as the amount of landfill waste generated by the industry. According to Ting and Stagner (2023), the life cycle of clothing has been constantly shorter, starting from the 1980s. This means that we are using and disposing of clothes faster and faster. As this analysis explores, most of the unused or unwanted pieces end up in a landfill or burned, contributing to climate change. Otherwise, research shows that about 450,000 tonnes of clothes exported from the United States become part of a second-hand clothing trade. That impacts low and middle-income countries.

Fast fashion’s environmental economic principles (full analysis)

Inefficiency of resource extraction

This concept relates to the long and complex supply chain of the market. Starting from agriculture and petrochemical production (for synthetic fibre production, such as the famous polyester) to manufacturing, logistics and retail. Each step of the production of the garments has an impact on the environment due to chemical, energy, material and water use.
In fact, research shows that approximately 60% of clothing is made from petroleum and 30% from cotton. Thus having a large impact on the environment. Additionally, many of these chemicals used in the production of textiles are harmful to both the factory workers, the environment as well as the end consumers ( Niinimäki et al., 2020).
Even though consumers are now aware of the environmental and personal impact of those chemicals, why do they keep on buying these products?

Fast-fashion marketing

Marketing becomes an even stronger tool when brainwashing consumers with the famous concept of “Green Washing.”Greenwashing explains the behaviour of firms when engaging in misleading marketing strategies/ information about their environmental performance or the environmental benefits of a product (Delmas & Burbano, 2011).

Pollution as a negative externality

A negative externality is the imposition of a cost by one party (in this example, a fast fashion firm) onto another. The process of manufacturing the clothes involved in producing the fast fashion items generates significant pollution. This includes air pollution when producing textiles, water pollution from dyeing fabrics and waste generation from packaging. Additionally, the growth of textile fibres, manufacturing and clothing assembly tends to take place in countries with cheaper labour, such as China and Bangladesh. According to Ting and Stagner (2023), there has been such an enormous increase in fast fashion during the past 10 years that firms had to increase supply, increasing the risk of slavery-like working conditions in those middle/low-income countries.

Waste generated

One of the pillars of the increase in fast fashion is the rise in consumerism in society. A world with a culture of over-consumption and rapid disposal of goods will consequently have problems with excessive waste in landfills. When it comes to the textile industry, it is challenging to recycle or biodegrade due to the complex nature of synthetic fibres which are the base for most fast fashion garments. The business model of fast fashion is designed to be unsustainable and by definition. It is “a fast-response system that encourages disposability” (Ting & Stagner, 2023).


In conclusion, all consumers share responsibility for this waste crisis that the fast fashion industry has created. The rapid pursuit of economies of scale in this industry leads to the expense of sustainability, as mass production and global supply chains also allow fashion brands to keep their unsustainable business model. This practice leads to several environmental economic principles, such as negative externalities, resource extraction and depletion, waste disposal and labour exploitation.

In order to address this issue, there is a need for a multifaceted approach that considers all factors such as social, economic and environmental. For instance, sustainable alternatives, circular economy models, ethical fashion practices, and consumer awareness campaigns are essential to mitigate the negative effects of fast fashion on the environment and the people.


ABC News In-Depth. (2021, August 12). The environmental disaster fuelled by used clothes and fast fashion | Foreign Correspondent. 

Barnosky, A. Matzke, N., … Tomiya, S. (2011). Has the Earth’s sixth mass extinction already arrived? Nature, (471), 51-57.

CBC News. (2023, October 28). Exposing the secrets of sustainable fashion (Marketplace). 

Niinimäki, K., Peters, G., Dahlbo, H. et al. The environmental price of fast fashion. Nat Rev Earth Environ 1, 189–200 (2020).

Kitson, J. C., & Moller, H. (2008). Looking after your ground: Resource management practice by Rakiura Maori Titi Harvesters. Papers and Proceedings of the Royal Society of Tasmania, 161-176.

The Economist. (2018, November 30). The true cost of fast fashion

Ting, T. Z.-T., & Stagner, J. A. (2023). Fast Fashion – wearing out the planet. International Journal of Environmental Studies, 856–866.

✍️ Credit: Post written by Gabriela Preuhs, a Brazilian scholar pursuing studies in economics and psychology at Massey University in Auckland, New Zealand.

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