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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Fashion waste recycling

An urgent issue every fashion designer must confront

March 18th was Global Recycling Day, highlighting the challenge of waste recycling, which is deeply connected to the fashion industry. As a matter of fact, recycling is crucial for a circular economy and circular fashion too.

These international days aim to raise awareness on important matters. Unfortunately, we celebrate something but tend to forget the issue the day after.

Fashion industry & waste

As widely highlighted in our previous posts, the fashion industry is part of the waste problem. According to Earth.org, of the 100 billion garments produced each year, 92 million tons end up in landfills. To give a prompt idea, this means that the equivalent of a rubbish truck full of clothes ends up in landfill sites every second.

Waste colonialism

Waste is a global issue. In fact, that is the byproduct of our economic system – capitalism. A structure based on overproduction and exploitation. However, the civilised global north found a way to get rid of it. Because we don’t want to see our garbage. Also, in front of problems, we prefer to close our eyes.
So, how does the global north get rid of waste? By dumping the problem in the global south! In case you missed the news, please, read what happens in the Atacama desert in Chile. Or in Ghana, Africa.
As we can see, Northern countries, the rich and civilised ones, are still perpetuating colonialism. Specifically, waste colonialism.

Recycling waste

“Global Recycling Foundation” promotes the idea of considering waste as an opportunity:

“Every year, the Earth yields billions of tons of natural resources and at some point, in the not too distant future, it will run out.
That’s why we must think again about what we throw away – seeing not waste, but opportunity.”

Waste recycling in fashion industry

First, in order to reduce waste, we need to consume less, much less! But also, we must find solutions for the tons of discarded clothing already shipped to Africa and Chile.

Most importantly, we expect every fashion designer and every company to do their bit and hold themselves accountable. Recycling and upcycling must become part of the plan for the fashion industry. Now!

There’s no time to waste!

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Earth day?

Mass marketing, hashtags and behaviour

On April 22, while everyone proudly shared the hashtag Earth Day, the news said that in Europe, six million tons of garments end up in landfills every year. Yes, it’s not a good moment to read newspapers because whatever the field, humans are not shining for responsible behaviour.

Even if we feel very sad about that news, we are not surprised. Indeed one of our latest posts was about the lack of coherence in our society. And scrolling through our blog, you’ll find many other posts on this topic. On the one hand, people talk like they care about sustainability, while on the other, they buy fast fashion or any cheap product. The habit is ‘consume and throw away’ quickly.

In general, sustainability sells, and if it’s greenwashing, it sells even more!

Earth Day & the culture of waste

This matter has to do with the ‘buy and toss’ culture launched, promoted and pushed by corporations. They did it intentionally by using persuasion and with the help of marketing. Yes, marketing can do magic! Furthermore, knowing they could count not only on the weakness of individuals but also on people who don’t read and don’t think at all.

This is the modern way of purchasing clothing which is also done via Instagram or TikTok. The cheapest ones are the most successful. “It’s cheap, I buy it, I’ll wear it once and throw it away!”
What if they will not wear it? They won’t feel guilty getting rid of it because it’s cheap. In fact, there are garments still with the price tag in landfills!

That is toxic behaviour that tells a lot about the decadence of European culture. Our parents and grandparents used to buy a few quality clothes that lasted a lifetime, got repaired and passed on to the other family members. Now, people buy very cheap products made to auto destroy in the shortest time possible. And which, unfortunately, don’t disappear but instead compromise our environment.

If we do not refocus our culture, if we are not open to change, and put some effort into shifting our consuming habits, it’s better to avoid the hashtag to celebrate Earth Day.

Hashtags work for marketing but will not save the earth. Our actions will.

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Design against waste

Waste is a major issue in our culture. Perhaps one of the biggest. Definitely a side effect of our lifestyle. Waste is the ignorant byproduct of our times, meaning the etymological non-understanding of what we leave at our back.

In other words, it is a blind and egoistic short-term vision. People don’t care. Their children will live in an open-air landfill. Not their business.

However, the problem is real, devastating, and we cannot hide it anymore. There’s no way to sweep waste under the carpet or make it magically disappear.

Acknowledging the problem and the environmental cost it carries along, is the first step. But what is the solution?

Design is the answer.
An accurate design is at the core of solving the waste issue. Changing the way we conceive products is absolutely crucial. We need thoughtful items in every single field and category – fashion, furniture, technology, etc.
Products made with eco, recycled materials. That will have multiple lives and eventually enter a circular pattern.
Items made to last.

By the way, it was so in the past in terms of lifetime. Now the life of a garment is just a couple of washings, the life of a cell phone, less than one year.
Moreover, the convenience culture played a huge role in maximizing waste habits and proliferating throwaway tendencies. Buying a new item is cheaper than repairing it. So throw it away and buy another one – even if it will last just a few months. The never-ending cycle has been triggered.

The point is that real designers make good designs.
Since fashion – like any other industry – is in the hands of people who are more attracted to marketing than design, it will be hard to see a change coming from the inside.

Unless a new generation of designers, aware of the problem and touched by it, will be willing to change for the better.
We are optimistic!

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Waste, and why we waste

“Waste isn’t waste until we waste it”

Will I Am

This quote perfectly resonates with us, not only because of the deeper level of consciousness recent events have brought. We have always paid attention to reducing waste as much as possible.
Writing on the backside of printed sheets, not using plastic coffee cups, refilling our water bottles, limiting the quantity of paper used for packaging. These are only some of our actions to reduce the litter we produce. Perhaps now we take this matter even more seriously since the damage we have caused to the environment is visible.

The waste culture

But, digging deeper, where does our wastefulness come from? When did we start wasting so much?

Waste is the ignorant byproduct of an over-consumerist society.

From the 1950s, little by little, overconsumption has been promoted as a great lifestyle pattern and taken over our lives. Completely ignoring the consequences.
Consume like there’s no tomorrow, is the motto. And, if we go on like this, there will be no tomorrow!

The fact that masses can be easily manipulated is quite scary. The fact that given a sense of comfort, we avoid thinking, is not a good sign.

By the way, walking through our journey, we acknowledge our mistakes. Our eyes are open, so we want to change for the better.

Whether fashion waste or any other kind, consciousness reflects itself on many levels and layers.
First of all, please stop wasting food! Then, whenever you are tired of something, consider other options before tossing it.

Even in the case of fashion, please don’t throw away clothes you don’t want anymore.

There are ways to reduce fashion waste:

. choose quality, it lasts longer.
. wash in lower temperatures, so clothes will not get damaged.
. repair when possible.
. donate to charity.
. some shops collect items to recycle.
. resell if you want, there are many resell platforms.

We have options available, so how much waste is up to us.

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