The Problem with the Fashion Industry

It isn’t a secret that the fast fashion industry is an absolute ethical and sustainable train wreck. Exploitation of workers within the fashion supply-chain as well as the massive detrimental effects that the fast fashion industry has on the planet makes it one of the most environmentally damaging industries globally.

In this blog we will discuss large recent events from the fast fashion industry and the impact it is having on culture and our planet.

Recently in the news

Despite being public knowledge for a few years, the prevalence of sweatshops and vastly underpaid workers in Leicester has come to light in recent weeks when well-known online retailers were outed for supplying from these exploitative factories.

The former garment powerhouse that once claimed to clothe the world, Leicester still has a very active garment industry. However, it has been revealed that workers in garment factories in Leicester are receiving as little as £4 an hour for their labour less than half of minimum wage which is currently £8.72 for over 25s.

The conditions in these factories in Leicester is poor, and dangerous for the workers, “Tiny sweatshops were crammed into crumbling old buildings” (FT, 2020). Workers are crammed together in hot factories to sew high quantities of clothing. These cramped conditions in close proximity to one another has been given as an attributing factor to the high spread of the coronavirus in the city as workers are still working and the workplaces are not implementing social distancing measures in the workplace.

And why is this happening? This is happening and continuing to happen because the workers are in a position where they cannot refuse the money however little that may be. Fashion brands are asking for garments to be produced at such low prices that the manufacturers cannot afford to pay workers and pay for suitable working conditions.

Following the large amount of press coverage, government agencies and organisations are involved amongst modern slavery accusations.

The environment

Due to high demand, fast fashion companies use cheap, poor quality materials made from fossil fuels like polyester. Then once the garments have been made, they are then shipped worldwide using more fuel. Further to fuel usage, poor quality chemical dyes create toxins which are then emitted into water systems, polluting water supplies, “The textile industry is one of the most damaging industries to our waterways and our planet, only coming second in line to the agriculture industry”.

As a result of the fast-paced change in trends, stock will be removed from stores at the end of the “mini Seasons” (seasons in addition to S/S and A/W) instead of selling out. Rather than donating or reusing stock some companies have been exposed for destroying goods at the end of these seasons, wasting both time and resources which have gone into making the garment. This video demonstrates the vast amount of garments thrown away by the western world, much of it undamaged, being destroyed by workers in India.

Everyone says…clothes come over because there is a water shortage in the west. Water is just as expensive as clothes are. That’s why they wear their clothes a couple of times, and then throw them away

The workers who destroy the unwanted clothes can’t imagine any other reason as to why people would be so wasteful with wearable clothing.


Sweatshops are prevalent throughout the world but concentrate in Asia. Here the workers are subject to poor work conditions, poor wages, unsafe circumstances, and there is the exploitation of children for child labour. This exploitation is as a result of the high quantities demanded by fast fashion companies and low prices being offered as payment.

Fast fashion has engendered a race to the bottom, pushing companies to find ever-cheaper sources of labour. That cheap labour is freely available in many of the countries where textile and garment production takes place.”- The Guardian

The greed from large fast fashion companies for more profit and pressure from the consumer demanding cheaper garments, pushes prices offered to suppliers further and further down, pushing down the amount that can be spent on labour. But the mass-produced nature of the garment industry results in harder work for less pay for the workers in sweatshops. Exploitation of workers is at the heart of the business model, without this the whole “stack it high sell it cheap” nature of fashion retailers could not be doable. Which is why there cannot be socially ethical fast-fashion retailers, it just would not work.