Are Changing Fashion Styles Hurting the Environment?

Sep 21, 2017

Experts weighed in on the high social cost of cheap clotting, and what it's doing to the environment.
Credit Rutgers Newark / The Cornwall Center

Fashion changes at such a rapid pace in the 21st century, yesterday’s styles can literally end up in a landfill.  Experts call it fast fashion. 

“Fast fashion is essentially a global industry that creates clothing very quickly from design to production.  The clothing is designed to be disposable,” says Mary Rizzo, author of Class Acts:  Young Men and the Rise of Lifestyles and one of four panelists on The Cornwall Center City Dialogues series at Rutgers Newark.  “The roots of fast fashion go back much further to the roots of industrial production, the factory system that allows for things to be created very cheaply.”

Cheap fashionable clothing brings in major profits for the industry’s big punchers.  Loubna Erraji from the Rutgers Business School says the model of selling clothing by season goes right out the window.

“The turnaround is about four to six weeks if you’re comparing it to seasonal fashion companies.  They are creating faster and making money although the products are much cheaper.  They produce at such a high volume that they are still making a lot of money.”

Kevin Lyons is from the Rutgers Business School Department of Supply Chain Management.  His research finds him scouring landfills across New Jersey.

“Archeology happening in real time and fast to me is very fascinating.  I think people would be shocked to find out that a piece of clothing that was sold in September has already found itself in the dumpster by April.”

The overflow of textiles is making an environmental impact.  Lyons believes it’s a crisis flying under the radar.

“When you think about fast fashion, it’s not of the highest quality.  We’re talking about materials that aren’t’ made in nature in some cases like polyesters and a whole host of chemicals made for things that are iron free.  They don’t tell you how or why but it’s formaldehyde that makes the material non-ironable.  It’s a huge environmental disaster and even the making of it.  In some cases if it’s made oversees, the regulations using certain types of chemicals are not as strict than if it was made in the United States.”

Bridgette Artise runs Born Again Vintage out of New York City, a sustainable fashion brand.  She says like the fast food industry, it might take policy to change fast fashion. 

“Putting limitations and boundaries on how things are made, maybe that can start it, but right now it’s just a little network of sustainable fashion designers,” said Artise.  People don’t know about this, we have such a long way to go.”