From Design to Landfill: The Life Cycle of Your $3 Shein T-Shirt |

That cute top you bought for less than your morning coffee, wore twice, washed once, and thrown away because it broke as soon as it hit the washing machine agitator will sit in a landfill, leeching pollutants for up to 200 years.

To put that into context, if fast fashion (and polyester) existed in Susan B. Anthony’s lifetime, the clothes she would have worn to champion women’s rights would still be sitting in a Rochester junkyard today. It’s doubtful Anthony would have championed the dark ethics surrounding fast fashion, but that’s beside the point.

In vogue, fast and ultra-fast fashion, terms referring to the speed of production, attract consumers because of their low prices. For the individual, the financial burden is negligible. It might even seem like a responsible choice to buy from sites like Shein, Fashion Nova or Zara. But in almost every other respect, this type of clothing comes with a hefty price tag on the planet. The fashion industry accounts for up to 10% of global carbon dioxide output, according to the United Nations Environment Programme.

Stacker referenced fashion industry news and reports to break down the general lifecycle of fast fashion. Before a polyester blouse is a blouse, it is a non-renewable petroleum-based synthetic that requires a lot of resources to extract and produce. Garment workers around the world then produce it, often working in unsafe conditions and earning well below a living wage. After arriving at its destination via a high-carbon international shipment, a blouse can serve its intended purpose for a year before spending most of its life as junk.

Driven primarily by consumers who prioritize quantity over quality and the rise of online shopping, the fashion industry is responsible for approximately 92 million tonnes of waste annually, most of which is incinerated, landfilled or , even worse, polluting land, waterways and coasts around the world. Americans alone generate 12 times more clothing waste today than they did in 1960, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Some estimates estimate that the amount of clothing produced each year is 14 garments for every person on the planet.

The concept of clothing recycling, which many fast fashion companies have championed to help remedy the industry’s wasteful reputation, is largely a myth. Only 1% of discarded clothing is reused or recycled into new clothes. The technology and infrastructure required to process textile waste does not exist on a scale that can actually keep up with the pace at which the world generates it.

Fast fashion companies make huge profits despite low prices, low quality and environmental damage. Shein was valued at $100 billion in April 2022, more than Zara and H&M combined. Just two years ago, the online retailer was valued at $15 billion, a testament to consumer values ​​that don’t necessarily extend beyond their wallets.

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