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The Devastating Impact of Fast Fashion on Developing Countries

Fast fashion has revolutionised the clothing industry, enabling the mass production of affordable, trend-driven garments. However, this industry's exponential growth has resulted in severe environmental and social consequences that require immediate attention.

In this article today we will dive deep into the consequences of fast fashion and also shed


light on the case of KICOMI, a once-thriving clothing production company in Kenya that was forced to close its doors due to the detrimental effects of fast fashion that they could not compete with and external sanctions.

The Rise of Fast Fashion

The emergence of fast fashion in the late 20th century revolutionised the fashion industry, offering consumers affordable and trendy clothing at an unprecedented pace. Offering low-cost production, and frequent releases of new clothing collections, it has been gladly welcomed by some industry experts and consumers.

However, this model also heavily relies on cheap labour and outsourced production to developing countries, and as most of us are already aware, incurs great environment as well as social damage in the process.

Let’s have a closer look at the environmental and social impact of fast fashion.

Environmental Impact

Fast fashion's emphasis on rapid production comes at a significant environmental cost.

Here is how:

1. Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Fast fashion significantly contributes to greenhouse gas emissions throughout its lifecycle. The production of textiles involves energy-intensive processes, such as fibre extraction, spinning, weaving, and dyeing, which rely heavily on fossil fuels and the transportation of materials to various parts of the globe further adds to harmful carbon emissions. The extraction and processing of raw materials used in fast fashion, such as cotton and polyester also have a substantial carbon footprint.

2. Water Consumption

Fast fashion has a significant impact on water resources due to its high water consumption throughout the production process as it is used in various stages, including cultivation, dyeing, printing, and finishing. Cotton cultivation is particularly water-intensive and depends on large amounts for irrigation. Not only this, the use of pesticides, also contaminates pure water sources and creates imbalances in aquatic ecosystems.

3. Waste Generation

The fast fashion industry promotes a "throwaway culture" where garments are quickly discarded, leading to significant waste generation. The production process itself generates waste, including fabric scraps, trimmings, and packaging materials. Moreover, excessive production and marketing strategies that encourage constant consumption lead to increased waste at every stage of the supply chain.

4. Chemical Pollution

Fast fashion relies on the use of a wide range of hazardous chemicals throughout the production process, leading to severe environmental pollution. The Dyeing process also relies on the use of synthetic dyes, many of which contain toxic substances such as heavy metals, azo compounds, and formaldehyde and are released into the environment during the process.

Social Impact

1. Worker Exploitation and Poor Labor Conditions

Fast fashion relies on a global supply chain that often involves low-wage countries with weak

Gracelandic Silk Dresses

labour regulations, long working hours, low wages, lack of social protections, and unsafe working environments. This is supported by sufficient research data and evidence. One article by EuroNews for example revealed how exploitation and sweatshops quite literally form the core of fast fashion without which it would be difficult if not entirely impossible for the industry to survive.

The production of fast fashion garments is linked to various human rights violations, such as child labour, forced labor, and modern slavery. Workers are often forced into working under exploitative conditions, with limited freedom to leave their employment. Issues such as debt bondage, where workers are trapped in a cycle of debt, unable to escape their labour exploitation, are still prevalent today in many underdeveloped and developing countries, particularly in Asia.

2. Gender Inequality

Female garment workers often face discrimination, both in terms of wages and opportunities for career advancement and many countries receive lower wages compared to their male counterparts, despite performing the same tasks. The fast fashion industry also reinforces gender stereotypes and societal expectations with women predominantly being employed in low-skilled, low-paid positions, such as sewing and stitching, while men are more likely to hold higher-skilled positions or management roles.

Moreover, gender-based violence and harassment are prevalent issues faced by female garment workers due to inadequate protection mechanisms and which make women vulnerable to physical, verbal, and sexual abuse.

Although all countries suffer from these impacts, developing nations such as those in Africa and Asia, are more vulnerable because of the lack of rules and regulations and capacity to deal with them.

Apart from this social and environmental impact, the fast fashion industry is also producing disastrous outcomes for local businesses, especially in developing nations.

Fast fashion brands, with their low-cost and high-volume production models, flood the market with cheap, trendy clothing which creates intense competition for local producers, who often struggle to match the low prices and rapid production cycles of fast fashion. As a result, local producers face challenges in maintaining market share and profitability.

Not only this, fast fashion also generally involves the production of basic, low-value garments, with little room for value addition or innovation which limits opportunities for local producers to develop higher value-added products, differentiate their offerings, and capture more significant market segments.

Fast fashion-promoting businesses are also able to expand easily and this has been creating unfair competition in many areas such as Africa. The clothing production company in Kenya known as KICOMI supported spinning, cotton, weaving, etc, and was closed over unfair competition from external companies as well.

Although a famous one, KICOMI is not the only local business in Kenya that was forced to shut down, there are many others including Raymonds, UTI, and Bhupco that also could not withstand unhealthy competition in the market. The closing down of these businesses has all been accompanied by problems of unemployment and loss of investment and skills.

The solution to all these problems is one: the fast fashion industry needs to be closed if we

are to protect local economies, the environment, and the people.

We hope that this article has proven to be resourceful and given you better insights into the impact of fast fashion.


Water | Free Full-Text | The Environmental Impacts of Fast Fashion on Water Quality: A Systematic Review (

Exploitation and sweatshops are at the core of fast fashion: It’s time to dismantle the system | Euronews

Murder, rape and abuse in Asia’s factories: the true price of fast fashion | Garment workers | The Guardian

Textile industry revival boost for manufacturers, says garment maker (

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