Fast Fashion Advertising: Is it Ethical?

Onesta Journal

Fast Fashion Advertising: Is it Ethical?

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In November of last year, the government announced plans to implement a total ban on online junk food advertising in an attempt to tackle the growing obesity crisis, especially in the younger generation. This particularly targets TV advertisement, banning junk food adverts before 9pm. This ban, to come into force at the end of 2022, is a great step forward for the health of the country; but the same dedication still isn’t being held for the fashion industry.

The growing obesity crisis has, especially in the last two years, been shown to put an unmanageable strain on the NHS. A poor diet leads to more disease and death than ever before, and COVID has particularly demonstrated how important it is to be able to tackle such illnesses and continue a healthy lifestyle. These facts are known throughout society, that eating fast food is not healthy. Fast fashion, like fast food, causes unnecessary harm to people and animals and contributes to climate change, however, most people are unaware of the long-term impact of fast fashion.


Why “fast” isn’t always good

The term ‘fast’ has had a negative meaning on our society for a long time. Fast food is known to have negative effects on your skin, stomach, heart, memory and mental health to name a few. It may be cheap, and quick to order and eat, but are the after effects really worth it? The same can be said for ‘fast’ fashion. Within the last 15 years, the production of clothing has doubled, meaning more and more harmful practices are being used to keep up with this increase that are impacting the health and wellbeing of not only our planet but of people and animals as well.

Fast fashion and the environment

Fast fashion has reacted rapidly to meet customer demands of new products, quicker turnarounds and lower prices. This had led to overconsumption, with the production of clothes getting worse each day. Online retailer Missguided currently have over 17,000 styles on their website, with a commitment to add one thousand styles each week. Fashion is no longer seasonal, encouraging consumers to purchase new clothes weekly and keep up with the constantly changing trends. Most of the garments purchased from fast fashion shops are only worn once and then discarded, because trends change weekly and clothes are not made to last. This kind of mindset, although appealing to customers, is just not healthy for the environment. Last year, it was said that less than 1% of the materials used to produce clothing is recycled, meaning that 99% of them are considered wastage. In total that is around 100 billion pounds worth of waste every single year.

Fast fashion and the animal welfare

Animal welfare continues to be an increasing concern in the fashion industry. For example, the leather industry has become an increasingly popular business - in 2018 alone, 3.5 million cattle, goats and pigs were killed for their leather for the UK¹. It is often the younger animals that are targeted, in order to preserve the smoothness of their skin, as it is the skins and hides with less damage and contamination that create the best quality leather. These animals have to endure pain, discomfort and a number of cruel treatments even before they are killed. This mass farming and killing requires enormous amounts of land, water, energy and feed to keep them running, as well as a huge quantity of dangerous chemicals that pollute nearby environments. The leather industry has a tragic social and environmental impact, its involvement in fast fashion has increased due to a rising demand for the product. Garments like the leather jacket has been a classic look for more than a century, and never seems to go out of fashion. Fast fashion businesses have taken advantage of this; by making their leather products cheaper the durability and quality is decreased, causing people to throw them away quicker. This shows how much the consumer demands has affected the production and the aftermath of the fast fashion industry.


Fast fashion and health

The fashion industry impacts the environment in a number of ways, but also effects the health of the population. Fashion manufacturing accounts for 10% of global carbon emissions, from the production to the transportation of the millions of garments each year. One washing load of polyester fabrics can release up to 700,000 microplastics into our water systems, recent studies have found that microplastics were present within all ten lakes, rivers and reservoirs that were tested throughout the UK². These can then enter our food chain, releasing more toxic elements. A single person, on average, consumes twelve coat hanger’s worth of plastic a year through their food. There are approximately 8,000 chemicals used in the textile production process, which end up as wastage and cause harm not only to the environment but to people as well. Untreated toxic wastewater's from factories are dumped directly into rivers. This wastewater can contain toxic substances such as lead, mercury, and arsenic; these are extremely harmful not just to aquatic life but also to the health of people living near those rivers. For example, a chemical known as ‘phthalates’ is commonly used in fabric printing. This is known as an endocrine disruptor, which disrupts hormone levels and has been linked to breast cancer, developmental issues, and decreased fertility. Read more about the dangers of these chemicals in our previous blog here. This contamination is then spread through the sea and around the globe. If these health risks were advertised more, there would be more action taken to tackle theses important issues.

Fast fashion and garment workers

Big fashion brands are promoting overconsumption, releasing hundreds to thousands of new styles each week to keep up with consumer demand and competitors. The excess of waste, and the use of synthetic fabrics throughout their garments are harmful to our skin and our environment. Synthetic materials are the cheapest, but are produced with chemicals and take the longest to degrade, meaning they will spend years and years in landfill sites when they are inevitably thrown away. These companies are also taking advantage of cheaper labour costs in other countries, contributing to a combination of poor wages, endless working hours, unacceptable health and safety conditions and even child and forced labour. Advertisements of fast fashion are indirectly promoting these issues, because every purchase of a fast fashion item supports these devastating consequences.

What is greenwashing?

Many clothing companies have advertised that they are becoming more sustainable and are stating they are making changes in their products to reduce their impact on climate change and improve working conditions along their supply chain. However, when looking deeper, it becomes clear that these companies are not fully dedicated to what they say they are doing, and their “promises” are more of a marketing strategy than an actual commitment to being sustainable and ethical. This is known as ‘greenwashing’.

Greenwashing has become much more common in recent years as the issue of climate change gains attention. Many brands are advertising positive information, such as that they are using recycled or sustainable fabric in one of their shirts, to hide the negative. As well as this, a company may draw attention to a minor issue, such as worker’s rights, but fail to do any meaningful action to support it in their own staff chain.

High street store Primark is a prime example of greenwashing. At the beginning of this year, the company announced a new initiative called ‘Primark Cares’, this initiative calls to care for their people and production, the planet, and setting high standards in the factories where their products are made. However, Primark has been linked to a number of incidents that left garment workers unsafe; in 2014 a factory in Bangladesh collapsed in which more than 1,100 workers lost their lives³, there has been occasions in which they have cancelled garment orders which left workers vulnerable and without a job. It was also found that Primark’s workers were only making $113 per month when Primark themselves were making a grand total of $485 million in profit⁴. Primark is clearly a fast fashion company; how can such cheap clothing be sustainable? How does £3 for a piece of clothing cover production, material, transport and paying a fair wage? Read more about whether fast fashion can be sustainable in our previous blog here. Their promises are not realistic if they continue to produce at the current rate, and they are hiding these issues from their audiences. A TV advert was produced for this campaign which outlines their commitments with an array of nature themed imagery, as well as partnering with well-known presenter Laura Whitmore to promote it; with all their past and current issues, why are people so quick to believe Primark has changed?

The impact of fast fashion advertising

In a recent survey that Onesta carried out, we found that 64% of people will automatically believe a company that states they are sustainable. Furthermore, 56% responded that they do not understand how to investigate whether a company is sustainable. This goes to show how much trust we have in brands and the messaging they present to us; it begs the question as to why we’ve come to trust companies so much, or why they think they can greenwash their advertising?

Recently, the lifting of COVID lockdowns gave way to a huge splurge on in store shopping, risking a spree of fast fashion purchases. Many of us noticed the long queues that were present outside places such as Primark the day that non-essentials shops were allowed to reopen again. It is understandable that people were eager to get out and shop in store, it’s a way in which things could start returning to normal; but if advertising was more conscious and informative in the harmful ways of fast fashion, people might have been more careful about where they were queuing, much like people are for fast food chains.

The government announcement of banning fast-food advertisement includes a 9pm cut off time to target the younger generation who have grown up in the digital age, spending more time online and consuming the advertisement given to them on various platforms. It has already been shown that the young generation are more willing to change in the name of sustainability; 81% of people under 30 years of age believe brands are an essential part of global solutions as well as 85% wanting to share ideas and experiences to aid brands in creating these solutions⁵. We believe regulating advertising from fast fashion brands is a great way to start this change.

The advertisement of fast fashion clothing made from plastics and harmful chemicals, as well as companies who are greenwashing their customers, should be treated in the same way that fast-food has been. Greater transparency, awareness and action is needed to make the public more aware of the dangers of fast fashion and how they can buy less and buy better.



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