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The Hidden Cost of Fast Fashion

Fast Fashion is taking over the world!

It's easy to see why fast fashion brands such as H&M, Zara, Forever 21 and Shein have become so popular. They allow people (including kids) to buy new outfits all the time. This means they can keep up with the latest trends highlighted by social media influencers. The best part is that these new clothes are really inexpensive.

Even if people don't have the money for their new outfits right now, that's ok as they can use the store's Buy Now, Pay Later service which is interest free!

The popularity of Fast Fashion is increasing at a significant rate. At the moment, one estimate is that manufacturers make 100 billion items of clothing every year. This is expected to grow by 60 per cent by 2030!

On the surface of it, this looks great to the consumer, however, there is a big price to pay for this which we need our kids to be aware of.

We need kids to know that Fast Fashion isn't necessarily good for our planet or for our wallet! To understand these costs, we need to look at how some Fast Fashion companies can afford to make money.

How can Fast Fashion make money

To understand the downsides of Fast Fashion, we need to look at how Fast Fashion companies make their money.

Like most companies that sell 'cheap' items, they need to sell a lot of them and to ensure the cost of making them is minimal.

Selling a lot ...

Rather than the designer brands who usually bring out new outfits around 4 times a year (based on the seasons of the year), Fast Fashion companies can have new ranges on their shelves every 2 weeks. This increase in options and choice (as well as the low price tags) means that they get a lot more people coming to buy their clothes. This is great in terms of helping them sell more clothes, more often.

These companies also use social media to ensure that young minds are always seeing new trends and therefore increasing the pressure on them to spend. You can read more about social media impacts on your kids finances in my blog: How Social Media can stop your kids from becoming wealthy

Ensuring their costs are minimal ...

I asked my daughters "How do you think these companies can make their clothes so cheap?" (I always find it more powerful when asking them questions rather than just giving them a lecture with answers).

They thought about it and said

  • "Use cheap materials" - exactly, these companies use the cheapest cloth, buttons and zips for their clothes

  • "Don't pay the people who make the clothes much" - again, they got this spot on. Many Fast Fashion companies pay incredibly low wages in some of the poorest parts of the world. In the past, some have even been in the media, caught out for using child labour to keep their costs down.

Unlike the designer brands, they don't worry too much about the quality of their products in terms of the materials or the production. As people know the garments are cheap, they don't have that expectation. If a garment does break, it is super to cheap to buy a new one.

Now that we know how they make money, it's a bit easier to see hidden costs of Fast Fashion

The Hidden Costs of Fast Fashion

1. Impact on the environment

Here are just some of the ways that the textile industry is having a negative impact on our planet:

  • Pollution: One of the biggest polluters due to the energy used to get the materials, produce the clothes and ship the clothes

  • Water consumption: There is only a limited amount of fresh water in the world to support our increasingly growing population and making clothes uses a lot of water. For example, to make one t-shirt and one pair of jeans it takes around 20,000 litres of water (that is enough drinking water for a single person for 900 days). The textile industry is the second largest consumer of fresh water.

  • Deforestation: The more raw materials we need for the increasing amount of clothes, will require more land and this means more forests are being cut down.

  • Landfills: As over 80% of old textiles are thrown away, this means more waste going into the ground.

With kids learning about the environment at school, sharing the environmental impact of Fast Fashion can really get them to assess their views.

2. Impact on people

As mentioned above, Fast Fashion companies often use very cheap labour. Whilst some might argue that these companies are providing jobs to those who might not otherwise be working, there is a fine line between that argument and ensuring there is no exploitation. This is especially true if the rumours regarding the use of child labour are true (as families will pull their kids out of school to earn money making clothes rather than getting an education).

3. Impact on your wallet

The low cost of the clothes from the Fast Fashion brands would imply that you are saving money compared to more expensive clothes shops / brands. This would only be true if you bought the clothes at the same frequency. As mentioned above, people buy more frequently from Fast Fashion brands due to the poor quality and social pressure.

When it comes to fashion, we should consider the 'cost per wear', i.e. how much you'll wear something divided by the cost.

For example, if you buy a quality pair of jeans for $100 which you'll know will last and go with most tops, you can easily wear 50 times. That means the 'cost per wear' is $2 ($100/50). This compares to a $12 bright yellow t-shirt which might be 'bang on trend' at the time but you only wear 3 times before that trend changes. That has a 'cost per wear' of $4 ($12/3).

Sometimes it is worth paying more for quality if it lasts longer and you expect to wear it more often. This reminds me of the blog I wrote about the difference between 'Frugal vs Cheap' which I recommend you check out.

Buy Now, Pay Later is another danger to your wallet. This is when the stores allow people to spread the cost of their purchases over instalments (without interest). This means you can buy lots now but only see a small amount leave your wallet. Whilst this seems good in the short term, it's definitely not good in the long term. You can learn more about the dangers of Buy Now, Pay Later here

So whilst it might appear to save you money, over the long term, that's unlikely to be the case.


The key message from this blog is to make sure your kids don't get into the habit of buying lots of cheap clothes frequently from the Fast Fashion brands.

This isn't to say they shouldn't ever buy from these brands. It's more about ensuring they don't buy new clothes too frequently. If they do buy clothes, make sure they look after them (i.e. don't have the mindset of 'I can simply buy a new one as it's cheap') or spend a bit more for higher quality clothes or, look out for Fast Fashion brands who have introduced environmentally and socially responsible lines.

These changes can help your kids grow up looking after their wallets and the planet!

Here are the links to the other blogs I mentioned above:

I'd also recommend you read your kids (or get your kids to read) 'The Invisible Slime Story' here - as this will help them think about fashion in a different light.

Please help other families start talking about money by sharing this blog with others.

Thanks for reading!


p.s. Rather than buying an extra garment next time you are clothes shopping, why not buy someone a copy of Grandpa's Fortune Fables? It could change their financial future!


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