Understanding the Importance of Ethical Fashion vs Fast Fashion

At Tribe Azul we believe it is important to discuss things going on in our world, such as fast fashion and greenwashing. 

Fast fashion clothing retailers like Zara, Forever 21 and H&M make cheap and fashionable clothing, but at an earthly cost that comes with a high price. According to the UN Environment Programme, the fashion industry is the second-biggest consumer of water and is responsible for 8-10% of global carbon emissions – more than all international flights and seafaring shipping combined.

What is Fast Fashion?

The term fast fashion has become more well known in conversations surrounding fashion, sustainability and environmental consciousness. The term refers to cheaply produced and priced garments that copy the latest styles and trends that then get pumped quickly through stores. The fast fashion model is so-called because it involves rapid design, production, distribution and marketing. This means that retailers are able to make large quantities of product variety and allow consumers to get more fashion and product differentiation at a lower price than sustainable brands like us here at Tribe Azul.

The term was first used at the beginning of the 1990s, when Zara landed in New York. “Fast fashion” was coined by the New York Times to describe Zara’s mission to take only 15 days for a garment to go from the design stage to being sold in stores. The biggest players in the fast fashion world include Zara, UNIQLO, Forever 21 and H&M.

Why is Fast Fashion Bad?

As stated by Business Insider, fashion production comprises 10% of total global carbon emissions. It dries up water sources and pollutes rivers and streams, while 85% of all textiles go to dumps each year. Even washing these items releases 500,000 tons of microfibres into the ocean each year, the equivalent of 50 billion plastic bottles.

The three main pollution impacts are dyeing (36%), yarn preparation (28%) and fibre production (15%). The fibre production has the largest impact on freshwater withdrawal (water diverted or withdrawn from a surface water or groundwater source) and ecosystem quality due to cotton cultivation. The dyeing and finishing, yarn preparation and fibre production stages have the highest impacts on resource depletion, due to the energy-intensive processes based on fossil fuel energy.

According to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, emissions from textile manufacturing alone are projected to skyrocket by 60% by 2030.

The time it takes for an item of clothing to go through the supply chain, from design to purchase, is called ‘lead time’. In 2012, Zara was able to design, produce and deliver a new garment in two weeks; Forever 21 in six weeks and H&M in eight weeks. This results in the fast fashion industry producing obscene amounts of waste.

The Environmental Impacts of Fast Fashion


Among the environmental impacts of fast fashion are the depletion of non-renewable sources, emission of greenhouse gases and the use of massive amounts of water. The fashion industry is the second largest industry consumer of water, requiring about 700 gallons to produce one (conventional) cotton shirt and 2,000 gallons of water to produce a pair of jeans. Business Insider also cautions that textile dyeing is the world’s second-largest polluter of water, since the water leftover from the dyeing process is often dumped into ditches, streams or rivers.

Cotton is the thirstiest crop in the world. It requires a shocking 2,700 litres of water to produce a single t-shirt! To put that figure into perspective, that’s enough water for one person to drink for 900 days. But it’s not all bad news! Organic cotton is a good sustainable solution. The farming of organic cotton uses less water and it is grown without the use of pesticides and other harmful chemicals. The benefits are clear; using fewer pesticides means that the local ecosystem is better supported and protected, the health of workers improves dramatically, communities can live in relative health with access to clean water and food supplies, and the land has a longer lifespan because it is not being damaged by chemicals.

We know that consumers are increasingly looking for products that are better for them and for the environment. The search for ‘organic’ products began in the food industry and is now reaching the fashion industry, with more and more brands starting to offer organic options, including us here at Tribe Azul.


Conventional cotton uses approximately 25% of the world's insecticides--this is more than any other crop in the world, including GMO corn!  It also uses 10% of the world's pesticides. Organic cotton is not treated with the harmful synthetic pesticides, herbicides, and insecticides that their conventional counterparts are doused in. Not only do many of these chemicals remain within the fibers as they find their home with the end consumer, but these chemicals also destroy ecosystems, poison farmers and factory workers. They also destroy the soil, making it more difficult to grow future crops in a natural manner.

Conventional cotton, which is in a large amount of fast fashion products, as you can tell is also not environmentally friendly to manufacture. Pesticides deemed necessary for the growth of cotton presents health risks to farmers.

To counter this waste caused by fast fashion, more sustainable fabrics that can be used in clothing include wild silk, organic cotton, linen, hemp and lyocell.

The Social Impacts of Fast Fashion

Fast fashion also poses societal problems, especially in developing economies. According to non-profit Remake, 80% of apparel is made by young women between the ages of 18 and 24. A 2018 US Department of Labor report found evidence of forced and child labour in the fashion industry in Argentina, Bangladesh, Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Philippines, Turkey, Vietnam and others. Rapid production means that sales and profits supersede human welfare.

According to The True Cost, one in six people work in some part of the global fashion industry, making it the most labour-dependent industry. Unfortunately many developing nations do not follow environmental regulations; China, for example, is a major producer of fast fashion but is notorious for land degradation and air and water pollution.

“Slow Fashion”

Slow fashion is the widespread reaction to fast fashion, the argument for hitting the brakes on excessive production, overcomplicated supply chains, and mindless consumption. It advocates for manufacturing that respects people, the environment and animals.

Ethical shoppers are also looking to shop with small local businesses. By shopping with small businesses that sell US made produce, like Tribe Azul, you are supporting local economies. 

The best advice on reducing fast fashion comes from Patsy Perry, senior lecturer in fashion marketing at the University of Manchester, who says, “Less is always more.”

What is Greenwashing?

Greenwashing is defined in the Oxford Dictionary as, “to make people believe that your company is doing more to protect the environment than it really is.”

Nowadays, using the word ‘sustainable’ can be incredibly persuasive: beware of greenwashing and of fashion brands claiming to do better when they are still not addressing other vital issues.

Environmentally-conscious consumers rely on corporate messages to inform their purchasing choices.  Yet, it is not uncommon for organizations to make misleading environmental claims. For example a fashion brand may have a highly publicised small capsule ‘sustainable’ collection while the rest of the company continues to act in ways that are damaging to the environment.  

It is important that consumers are educated on what companies and products are green and which are not and being able to see through the greenwashing. 

Here at Tribe Azul, we work to keep sustainability at the core of our business. We use only organic cotton and recycled polyester in our clothing. All our clothing is ethically made in the United States. We use water-based inks for our prints and 100% recycled packaging for our goods. Please join us in our pledge to try and live more sustainably and protect the future of our beautiful planet.

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