Teaching About the Fast Fashion Industry and Sustainable Production

Introduction

Fast fashion refers to “an approach to the design, creation, and marketing of clothing fashions that emphasizes making fashion trends quickly and cheaply available to consumers” (Merriam-Webster). The environmental impacts of fast fashion are vast and include the depletion of non-renewable resources, the use of significant amounts of water and energy, and the emission of greenhouse gases. In fact, according to Business Insider, fast fashion production is responsible for 10% of the total global carbon emissions. Therefore, in recent years, there has been a call for fashion to become more sustainable. Sustainable fashion takes environmental and socio-economic factors into consideration when clothing, shoes, and accessories are manufactured. Teaching students about fast fashion and sustainable production is important because they will be able to make a conscious decision to invest in a sustainable wardrobe to contribute to the ultimate goal of a more sustainable future for us all!

Resources

There are many resources available online for teaching students about the fast fashion industry and sustainable production. Educators who want to teach their students about sustainability more generally should check out U4SC’s Teaching About Sustainability and Sustainable Development and Teaching About the Sustainable Development Goals.

Lesson Plans

  1. Get Redressed Lesson Plan – Fashion and the Environment: Redress is a Hong Kong based environmental charity with a mission to prevent and transform textile waste in the fashion industry. Therefore, Redress has put together a lesson plan to introduce students to the issue of textile waste; encourage them to reflect on their own fashion consumption, clothing use, and disposal habits; and provide them with the knowledge and tools to take action. This lesson focuses on the polluting effects of clothes and possible solutions but will also support teachers who are teaching their students about the UN Sustainable Development Goals, specifically Goal 12 of Responsible Production and Consumption.
  2. Rethinking Fast Fashion After Bangladesh: PBS LearningMedia offers an audio recording of an essay from Youth Radio where a teenager reflects on her buying and shopping habits. After touring Bangladesh and hearing stories about the local factory conditions, she returns to the United States determined not to buy clothes made in sweatshops along with raising awareness about fast fashion. This essay and its accompanying activity will help teachers start a discussion with students about consumerism and challenge them to research where their clothing came from and what living and working conditions are like in that country. For those who want to teach their students about the implications fast fashion has on the livelihoods of people in other countries, this lesson should be helpful!

Articles

  1. Can ‘Fast Fashion’ Be Sustainable?: Forbes provides an article discussing if fast fashion can be sustainable. The article first explains how the environment pays a high price for cheaper clothes before examining how the fast fashion industry can become more sustainable. Fashioning a new business model, using alternative materials, supplying chain transparency, and utilizing new technologies are all considered.
  2. Fast Fashion – Its Detrimental Effect on the Environment: Earth.org has published an article explaining how fast fashion has detrimental effects on the environment. The article discusses what fast fashion is and why it is bad, the environmental impacts of fast fashion (water, microplastics, energy), the social impacts of fast fashion, and “slow fashion.”
  3. Can Fashion Ever Be Sustainable?: BBC offers an article discussing whether fashion can ever be sustainable. The article details how fashion contributes to a great portion of the greenhouse gas emissions released by humans and goes into how people can reduce the impact their wardrobe has on the climate. For teachers who want their students to learn about the small actions they can take to reduce the carbon footprint of their wardrobe, this article may be helpful!
  4. You Know Fast Fashion Is Bad For The Planet. So Why Can’t You Stop Buying It?: This article from Huffington Post describes how people can break the cycle of buying fast fashion when they know it is bad for the environment. The article outlines the fundamental problems with the fast fashion industry, why fast fashion is not the only culprit, and what the fix is.
  5. How Fast Fashion is Destroying the Planet: The New York Times provides an article on how fast fashion is destroying the planet. The author discusses the connection between fast fashion and global economic and climate patterns and crises using Fashionopolis: The Price of Fast Fashion and the Future of Clothes by Dana Thomas. From this article, readers will learn about the three sections of Thomas’s narrative in depth!
  6. Putting the Brakes on Fast Fashion: The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has published an article discussing the importance of putting the brakes on fast fashion. The article discusses the environmental and human cost of fast fashion as well as the fashion of the future. To help students understand more about the damage of fast fashion, teachers may also read through the press release UN Alliance For Sustainable Fashion Addresses Damage of ‘Fast Fashion’ with them!

Informational Sites

  1. What Is Sustainable Fashion?: Green Strategy offers a brief page of information on sustainable fashion. The page offers a comprehensive definition of sustainable fashion that will help students more clearly understand the topic at hand.
  2. The Impact of Fast Fashion on the Environment: Princeton University provides information on the impact of fast fashion on the environment. The topics covered include the fashion industry’s excessive usage of water, plastic microfibers, usage of viscose, excessive consumption of clothing, and an alternative for viscose.
  3. The UN Alliance for Sustainable Fashion: The website for the UN Alliance for Sustainable Fashion provides an abundance of information about their initiative and on fashion and sustainable development in general. There are also many news articles about sustainable fashion that students and educators alike can learn from!
  4. Sustainability Resources: The Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) has compiled a list of resources and information specific to fashion design and business sustainable strategies. 
  5. Goal 12 – Ensure Sustainable Consumption and Production Patterns: The United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goal 12, which is to ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns, is most closely aligned with this topic of fast fashion and sustainable development. The UN provides many resources on this particular SDG, and these resources will inform students about the importance of sustainability!
  6. What is Sustainable Fashion? (An Introduction and 3 Steps for Getting Started): Green Dreamer provides an article on sustainable fashion, which explains why most fashion today is not sustainable and discusses the simple things people can look for to make their wardrobes more sustainable.
  7. Sustainable Manufacturing: The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) offers information about sustainable manufacturing and the business case for sustainable manufacturing. 

Conclusion

Teaching about the fast fashion industry and sustainable production may seem like a difficult task at first glance, but it is not nearly as challenging as one may think. When it comes down to it, it is important for educators to draw connections between the topic and the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, particularly Goal 12 of ensuring sustainable consumption and production patterns. This will help students understand the scope and more importantly the significance of sustainability!

Additional Resources

  1. ReFashion Week NYC Promotes Sustainability by Celebrating Secondhand and Sustainable Fashion: The United Nations has published an article discussing ReFashion Week NYC 2020 and its sustainability goals.
  2. Sustainable Development Goal 12 – SDG Tracker: This website allows users to track the progress of the globe on SDG 12, which is to ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns. 

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