Fast Fashion Statistics: Affordability vs. Sustainability

Fashion trends come and go, and brands like Zara, Forever 21, and H&M launch a new collection once or twice a month to be on top of their game. Consumers, on the other hand, frequently shop, trying to keep up with the latest trends. 

As a result, brands end up mass-producing designer-looking clothes at affordable prices. However, cheaper doesn’t always mean better—our list of statistics will show you the good and the bad side of this industry.

Top Fast Fashion Statistics: Editor’s Choice

  • Fast fashion employs one in six workers in the world.
  • The average US woman has 103 clothing items in her closet.
  • Fast fashion produces 20% of the total global water waste.
  • Fast fashion facts show that the industry is responsible for 10% of total carbon emissions.
  • Inditex Group produces over 500,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions in a year.
  • An average UK consumer purchases around 59 lb of clothes each year.
  • A US household spends, on average, $134 on clothes each month.
  • In the US, the average person throws away 81 pounds of clothes annually.

Facts About the Fast Fashion Industry in 2022

Fast fashion retailers are known for manufacturing and selling affordable clothes that look like designer clothes. The following list of statistics shows how the fast fashion industry’s sales strategies affect consumer spending.

1. The worldwide fast fashion market is estimated to reach $30.58 billion in 2021.

The fast fashion market size was $25.09 billion in 2020, but it grew at a CAGR of 21.9%, reaching an astounding figure in 2021.

Although the fast fashion industry suffered greatly due to lockdown measures, the market is forecast to hit $39.84 billion in 2025.

2. One in six workers in the world is employed in the fast fashion industry.

Fast fashion statistics for 2021 indicate that the majority of workers are women. With so many females employed in an unsafe, underpaid, and underregulated environment, fast fashion is cause for concern.

3. 93% of apparel and footwear brands don’t pay garment workers a living wage.

Unfortunately, the majority of garment workers are unable to afford the necessities. Globalization in fashion has caused most prominent brands to outsource labor to low-wage countries, such as Bangladesh and Vietnam.

Brands have profited from poverty for decades, leaving millions of employees without protection and security. Workers in Bangladesh struggle in particular—earning an average of $96 per month, with basic living expenses estimated to be 3.5 times that amount.

4. 80% of garment workers are women.

The fast fashion industry has a deep-seated gender inequality problem. According to employment facts about fast fashion, despite making up the majority of workers, women make much less than their male counterparts.

Furthermore, women experience significantly more verbal, physical, and sexual abuse in the workplace than men.

5. Shein has accounted for 28% of all fast fashion sales in the US in 2021.

In terms of sales, Shein outpaced H&M, which accounted for 20%, Zara for 11%, and Forever 21 for 10%. Moreover, fast fashion facts indicated that Shein made up 13% of all US fast fashion sales at the beginning of 2021.

Shein customers typically use mobile devices—its app is downloaded much more than Amazon’s app.

6. In the US, the average amount of clothes a woman owns is 103 items.

Women in the US typically wear only 10% of the clothing items they own. They believe 21% are unwearable, while the remaining 57% don’t fit properly—about 33% are too tight, and 24% are too loose.

Fast Fashion Environmental Impact

Sustainable fashion is ethically made and environmentally friendly. Yet, experts believe that no clothing item is 100% sustainable. Considering the waste and pollution generated by the industry, sustainable fashion statistics confirm that it’s the better alternative for the environment.

7. Fast fashion is the second-largest water user worldwide, producing 20% of the global water waste.

Considering that one cotton shirt requires 2,700 liters of water, the environmental impact of fast fashion should not be taken lightly. Furthermore, estimations show that water use in the fast fashion industry will increase by 50% by 2030.

8. The fashion industry is responsible for 10% of carbon emissions.

The impact of fast fashion waste is a little-known fact. Not only are carbon emissions responsible for destroying the environment, but 80% of textile is thrown in the ocean, severely endangering sea life.

Furthermore, the growing number of consumers purchasing affordable and mass-produced clothing adds to the problem.

9. According to fashion industry pollution statistics, half a million tonnes of microfibers get dumped into the ocean annually.

Clothing items are partially made of plastic, be it polyester, acrylic, or nylon textiles. These affordable synthetic fabrics are lightweight and durable, yet they easily shed tiny microfibers every time you wash them.

Fashion waste statistics prove that laundry alone can release the equivalent of three polyester shirts every year. Microplastics that end up in the ocean pose a threat to marine life, as they are usually mistaken for food.

10. The US textile recycling rate is 14.7%, equating to 2.5 million tons annually.

Sustainable methods prevent pollution, reduce gas emissions, and save energy and money. Recycling clothing facts shows how this can minimize the amount of waste in landfills or incinerators.

11. Inditex, the biggest fast fashion group globally, released 508,000 tonnes of gas emissions in 2019.

Although many apparel brands are taking steps to reduce their carbon footprint, gas emissions are still a worldwide issue. Fast fashion articles show that the Spanish company Inditex Group reported the most alarming amount of greenhouse gas emissions.

The European company has famous subsidiaries, such as Zara, Mango, Pull and Bear, and Bershka, and generates the most revenue of all fast fashion companies.

12. Fashion Nova, Boohoo, Revolve, Pretty Little Thing, and Forever 21 have less than a 10% transparency score on social and environmental issues.

Statistics about fast fashion indicate that the highly popular retailers don’t disclose much to the public about their business dealings in relation to social and environmental problems.

The industry is notorious for its unethical treatment of workers, therefore expected to present its consumers with more transparency and ensure the highest standards.

13. Over $500 billion in value is lost in the UK every year due to clothes underutilization and the lack of recycling.

Fast fashion statistics show that the lost value is not only due to consumers going through clothing items too quickly without recycling. Retailers often throw away or burn unsold pieces of clothing instead of donating or recycling.

What Countries Buy the Most Fast Fashion?

Fast fashion companies are often drawn to low-wage countries, such as China, Indonesia, Bangladesh, and Kenya. In most of them, little to no regulations prevent retailers from exploiting the local workforce.

14. In the UK, each consumer purchases, on average, 59 lb of clothing per year.

According to the latest available fast fashion statistics, UK residents shop for clothes the most in Europe. In comparison, people in Germany, the Netherlands, Italy, Denmark, and Sweden buy around 34 lb of clothes per person annually.

15. One in five people in the UK bought sustainable clothes in 2020.

Many people are still not aware of the negative effects of fast fashion—about 50% of the surveyed UK consumers admit they don’t shop from sustainable brands. Despite the progress made in recent years, the number of fast fashion consumers is still alarming.

16. Australians throw away 15 tonnes of fabric waste every ten minutes.

In a year, Australians dump about 68 lb of fabric per person, translating into 800,000 tonnes. According to fast fashion statistics, Australia is one of the countries that produce the most waste.

As the cost of apparel items continues to drop, consumers are increasingly eager to buy. However, low-quality clothing items make people throw them away quickly, harming the environment along the way.

17. The Canadian company Encircled Inc. makes clothes and accessories with 75% biodegradable materials.

Fast fashion statistics in Canada show the country is taking massive steps towards sustainability—yet, that comes with a few downsides. Using sustainable materials and limiting carbon emissions adds levels of stress and considerable costs to organizations.

18. In the US, the average household spends about $134 on clothing each month.

US households have increased the amount of money spent on clothes, statistics show. Currently, the average annual sum is $1,604. People primarily invest in fast fashion and inexpensive products that adversely affect the environment.

19. An average US consumer throws away 81 lb of clothes annually.

With the popularity and affordability of fast fashion, the endless choice of apparel has become more accessible than ever. Naturally, this leads to more waste than ever produced by the fast fashion industry, contributing to climate change.

On a brighter note, in the last 60 years, recycling rates in the US have risen from 7% to 32%. 

Fast Fashion in Numbers: The Takeaway

Climate change is a growing threat in today’s world. Textile manufacturing contributes more to the issue than international aviation and shipping combined, as it consumes enormous amounts of fresh water and creates chemical and plastic pollution.

Recycling can help reduce carbon emissions and recover energy, water, and other essential resources. The more consumers are aware of the negative fast fashion effects, the more brands will make sure to meet their demands.

Consumers are the main players in the apparel industry, and that is why they need to understand its harmful impact and how they can help save the planet for future generations.

Frequently Asked Questions

How much waste does fast fashion produce?

The constant demand for fast fashion is responsible for adding 10,000 clothing articles to landfills every five minutes. Clothing also generates waste in the form of raw materials used, carbon emissions, and water waste. For instance, a pair of jeans requires 1,800 gallons of water to be made.

One way to reduce waste is to “buy to last”—purchase high-quality items to use for a long time instead of a piece of clothing that will only be used for a year or less.

How much of the market is fast fashion?

Simply put, the fast fashion market is huge. It’s forecasted to grow from $25.09 billion to $30.58 billion by the end of 2021 at a compound annual growth rate of 21.9%.

The fast fashion market has continued to grow exponentially as the companies resumed operations previously shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. By 2025, the market is expected to reach a staggering $39.84 billion in value.

Is fast fashion the biggest polluter?

The fast fashion industry is the second-largest polluter worldwide. Ocean pollution, textile waste in landfills, and greenhouse carbon emissions are only some of the damaging effects of the apparel industry on the environment.

The following numbers are even more alarming—20% of the microplastics from clothing and footwear end up in the water, and 8% of total greenhouse gas emissions come from the fashion industry.

Is fast fashion profitable?

If a retailer jumps on the next big fast fashion trend before its competition, it can generate huge income. In case of profit losses, companies can rapidly recover by launching a new clothing line or item that follows the current trends.

Why is fast fashion so cheap?

Fast fashion brands sell a wide selection of clothes at very affordable prices, primarily because they outsource manufacturing to low-wage countries.

For example, well-known retailers like Zara, Forever 21, and H&M have workforce in Asian or African countries where the legislation doesn’t protect their workers from exploitation.

Fast fashion statistics demonstrate that not only do these employees work for less than a living wage, but they are also verbally, physically, and sexually abused in the workplace.


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