The Issue:

Fast Fashion is an approach to the production of clothing and apparel that allows for companies to design on-trend clothing quickly and cheaply. While this approach to clothing design is highly profitable for corporations, it has huge environmental and social consequences. The fast fashion industry is responsible for 10% of global carbon emissions and disproportionately employs women to work in an unregulated labor market. Consumers have a choice and can take action with their wallets: keep up with the latest trends or make sustainable choices ensuring the long term health and habitability of the planet and the people who live on it? Learn about sustainable production and packaging, how clothing can be upcycled and recycled, and how to fight fast fashion through the choices you make.


The Game Design Prompt:

Design a game to help your players dress for eco-success! Teach your players how to make ecologically responsible fashion choices from the shoes on their feet to the hats on their head.

Which SDG is this connected to?



World Economic Forum estimates that about 150 billion new clothing items are produced each year.

Between 2000 and 2014, clothing production doubled with the average consumer buying 60% more pieces of garment compared to 15 years ago. Yet, each clothing item is now kept half as long.

High income individuals create 76% more clothing waste than those with lower incomes.

35% of ocean microplastics come from synthetic clothing.

The fashion industry produces 10% of all humanity’s carbon emissions and is the second-largest consumer of the world’s water supply. – World Economic Forum

85% of textile workers earn below the minimum wage, receiving 2 to 6 cents for every piece of clothing


Fast Fashion is a term used to describe the mass-produced readily available and cheaply made fashionable clothing of today, as well as the business model that produces these clothes. It got the adjective “fast” from how quickly a cheap clothing brand could produce copied designs from the latest fashion shows and catwalks into easily available off-the-rack items you could purchase at your local mall. The need for these cheap alternatives comes from increased consumer demand for the newest fashion seen on social media.

It all starts with the materials. What are these cheaper clothes made of that so negatively impacts our environment? Where do these textiles come from and how are they produced? The use of synthetic fibers in textiles has more than doubled since 2000 and is already present in over two-thirds (69%) of textiles we use today. We’ve listed out some of the most common synthetic fibers and fabrics that are one of the biggest environmental culprits of fast fashion.

While there are certainly advantages to using these synthetic fibers such as being cheap to create, being longer lasting and durable, more resistant to staining, and resistance to chemical degradation, the cons outweigh these pros.

Many synthetic fibers are produced using synthesized chemicals derived from petrochemicals like coal and crude oil, which contributes to CO2 levels in our atmosphere and makes the fashion industry one of the biggest consumers of fossil fuel. They are not biodegradable like natural fibers are, so they contribute to landfills and pollute the environment from soil to water to air. And not only are they not biodegradable, they are also hard to recycle into other materials! They are also not always great for human skin and can cause allergic reactions to those with more sensitive skin.

Social media has exacerbated these issues with a phenomenon known as clothing “hauls” where influencers and social media stars show off mountains of clothes to their young and eager audience to influence their purchasing decisions. Many of these brands include household names like:

  • Shein
  • H&M
  • Zara
  • Forever 21
  • Fashion Nova
  • Urban Outfitters
  • GAP
  • Uniqlo 

And so many more! You can check the sustainability rating of different brands by looking up their ratings online, but we recommend using Good On You’s directory of different clothing brands to get an overview!

Fashion brands and retailers want consumers to think they are actively changing the methods in which they obtain their products. However, the avalanche of green claims and labels from the industry is merely smoke and mirrors and has failed to create systemic change. This is also known as greenwashing, a marketing technique utilized in a variety of industries including the fashion industry.


Due to the speed at which these clothes are released to the public, the fashion trend cycle has moved faster and faster. The fashion trend cycle is a term that refers to the amount of time a certain style or clothing piece stays fashionable in society, with typical trends repeating every 20 years (known as the 20-year rule). However, due to the speed of fast fashion, this is no longer the rule. Microtrends have caused clothing to stay in fashion for even shorter periods of time. Within the same year, an item of clothing will be out of fashion, encouraging the creation and consumption of new fashions in even shorter periods of time.


The fact is, fast fashion not only affects the environment and the earth, it affects people too, disproportionately those in what is called the Global South. This manifests in multiple negative ways including: 

A few people in these affected countries have taken an active stand in their countries to find ways to combat the problems that fast fashion brings.

  • Kwabena Obiri Yeboah founded KoliKoWear, a footwear company that uses the textile waste dumped in Ghana to make upcycled shoes
  • Ume Kulsum Hussain created East Rugs, which are handwoven with recycled fabrics collected in Pakistan
  • Rosario Hevia developed Ecocitex, a business plan that generates yarn from textile waste in Chile, which is then used to create home furnishings

The work they’ve done is important and a good step in the right direction, but at the end of the day, the best course of action is the prevention of environmental injustice in the first place.

Let’s face it: when we purchase fast fashion, we often become participants in a system that leads to the exploitation of both the planet and people. Making this change can be a difficult adjustment for many, especially those coming from lower incomes. It has become cheap and convenient to purchase fast fashion, but there’s a human and environmental cost to the money you save. While the most significant responsibility lies on the industry and policymakers to break the fast fashion model, we should also strive to be responsible and ethical consumers in as many ways as we can! Here are some actions we can take to fight fast fashion and recycle the runway!

  • balance quality and affordability
  • buy clothes made from sustainable materials (recycled or natural)
  • self-education and raising awareness ‍
  • purchasing second-hand or vintage clothing
  • renting or swapping clothing ♻️
  • repairing, redesigning, or upcycling our clothing
  • refraining from compulsive shopping and buying only what we really need ️


Find out just how sustainably fashionable you are by using thredUP’s Fashion Footprint Calculator!

Buy This, Not That! Project from

What you’ll need:

  • A computer or laptop
  • Access to a slides program (Google Slides, Powerpoint, Keynote, etc.)
  • Wi-Fi connection


  1. Create a slide presentation that shows the side-by-side outfit selections (see below) with the heading “Buy This, Not That! 
  2. Think about retail stores you currently shop at either online or physical stores for your clothing. Examples may include, but are not limited to: H&M, ZARA, ASOS, SHEIN, Forever 21, Target, Amazon, etc. 
  3. Curate 3 different types of outfits (ex. casual, dressy, sporty, etc.) with accessories you like and would actually consider buying from one or more of the above retail stores. Copy/paste or screenshot the items and creatively arrange together on a Google Slide. Criteria includes: 
    • Name of the retail store(s)
    • Link to the item
    • Cost of each item
    • Fabric content
    • Manufacturing country, if available.
  4. Now go to an online second hand store such as “ThredUp” or “Poshmark” (others are available and may be used) and recreate each outfit with accessories as closely as possible. Copy/paste or screenshot the items and creatively arrange them on a Google Slide.
    Criteria includes:
  • Name of the second hand store(s)
  • Link to the item
  • Cost of each item
  • Fabric content
  • Manufacturing country, if available.
  • Finally, for each outfit, include all of the “cost savings” between the two outfits. (Remember, the cost savings may be monetary, environmental and/or ethical!) 
  • On the final slide, write a paragraph, in your own words, summarizing what you learned about fast fashion, its impact and how it will affect your shopping habits moving forward.