Why do clothing companies destroy unsold products

Fast Fashion - How the fashion industry destroys our health and the environment

Our clothes - they define us. It's a way of expressing yourself, of taking off and getting creative. We want to be individual, but still swim with the crowd. Stand out, but please not negatively.

We constantly encounter the latest fashion trends - on advertising posters, on television, on YouTube or in the gossip magazine. We are lured with offers and vouchers - or the next sale is already pending.

With around 24 collections a year, we constantly see new, interesting "it pieces" that we would like to call our own. Trends change quickly and we want to stay fashionable. We can't afford to buy expensive parts. It has to be as cheap as possible. Quality is not important because we only want to wear it for a short time anyway.

Nowadays, a new strategy for fashion companies has emerged from the motto “Clothes make the man”. Sell ​​as much clothing as possible to as many people as possible at as short intervals as possible. And they are successful with it.

This is how the term “fast fashion” came into being in the last few decades. It stands for cheap and quickly produced mass fashion. We explain the negative effects fast fashion has on the environment, our health and the workers in the textile industry. Let's start with some really interesting statistics on our clothing consumption in Germany ...

The German wardrobe

The following figures come from the Greenpeace survey “Disposable Clothing” from 2015, which asked 1,011 people between the ages of 18 and 69 about their clothing consumption.

According to the survey results, every German adult owns on average 95 items of clothing. And that without underwear and socks. That makes approx. 5.2 billion items of clothing in Germany alone. To put that into perspective: Our world population comprises around 7 billion people.

With an average of 118 items of clothing, women own significantly more items than men, who have an average of 73 items.

Every 5th item of clothing is almost never worn. That adds up to around 1 billion items of clothing that linger unworn in German wardrobes. Another 1 billion items of clothing are worn less than every three months. That’s the sum total 2 billion items of clothing, i.e. almost 40%, that are almost never worn. Almost every second person sorts out pants, tops and shoes within a year. Only 21% of the people surveyed only sort out their clothes when they are broken or no longer fit. 40% sort out if the clothes no longer correspond to their own taste or fashion.

Every German buys on average 60 new clothes a year. A garment becomes Worn 4 to 7 timesbefore it either ends up in the used clothes container or just gets stuck in the closet unworn.

What does fast fashion mean?

Fast fashion means "fast fashion", and that is what the term stands for. Fast fashion describes the corporate strategy, the aim of which is to bring new fashion collections to the shops with high frequency.

Fast fashion companies no longer only bring out a spring / summer and an autumn / winter collection, but rather up to 24 sub-collections. They produce their goods as cheaply as possible so that the customer can shop cheaply and often and still earn something from them. This then happens at the expense of quality, the environment and employees of the fast fashion companies.

Fast fashion stands for cheaply producedBulk goods, what a constantly changing collections should be sold to as many people as possible at as short intervals as possible.

How fast fashion has changed our consumer behavior

You probably know that: You are bored on the couch in the evenings, and you just start browsing through various online shops on the side. “Uh… a new collection! Oh, and that would be nice for the next summer vacation… ”. In the end, between two and 100 items will end up in your shopping cart and be purchased with just a few clicks. After your virtual shopping tour you are satisfied and you look forward to the new clothes.

When the things arrive, you also like one or the other part. Maybe the blouse doesn't fit perfectly, but it has such a cute pattern and it would look really good at the next meeting. So a few parts will be kept, the rest will be returned. You stuff the things into your full wardrobe and forget about them straight away after wearing them for the first or second time. Or you don't like the quality that much - it doesn't matter, it didn't cost that much. The next time you stroll through town, you might find something more suitable. In addition, with your last order you received a voucher for your next online purchase. Maybe you can take a look right away. Oh look, there are some new products ...! And another one bites the dust ...

It was like this or something like that for years. I spent a good € 200-300 a month on new clothes. I fell for the clever marketing and the constant purchase motivations - like probably many people. Youtube "Hauls" from various influencers have also made their contribution. My favorite stores were H&M, Zara, Vero Moda, and even for a while Primark (shame on me). I'm not alone with this buying behavior.

Global textile production has more than doubled since 2000. In 2014, more than 100 billion pieces of clothing were produced for the first time. Since fast fashion is very trend-based, more and more clothes are quickly thrown away. In 2014 alone, 4.3 million tons of old clothes were traded. How you can dispose of your old clothes socially and sustainably, you can find out in our article “Where to go with old clothes? - Read 5 tips on how to dispose of old clothes correctly ”.

Which big fast fashion companies are there?


Inditex - short for Industria de Diseño Textil - is a multinational Spanish textile group. Among the most famous brands are Zara, Bershka, Massimo Dutti and Pull and Bear. In 2017, Inditex had sales of 25.34 billion euros, making it the largest textile group in the world.


The Swedish fashion giant, founded in 1947, started out as a small business in Västerås, Sweden. But the company has grown into a million dollar fashion empire over the past 72 years. There are over 3000 branches worldwide. In 2017 alone, H&M had sales of 23.33 billion euros worldwide. This makes Inditex from Spain and H&M from Sweden the two largest fast fashion groups in the world.


Primark is a so-called textile discounter from Ireland. In the last few years, Primark has continued to expand and has now also become more and more popular in Germany. Primark primarily offers fashion in the lower price segment for a younger target group and thus achieved sales of around £ 7.5 billion across Europe in 2018.


Asos is an online shop with many own brands, but also sells clothing from other fast fashion brands. Between 2012 and 2017, the total sales of the Asos fashion group rose by around 150 percent.

Other well-known fast fashion companies

The list of fast fashion companies is huge. To list all of them here would go beyond the scope. A few more well-known fast fashion giants are: Mango, Vero Moda, Jack & Jones, Esprit, s.Oliver, Etc.

How you can recognize fast fashion

Actually all known and popular fashion labels with cheap fashion for young people that you see in shopping malls are fast fashion companies.

As a rough guideline, you can keep in mind: If a fashion company constantly changes its collection (up to 24 collections per year) and you cannot find any information about the manufacture of the products, the garments are very cheap and do not have a fair fashion seal, then you can get away with it assume that it is a fast fashion company.

Negative effects of fast fashion on employees, the environment and health

Effects of fast fashion on employees

Low wages

Companies that sell such cheap goods must logically save elsewhere. For this reason, the garments of the fast fashion companies are often produced abroad. Usually in Asia, e.g. in Bangladesh and Cambodia. H&M goods are e.g. 60 percent in Asiaproduced. The prices of the articles can only remain so low through cheap production in other Asian countries. But it should be clear: If you buy a t-shirt for € 2, as is often the case with Primark, then someone else had to pay the higher price for it. In the low-wage countries, seamstresses are paid so badly that they can hardly maintain a halfway normal standard of living.
At a 14 hours day shift a seamstress in Bangladesh receives approx. 90 € inmonth. The national minimum wage is € 61 per month. This can usually be used to pay for food and rent, but not additional “luxuries” such as health insurance or consumer goods. Estimated to work this way 3.5 million people in Bangladesh. A total of approx. 75 million people in the manufacture of textiles, around 80% of them are women between 18 and 35 years of age.

In order for a family to survive, however, the children often have to go to work too. Even if fast fashion corporations deny this, due to a lack of controls you can assume that children have also worked for the production of your clothes.

Bad working conditions in the factories

Since there are no labor standards in the low-wage countries, the working conditions of the seamstresses are often inhumane. The textile factories are dilapidated. No money is raised to secure or renovate the buildings.

On April 24, 2013, this led to the collapse of the “Rana Plaza” textile factory in Bangladesh, killing 1,138 people. Another 2,500 people were injured in the accident.

Since then, working conditions have improved significantly, but they cannot yet be called “fair”. International trade unions and textile companies signed the self-binding agreement on fire and building protection. The aim is to turn textile factories in Bangladesh into secure jobs. The agreement has already eliminated safety and fire protection deficiencies in over 1,600 factories.

Nevertheless, working hours, working conditions and, above all, the low wages mentioned must also be adjusted so that we can really speak of sustainable improvement.

Effects of fast fashion on the environment

The production of cheap clothing has a negative impact not only on the workforce who make the clothing, but also on the workforce environment. With the growing textile consumption in the industrialized countries, the environmental damage in the producing countries increases, which affects the environment all over the world.

Greenhouse gases

Several tons of greenhouse gases, including CO2, are produced during textile production, which are the main cause of global warming.

“Just through the manufacture, transport of goods and the use - washing, drying and ironing - of clothing, more than 850 million tons of CO2 emissions caused. "(Source: Greenpeace.de)

But cotton production is not the main culprit here. Worst of all is the now very popular polyester: The CO2 emissions for polyester are here almost three times as high as for cotton. This is also due to the fact that non-renewable petroleum is used for the production of polyester.

Pesticides and fertilizers

The process stages of textile production that cause particularly severe environmental pollution are the cultivation and production of raw fibers, as well as textile finishing.

In the production of natural fibers (e.g. cotton), liters of pesticides and fertilizers are used. You can read more about this in our article "Sustainable textiles - and which are not".

So far, around 25% of the global insecticide market and around 10% of the pesticide market have come from cotton cultivation. Pesticides and insecticides are major contributors to the global Bees- and Insect death. In addition, pesticides acidify soils and pollute wastewater.

Chemical pollution of water

But not only the cultivation of natural fibers, such as cotton, has a major impact on environmental pollution. Above all, the production of man-made fibers such as polyester the chemicals used lead to wastewater being polluted.

Polyester has ensured that the rapid growth of fast fashion is even possible, because the fiber is cheaper and faster to produce than cotton. Around 60 percent of our clothing now contains at least parts of polyester or is made entirely of synthetic fibers.

Whereas in 2000 “only” 8.3 million tons of polyester were produced for clothing worldwide, in 2016 this was already the case 21.3 million tons.

Chemicals for fiber processing and textile finishing (e.g. dyes, bleaching agents and plasticizers) are often discharged untreated into the wastewater in the production countries. In China, this means that over two thirds of rivers and lakes are classified as polluted and 320 million people no longer have access to clean drinking water to have.

Water consumption

The high water consumption in the textile industry is mainly due to cotton cultivation. Because to make clothes out of cotton is becoming average worldwide 10,000 liters of water per kilogram of clothing needed.

Just the production of one Jeans with a weight of approx. 800 g is required 8000 liters Water. A proud 85% of this goes to the production of cotton alone. The remaining 15% are necessary for the further production steps. 2000 liters Water is used for the production of one T-shirt consumed. You could use it to fill a smaller swimming pool, or shower, wash and flush the toilet for 20 days a day.

Effects of fast fashion on health

Clothing is our second skin, and is right there on - on the skin. The skin is our largest organ and highly absorbent. Substances that come into contact with our skin get into our system very quickly.

For the production and processing of the raw fibers, as well as the subsequent dyeing, impregnation and finishing of textiles, approx. 3500 carcinogenic, hormonally active or otherwise toxic chemicals used. Fall under it Plasticizers, dyes, pesticides Etc.

Residues of these toxins remain in the textiles. It has been scientifically proven that cheaply produced textiles Emit pollutants. To prove it to yourself, all you have to do is walk into a Primark and inhale the smell of pure chemistry. The typical smell of newly purchased fast fashion garments speaks for itself. "A T-shirt is now treated with about as much chemistry as it weighs." (Source: Center of Health)

Phthalates (Softeners) are used in the textile industry, e.g. in artificial leather, rubber and colored textiles. They are suspected of having one in mammals reproductive harm and inter alia affecting the development of the testicles. With the man they should also Obesity and diabetes can evoke. In addition, they increase the risk of miscarriages.

Also Dyes for coloring the textiles are dangerous. The so-called Azo dyes should carcinogenic be. Not only for the worker, but also for the wearer.

In addition, in textile production Flame retardants used. Brominated flame retardant (BFR) is used to make textiles fire resistant. According to EU law, however, some flame retardants are already banned.

Organotin compounds such as pesticides and anti-mold agents (e.g. tributyltin (TBT)) are also used in the textile industry. They should, for example, prevent odor formation in socks and sports fashion. Organotin compounds can do that Weaken the immune system, reduce fertility and the Attack nervous system. Fortunately, at least in the EU, textiles that contain more than 0.1% organotin compounds are now banned. However, they are still used abroad.

Also Surfactants are used in the textile industry to make textiles water and dirt repellent. Studies have shown that surfactants cannot be broken down in the environment and that they accumulate in the blood and organ tissue. you endanger the liver, affect the endocrine system and should carcinogenic be.

Aldehydes are used to make clothes "crease-free". The aldehydes include e.g. methanal, which is one of the few chemicals whose use must be marked on the label if the limit value of 0.15% is exceeded. Studies have shown that this chemical is highly carcinogenic is.

That used in the textile industry Triclosan serves to inhibit bacterial and fungal growth. In women, this toxin is said to be too Fertility problems to lead. It also destroys the Microflora our skin.

Go further Heavy metals such as lead, cadmium and mercury are used in textile production. They are used in dyes and pigments as well as in the finishing of textiles. Chromium compounds color e.g. wool red and guarantee washing and lightfastness. Cadmium is used in yellow and red color pigments. Imprints are often leaded, and nickel is used in belt buckles or zippers. These substances can Allergies trigger and move on with time accumulate in our body. There they then lead to irreversible damage to health. You can carcinogenic be that Kidneys or that damage central nervous system.

All of these substances are used during the production of textiles and have an impact on the wearer. Logically, however, they also have health effects on the People in the factorieswho come into even more direct contact with these chemicals than the buyers of the end product. These people suffer from Asthma, rashes, allergies, cancer and infertility.

The workers are also harmed during the planting of cotton - a natural product. You have to spray pesticides on the plants without adequate protection. Because of that According to international labor organizations, up to 5 million people die of poisoning every year. Even after the harvest, the cotton is treated with toxic substances - chlorides are used here as bleaching agents and softeners.

Another problem is the “finishing” of textiles. Let's take the example of our jeans again: For the so-called "vintage look", jeans fabrics are blasted with fine quartz sand. Due to a lack of protection, this fine dust settles in the lungs of the textile workers and leads to "silicosis". It is a serious illness that suffers slowly from suffocation.

Not only the people in the textile industry, and the people who wear the products, have to worry about damage to their health. The employees in the shops are also exposed to the toxic fumes of cheap clothing during their shift. Here, severe headaches often occur after a few hours.

In addition, the toxic substances find their way into our groundwater, food and the air. You endanger human health and the environment.

Unfortunately, many manufacturers find it difficult to find harmless substitutes for the substances used up to now. In order to increase the pressure on manufacturers, the Federal Environment Agency is planning to completely ban toxic chemicals in the EU. The environmental organization Greenpeace has also been fighting for years with the Detox Campane (www.greenpeace.de/detox) for a clean textile industry.

The counter-movement - slow fashion, fair fashion and sustainable clothing consumption

At least since the collapse of the Rana Plaza went through the media, many people have become aware of the terrible conditions under which their clothes are made. Nevertheless, many buy from fast fashion companies because of the great range and low prices.

Fortunately, however, an increasingly louder "countermovement" has developed over the past few years. Every year in the week after April 24th, the "Fashion Revolution Week"Instead, which asks fast fashion companies about transparency and" who made my clothes ". Fast fashion corporations are put under pressure to create transparency about their production processes and hopefully motivated to change the circumstances.

Slow fashion is also a counter-movement to fast fashion. Slow fashion stands for "slow", sustainable and conscious fashion. Slow fashion is about a shift back to more social responsibility and respect for people and the environment. Attention is paid to sustainability and awareness in the production process and high-quality clothing is offered in a few collections. Slow fashion doesn't just count ecological and deliberately manufactured fashion, but also Second hand Clothing. Second-hand clothing gives consumers the opportunity to extend the product life cycle of items of clothing, to dress fashionably and individually and not to waste any new resources. You can find more good reasons for second hand in our article “5 unbeatable reasons to buy second hand”.

Fair fashion has also become an increasingly important topic in recent years. Here, "fair" stands for the fair treatment of employees in the production process, but also for a "fair" and ecological use of our environmental resources. Fair fashion lives according to the principle of slow fashion and only brings out a few collections and a few items of clothing each year. Fair fashion is certified with the appropriate seals.

A sustainable clothing consumption can also be seen as a counter-movement to fast fashion. Buy new clothes as rarely as possible and then buy high-quality or second-hand clothes. Wear clothes for a long time and repair broken clothes instead of throwing them away. In between, borrow clothes for special occasions instead of wearing the expensive dress for just one evening and then letting it gather dust in the closet. Conscious clothing consumption - i.e. reducing the number of new purchases and caring for your own items of clothing - is probably the best thing you can do for the environment and your wallet.

Our conclusion

For a long, long, long time I let myself be carried away by excessive fashion consumption. At the beginning of my twenties I spent € 200-300 a month on clothes from the first money I earned, and of course I went shopping at the fashion chains where my friends were also on the go. After all, I finally wanted to be part of it and be trendy on the go. My absolute favorite shop was H&M, but in between I also bought from Primark and Zara. After the Rana Plaza collapsed, I started thinking about my clothes consumption. Still, it took me a few more years to really understand.

I knew it wasn't okay how the clothes were made, but I was still missing the last spark before I really gave up fast fashion. The decisive factor for my final change of heart was my increasing awareness of environmental problems and the documentary "The true Cost" on Netflix. I can really recommend this documentary to everyone. It is life changing.

In the meantime I not only know that I prefer to have fewer clothes in the closet, and that high-quality and sustainable items instead. I also know what the real price behind the cheap clothes is, and I am no longer willing to pay that price.

I now only buy clothes when I really need them and then first look for my clothes second hand before I look at fair fashion labels.

In the meantime, fair fashion is no longer “eco”, but modern and fresh. You can also buy pollutant-free, high-quality fashion here and support your fellow human beings and your planet.

You can find our favorite fair fashion labels in our fair shopping area here at fairlis.de.

I hope you enjoyed this post and perhaps motivated you to rethink your clothing consumption and be more careful with your clothing.

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