Anthropology Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences Dedman College Research Faculty News

Fast fashion and how it’s ‘a bombshell source of pollution in so many ways


There’s no denying: we have a fixation for fashion.

The average consumer buys 60% more clothing today than 18 years ago, and keeps it half as long. And with fast fashion companies churning out monthly – or weekly – trends, that cycle is repeating at breakneck speed.

Hundreds of shoppers lined up in Plano last month at a pop-up shop for the clothing brand Shein. Customers who were already regularly ordering online waited hours to buy even more. Many said they ordered through Shein’s website once or twice a month, often buying up to 20 items at a time.

The pace of that consumption is leading to a crisis in our landfills, experts say. It’s estimated that the average American throws away 81 pounds of clothing each year.

“It’s a bombshell source of pollution in so many ways,” said Professor Maryann Cairns, an environmental anthropologist at SMU. Cairns runs a research center that studies the impact the fashion industry has on the environment.

From piles of textiles in landfills, to factories dumping contaminated wastewater, to pollution from global shipping and the exploitation of workers: the impact is massive.

“If you’re paying $5 for a t-shirt – if you were going to sew that shirt, wouldn’t it be more than $5?” asked Cairns. “It’s not a thing. That $5 shirt – something, somewhere is hurting the environment or laborers or something like that.”

Cairns suggests thinking about your clothes like your groceries: quality, organic, locally-sourced and good for the environment.

Sustainability in fashion is also a focus for Professor Iva Jestratijevic at UNT, where her students are studying their addition to buying. Jestratijevic had 755 students track their shopping habits for three months.

“Our goal was really to rethink our consumption habits in order to make a change,” she said. READ MORE