'The true cost is more than just the dollar'


Picking the right clothing pieces for an occasion such as a concert, a wedding or a Halloween costume have one thing in common: they’re usually one-time use. The environmental impacts of our fashion choices is one not often thought about, especially when trying to keep up with today’s fast-paced trends.  

According to Close The Loop, 20% of global production waste, such as garbage, comes from textile and apparel. 

Isabelle Telgenhof is a fashion merchandising major at Central Michigan University. She is also the media and public relations director for the 2024 Threads fashion show.

Telgenhof said fashion is one of the biggest waste contributors in the world.  

“As soon as trends end or if specific pieces don’t get sold, they end up in landfill,” Telgenhof said. “Fast fashion pieces are not well-made garments so they don’t last as long. Therefore, we find broken or ripped pieces that end up in the garbage.” 

Of the 100 billions of garments produced each year, 92 million tonnes end up in landfills, according to Earth.Org. That is approximately 101 million tons.  

“Garments are a huge source of micro-plastics because so many are now made of nylon and polyester, both durable and cheap,” according to Earth.Org.

Fast fashion and
trend cycles

Telgenhof said fast fashion is interlinked with trend cycles in the fashion industry.  

“Instead of having a full season of clothing, stores bring in new sets of clothing or new designs once or twice a week, every single day, pushing the cycle to go even faster,” she said.

The younger generation, especially college students, are a highly-influenced group, Telgenhof said.  

“We’re very much persuaded into feeling like we need the newest thing,” she said. “We don’t have the most money because we are paying for school, so instead of being able to afford higher-quality products, we find the cheapest thing because that’s what we can afford.”  

Marisa Fisher and Sophia Oster are both fashion merchandising majors and members of the Fashion Association of Merchandising and Design (FMD) in the American Association of Textile Chemists and Colorists (AATCC).  

Fisher said the trend cycle has shortened from around 20-30 years to 5-10 years. A trend cycle is a term used to describe the re-emergence of styles that have been used in the past, Fisher said.  

“With such a fast trend cycle, companies know what people want and will make pieces as fast and with as little care as possible, just because it’s a huge profit,” Fisher said.

Oster said social media plays a big role in consuming fast fashion.  

“Now we’re seeing all of these trends at once, everybody wants to be part of it,” Oster said. “It’s increasing in speed as we see trends being recycled or new trends pop up.”  

Ian Mull is a professor in the Department of Interior Design, Fashion Design and Merchandising. Mull is also the faculty advisor for the Threads fashion show and co-advisor of FMD.  

“Social media has accelerated that need and desire for products when they come out,” Mull said. “It has definitely accelerated the cycle.”  

Instant gratification plays a role in overconsumption, Fisher said, which is one if of the biggest contributors to fast fashion.  

“People buy things that they genuinely don’t need,” Oster said. “We live in a capitalist society, so they’re pushing us to buy stuff; but in reality, most items you buy become impulse buys.”  

Mull said fast fashion’s business model is to get fashion pieces into stores as quickly as possible. The model takes up to 15 days for a brand to come up with a concept and get it to the consumer, whereas the traditional model takes anywhere from six months to a year, Mull said. 

This way, purchasing and receiving products immediately results in instant gratification, Mull said.  

According to Earth.Org, fast fashion companies responsible include but aren’t limited to:

• Zara - Putting out nearly 12,000 new designs and manufacturing 450 million clothing items everyday creating the fastest turnover process of 15 days.

• H&M - Previously known for putting harmful chemicals such as PFC’s (perfluorinated compound), phthalates and AP/APEO’s (Alkylphenol ethoxylates) in its products.

• Forever 21 - Almost exclusively makes their products out of synthetic fabrics which are not biodegradable or recyclable.

• Shein - Adds almost 500 products to their website everyday and sells more than 36 million pounds of products every year.  

Environmental impacts 

Fisher said almost all of fast fashion clothing is made of polyester, which is a synthetic fabric that ultimately releases toxins such as microplastics into the environment.  

“(Polyester) doesn’t break down the same way an organic fabric like cotton or wood does,” Fisher said. “Due to trends, most of the clothing fast fashion produces instantly ends up going into a landfill because consumers don’t want to waste time trying to figure out a good place to put it.”

Lauren Dye is an environmental studies and Spanish major. She is also the sustainability coordinator for Central Sustainability, a group on campus that focuses on institutionalizing sustainability through projects, policy and education. 

Dye said fast fashion is a huge contributor to greenhouse gasses. 

“A lot of oil is needed in the production of a lot of clothes, as well as transporting the clothes from different countries if they’re not made locally,” Dye said. “Additionally, a lot of clothes require a large amount of water usage, both in production and in the dyeing process, which also pollutes and contaminates the water.”

The quality of clothes in fast fashion plays a part in how much waste comes from the fashion industry, Dye said.  

“People will wear it one or two times, then throw it out,” Dye said. “It’s all about trying to stop the resources that are being used to make the clothes but also figuring out what to do with them when it’s at the end of its life cycle.”  

According to Collective Fashion Justice, brands would burn and destroy clothes that are not sold, instead of giving them away, to protect their brand.  

“We have to think about the next generation and the impact we’re having environmentally,”he said.  

“Whether it’s about air quality, water quality or quality of life, it’s important to acknowledge that the fashion industry works on a model of taking advantage of huge labor forces, where most of the profits go back to the brands, not the people,” Mull said. “That’s just not sustainable in the long run.”  

Mull said even with all the alternatives to throwing away fashion pieces, products are still ending up in the landfill.  

“We find that those products aren’t getting into the recycle stream as much as we think they are,” Mull said. “They are still going into the landfill at too much of a rate to be sustainable.”

Alternatives to throwing away fashion pieces are to recycle, up-cycle and donate, he said.  

Up-cycling involves taking a garment and changing it to create a new style or fashion piece, Mull said.  

Mount Pleasant has three thrift stores in the area to donate.  

• Goodwill Store located at 

4529 E. Blue Grass Rd. 

• The Salvation Army Family 

Store & Donation Center

located at 1717 S. Mission St. 

• The Thrift Shop: 

Supporting Isabella Child 

Development Center (ICDC)

located at 1008 W. High St.

It’s important to be mindful of the true cost of our garments, Mull said.  

“The true cost is more than just the dollar,” Mull said. “It’s how we treat our society, how we treat our humans and how we treat our planet, so we have to be willing to pay for what it’s going to be worth…because we’re gonna have to clean up that mess.”

“The true cost is more than just the dollar. It's how we treat our society, how we treat our humans and how we treat our planet, so we have to be willing to pay for what it's going to be worth... because we're gonna have to clean up that mess.”