What Teens Need to Know About the Cost of Fast Fashion

Fast fashion is everywhere. A trip to the mall or a link on TikTok is bound to lead you to a t-shirt, a pair of jeans, or a dress that falls under the category of fast fashion. It’s a label that gets applied to a lot of clothing items but what does it really mean and why does it have such a bad reputation when it comes to the environment and human rights?

What is fast fashion?

To understand why fast fashion has become a problem, we need to know what it is. The term “fast fashion” popped up in the media in the ‘90s when clothing brands began to design, sew, and ship fashion to stores, well, faster. Like, in just over two weeks. This meant that new items were coming in at a higher rate, pushing trends and styles to change faster and more often. Fast-changing trends meant that people who wanted to keep up with the latest style were encouraged to buy more items more frequently. 

What is the cost of fast fashion?

On the rack or online, fast fashion retailers appear to offer low prices for on-trend items. The real story is that we’re actually paying a high price for these seemingly low-cost clothes. And that cost is not necessarily in dollars. A $29.99 jean skirt might seem cheap… but there’s also a real cost (which comes in the form of polluted oceans, overflowing landfills, and high carbon emissions ) that’s hidden.

Fast fashion facts

  • As an industry, fashion produces 10% of the world’s carbon emissions
  • Fashion is the second-biggest industrial consumer of our water supply after agriculture 
  • It takes 7,500 litres of water to make one pair of jeans
  • 20% of all industrial water pollution comes from the fashion industry
  • The equivalent of 50 billion plastic bottles in microfibres are released into the ocean every year when we wash our clothes
  • In the last 25 years, the amount of clothing produced has nearly doubled
  • Approximately one garbage truck full of used and discarded clothing is either burned or sent to the landfill every second

What are the environmental and social impacts of fast fashion?

Our fast fashion purchases make an impact that goes waaaaaay beyond our overstuffed closets and those unworn pieces that we’re forever waiting for the “right” time to wear. Fast fashion contributes to a laundry list of environmental and social problems we’re struggling to solve.

Landfill overflow

In ancient times (like the 1950s) shopping for clothes wasn’t something you did for fun on a Saturday or late at night after falling down an Instagram retail hole. Most people shopped for something because they needed it. Now, we may be shopping for fun, out of boredom or habit instead of out of necessity. Because we don’t necessarily need all of the clothes we buy, our old stuff (sometimes even the things we think we’re donating) ends up in landfills.

And we’re not the only ones sending clothing to our city’s garbage dumps. Out of all the items that fashion brands produce, one quarter of them aren’t sold. Social media is full of videos busting retailers for throwing unsold items directly into the dumpster. But did you know that brands also send items you return directly to landfills? That’s because it costs less to throw them out than to return them to the racks.

Microplastic pollution

Fast fashion brands love to make clothes from nylon and polyester fabrics because they’re inexpensive. They’re also full of microplastics that come off in your washer and dryer and head straight for our rivers, lakes, and oceans. Did you know, half a million tons of microplastics end up in the planet’s oceans each year? (Sustainability pro tip: hanging your clothes to dry dramatically cuts down on this specific kind of pollution.)

High energy and water consumption

It takes a LOT of water to make textiles. After agriculture, the fashion industry comes in second in terms of water use. According to the World Bank, the industry uses enough water for five million people! The water that’s used is often returned to nearby rivers and lakes as untreated wastewater, causing harm to animals, fish, plant life, and the drinking water supply.

Fossil fuels also play a big part in fast fashion — from transporting clothes from the factory floor to the store, to turning plastics into fabrics like nylon and polyester. And don’t forget emissions: the industry has a bigger carbon footprint than the airline and the shipping industry combined. 

Poor labour practices

The fashion industry has a long and unflattering record of unsafe and exploitative labour practices. And while workers in Canada have organized to demand their rights for safe work environments and to be paid a fair wage, these rights don’t always extend to the people who make fast fashion in other countries.

The human cost of fast fashion shows up in a few different ways: the people making our clothing could often be underpaid and work long shifts without proper breaks to rest; a lack of environmental regulations in their countries can mean that the industry pollutes their local land and water resources; and, at the other end of the cycle, our unwanted clothing often ends up back in communities in the Global South (also known as developing countries), flooding their markets so that independent sellers can’t make a living and filling up their landfills with our trash.

Read more: 10 climate change activists making a difference.

How do I know if I’m buying fast fashion?

First of all: it isn’t easy! Don’t blame yourself if you look in your closet and see clothing you’ve bought from fast fashion retailers. Fashion companies don’t necessarily share data on how many items they produce, how many they trash, incinerate, or ship to the Global South. When you’re trying to find out if you’re contributing to the problem of fast fashion, you come up against a wall standing between you and the information you need to make good decisions.

There are a few resources you can turn to in order to figure out if the brands you’re buying fall into the fast fashion category. One is the brand rating site (and app!) Good On You, which rates clothing retailers based on how well they treat the planet, animals, and people according to publicly available data. Better World Shopper is another resource that guides your shopping based on human rights, the environment, animal welfare, and social justice.

IRL, there are also a few telling signs that indicate that a piece of clothing classifies as fast fashion. Look out for:

  • Cheap fabrics that don’t feel nice to wear or touch
  • A low, too-good-to-be-true price point
  • Stores with racks and racks of items in hundreds of styles
  • Quick inventory turnover that’s there one day and gone the next
  • Labels that indicate that the item was made in a country that might not have strong labour or environmental protection laws

Five tips on how shop without buying fast fashion

Even though it might feel like fast fashion is everywhere these days, it is possible to shop for clothes that you need and will love for a really long time without supporting brands that don’t support people and the environment.

Go thrifting or shop from online resellers

Thrift shopping combines the thrill of a treasure hunt with money-saving satisfaction AND the knowledge that you’re shopping sustainably. If thrift shops don’t stock the styles you’re searching for, try online resellers that range from the specific (like Instagram’s Noihsaf Bazaar) to the all-encompassing (like eBay). 

Host a clothes swap

Here’s where your formerly favourite dress becomes your BFF’s new go-to look. Having your friends (and their friends) over to trade items that are still in great shape but no longer suit your personal style is a situation where everyone wins. And looks amazing.

Rent clothing

Ever since Rent the Runway launched way back in 2009 clothing rental companies have been doing big business. Think of using clothing rental services for big occasions where you might otherwise buy an outfit you’d only wear once (like your prom, or graduation).

Learn to sew

Sewing is basically a superpower that lets you repair your favourite clothes, alter the fit, or totally transform them into something new and creative. Whether you do it with a machine or by hand, it’s definitely a sustainable way to keep your wardrobe up to date.

Purchase sustainable fashion

The problem with sustainable fashion is that it costs money to produce and, as a result, often comes with a higher price tag. Even if you can afford an item made from sustainable materials and using sustainable production, it can feel difficult to justify spending so much. One way to look at it is to think about price per wear. Let’s say a trendy top at a fast fashion retailer costs $40. It’s super on-trend but because trends move so quickly you only end up wearing it four times. In the end, the item costs you $10 per wear.

On the other hand, you fall in love with a $200 pair of jeans, do your research, and find out that not only are they made to last, but they’re made with sustainably sourced cotton in a factory where workers are well paid and the brand offers a repair services to extend the life of your jeans. You’ll easily wear this favourite item 200 times over the next five years. The cost per wear is now $1. Which item is truly more affordable?

Not sure what the cost-per-use will be? Our Should I Buy It Quiz does the math for you!

Fast fashion is can hurt the environment and your bank balance. Creating a style that’s individual and uniquely you will help you avoid the trap of short-lived trends and wasted cash. You’ll not only be more fashion-savvy, but you’ll gain the kind of money smarts that come from carefully investigating where and how you spend.

Download Mydoh and help build the foundation of financial literacy for kids and teens.

The Newcomer Parents’ Guide to Banking in Canada

Whether you’ve just arrived or are planning to move to Canada, navigating the Canadian banking system on your own can be challenging. For newcomer parents, you’re most likely trying to seek financial advice on how to open the proper bank accounts and start investing to reach your savings goals, such as buying your first home or sending your kids off to college or university someday. 

When you’re adjusting to living in a new country, understanding the various financial products can be quite confusing. Fortunately, we’re here to help newcomer families understand some common financial products you’ll find in Canada, how they work, and when they should be used. 

Read more: How the financial system works in Canada.

1. First Home Savings Account (FHSA) 

In 2023, the Canadian government introduced the First Home Savings Account (FHSA), a registered plan to assist first-time homebuyers in purchasing or building their first home in Canada. 

Newcomers may find this product appealing as it gives them the opportunity to grow their money tax-free (like the TFSA), and contributions are tax-deductible (like an RRSP). Having this account can help you set aside and invest money for a down payment on your future home. 

How does a FHSA work?

To qualify for the FHSA, you must be 18 years or older and a resident of Canada. You must also be a first-time homebuyer, and you and/or your spouse or common-law partner cannot have lived in a home that either of you owned within the past four calendar years. 

With the FHSA, you can contribute up to $8,000 annually, with a lifetime maximum amount of $40,000. If you don’t contribute up to the $8,000 annual limit, any unused contribution room can be carried forward to the following year. To optimize how you save for your first home, you may consider using the FHSA and the Home Buyers’ Plan (HBP) together. 

2. Guaranteed Investment Certificate (GIC) 

If you want a safe investment product that will give you a fixed income without losing your money (called a deposit), then a Guaranteed Investment Certificate (GIC) may be an appealing choice. Essentially, you’re lending money to the bank or financial institution. In return, they offer you a specified interest rate. GICs are available at banks, credit unions, investment firms, and trust companies. 

How does a GIC work? 

You can purchase a GIC if you’ve reached the age of majority in your province. GICs offer set terms such as for six months, one year or up to ten years. Typically, the longer the term, the higher the interest you can earn. Most GICs offer a fixed interest rate, but there are variable rate GICs that are linked to how well the stock market is performing. 

Keep in mind that you usually need to lock in your money until the term is over (known as the maturity date). However, if you anticipate that you may need your money earlier, look for a redeemable GIC that doesn’t charge you penalties for withdrawing your money early. 

Read more: Investing 101 – A guide for parents and teens

3. High-Interest Savings Account (HISA) 

Saving up for a rainy day can be done through a High-Interest Savings Account (HISA). A HISA offers a higher interest rate compared to a regular savings account. Current HISA rates range between 3% to 6% and some financial institutions may offer a welcome bonus. 

There are many benefits for newcomers to own this account, such as keeping your money in a safe place and having it easily accessible, and your money is earning interest so you can reach your future goals faster. A HISA is generally available through traditional banks, online banks, and credit unions. 

How does a HISA work? 

The HISA is a safe product as your funds are insured by the Canadian Deposit Insurance Corporation (CDIC), up to a maximum of $100,000. Typically, HISAs don’t require a minimum balance, and they don’t charge monthly fees. To be eligible to open a HISA, you’ll need to be a resident of Canada and have reached the age of majority in your province.

One of the perks of a HISA is that it allows you to earn a modest interest without losing money. Compared to a Guaranteed Investment Certificate (GIC), you don’t need to lock in your money for a certain period of time. So, if you’re saving up for a family vacation, this may be a suitable option for you. 

4. Home Equity Line of Credit (HELOC) 

Whether you’re buying a home or are an existing homeowner whose mortgage is up for renewal, you may consider a Home Equity Line of Credit (HELOC). A HELOC is a revolving credit product (like a credit card) that allows you to borrow equity from your home, pay it back, and borrow it again. Newcomers may lean towards this financial product because it allows you to take money out to pay for a renovation, your child’s education, or buy a car

The pros of owning a HELOC include:

  • Allowing you to borrow up to 65% of your home equity.
  • Preventing numerous credit applications.
  • You can take advantage of competitive interest rates.

The cons of owning a HELOC include:

  • The variable interest rate on the HELOC may cause your repayment amounts to increase. 
  • Being unable to repay the debt due to an injury, illness or job loss.
  • With easy access to the funds, it may lead you to go into debt and diminish your assets. 

How does a HELOC work? 

To use this loan, it acts like a bank account where you can access it online or through an automated banking machine (ABM) to make transactions. It’s wise to set up an automated payment each month so you’re paying the monthly interest on the amount you’ve withdrawn. 

To qualify for a HELOC, you’ll need to pass a “stress test” used by financial institutions to prove that you are able to repay your debt. You’ll need to have a minimum down payment of 20% to get a readvancable mortgage (which combines a HELOC with a mortgage), or a 35% down payment if you want a stand-alone HELOC. 

Plus, you’ll need a decent credit score and proof of employment with stable income. If you’re looking for a HELOC on your current home, you’ll need to provide proof that you own the home, mortgage details, and have your lender assess your home’s value.  Your home will need to be registered as collateral which a lawyer or title service company can do for you. 

5. Registered Education Savings Plan (RESP) 

One of the ways parents can ensure there’s money to pay for your child’s university tuition and textbooks is to start saving now with a Registered Retirement Savings Plan (RESP).

In Canada, this registered plan helps you save towards your child’s post-secondary education, and the money grows tax-deferred until it’s withdrawn. When your child withdraws money from their RESP,  they will need to pay tax on it. However, since your child will likely have little or no income while studying in school, they will be taxed at a lower tax bracket.

Plus, you can take advantage of the government’s matching program through the Canada Education Savings Grant (CESG) which matches 20% of your annual contribution of up to $2,500 (maximum of $500), with a lifetime total per beneficiary is $7,200. 

The government also provides a top-up for low-income families with the Canada Learning Bond (CLB). Eligible beneficiaries can receive $500 within the first year and an additional $100 for each year they are eligible until the age of 15, with a maximum limit of $2,000. 

How does an RESP work?

Although the RESP doesn’t have an annual contribution limit, the lifetime limit is $50,000. You can purchase savings and investment products such as GICs, stocks, bonds, index funds and more. Funds from the RESP can be used to pay for education-related costs in either a full-time or part-time program at a post-secondary institution.  

Canadian residents can open an RESP as soon as their child is born and they have a Social Insurance Number (SIN). Most banks, credit unions and financial planners will offer RESP products. You will need to choose between an individual, family or group RESP, where each of them have different rules to follow. The sooner you open and contribute to an RESP, the more time you’ll have to grow your money to help pay for your child’s post-secondary education. 

6. Registered Retirement Savings Plan (RRSP) 

The Registered Retirement Savings Plan (RRSP) is an investment account created by the government to help you save for your retirement. There are numerous benefits to contributing to an RRSP. For instance, it helps to reduce your taxable income and you can use it to help invest for the future. Plus, you can use this account to access the Lifelong Learning Plan (for post-secondary education) and the Home Buyer’s Plan (to buy a home). 

How does an RRSP work?

The amount you contribute to your RRSP will help to reduce your taxable income which can help to lower your tax bracket or reduce your marginal tax rate. Every year, the RRSP contribution limit is up to 18% of your gross income or up to the annual limit, whichever is the lesser amount. 

To qualify for the RRSP, you need to be a Canadian citizen or permanent resident. Since you need some employment income to contribute, typically, newcomers will file their first annual tax return before opening an RRSP.  You can visit a bank, credit union, trust or insurance provider to open this investment account. 

Ideally, you don’t want to withdraw your money until age 65, which is the retirement age set by the Canadian government. However, if you find yourself in an emergency situation where you need to take money out earlier than 65, then you will be taxed on it because it’s considered income. 

Read more: RRSPs explained for parents and teens

7. Tax Free Savings Account (TFSA)

If you’re looking for a flexible way to invest your money and withdraw it at any time, then the Tax-Free Savings Account (TFSA) may be a good fit for your family. 

It’s a popular choice for newcomers because the money you contribute can be invested and when you decide to sell your funds and withdraw the money from your TFSA, it’s not taxed. But remember, any amount you withdraw, you will have to wait until the following year on January 1 to put that amount back into the account. 

Compared to the RRSP, you don’t have to lock in your money until age 65 for retirement. That means if you need to take money out to use it for a down payment on a house, to buy a car or pay for an emergency, it can offer this flexibility for newcomer families.   

How does a TFSA work?

This program was introduced in 2009. Every year, the government determines the contribution limit, which ranges from $5,000 to $10,000. In 2024, the annual contribution limit is $7,000. To determine your lifetime contribution limit, look up the year you (or your kids) turned 18 and add up the annual amounts to get to your total. Also, when you’re contributing to your TFSA, you’re using your after-tax dollars.

Any resident of Canada who is 18 years or older and has a social insurance number (SIN) can open a TFSA account. You can open a TFSA with any big bank or many online banks.

While you can use your hard-earned money as a savings account, you may consider investing it in the stock market (by buying stocks and bonds) so that you can take advantage of compound interest. If your money grows, it’s tax-free which is a great incentive to invest your money so that you have the opportunity to achieve your long-term goals faster.  

Your family’s financial future starts now

There’s no doubt that moving to a new country can put you out of your comfort zone. Hopefully, this guide has given you a better understanding of which savings and investment vehicles could be beneficial for your family. 

As parents, you can help your kids learn about managing money at a young age so they can build the confidence to make smart money decisions and take charge of their financial future. Mydoh is there to help.

Download the Mydoh app for no monthly fee and help your kids learn how to earn, spend, and save their own money.