You’ve probably heard the term fast fashion, and if you love a High Street clothing bargain, you’re most likely encouraging it. But what exactly is fast fashion and why is it getting so much bad press?
What is fast fashion?
Fast fashion is when clothing manufacturers take a new design, copy it, make it and get it into the shops and online stores as quickly as possible.
It’s all about how quickly the latest trend is identified and capitalised on.
In fact, the phrase was initially used by the New York Times to describe the High Street fashion giant Zara’s mission to get items from design to store in an eye-watering 15 days.
The upside of this for the consumer – And yes. If you want to fill your wardrobe cheaply and are willing to ignore environmental factors there is an upside – is highly affordable clothing and accessories that are bang on trend, in your hands at dizzying speed.
So what’s the problem?
The Problem with fast fashion
The downside of fast fashion is that it is utterly unsustainable and one of the highest polluting industries out there.
To produce garments quickly, they are made from the cheapest, quickest to manufacture, fabrics available. Many of these fabrics contain toxic chemicals, come from fossils fuels (like Polyester) or shed harmful microfibres or plastic particles. Often there is very little concern about polluting the environment in their manufacture process.
Many consumers are unaware of the human cost of fast fashion. To make clothing as rapidly as possible, within the tightest of profit margins, workers are often exploited. The classic ‘sweat shop‘ where workers sit at a sewing machine and stitch the same hem on a dress a thousand times a day is sadly all too true.
Worker exploitation can come in many forms – poor, or even dangerous, working conditions and low wages are the most common. And of course, if you pay your staff very little, they never have the means to improve their lot and look elsewhere. They are caught in the poverty trap, unable to get out.
Fast fashion is also a self-perpetuating monster. The very nature of its success depends on consumers wanting to buy the next thing – quickly. This means that no sooner has a pair of pants been designed, made and hit the stores than the manufacturers are looking for the next item to rush through the same process. This results in a number of issues:
- The consumer is always playing catch up – Straight after the shopper has bought the latest item, than the next ‘must-have’ piece comes along.
- Clothing is discarded at a rapid rate – All too often, the dress that was bang on trend in July is no longer fashionable in September. That once prized dress is thrown out and contributes to yet more unnecessary landfill.
- The fast fashion industry is a slave to the trends it creates – The very success of fast fashion in influencing what people buy means it is constantly chasing its own tail. No sooner has a run of jackets been designed, produced, marketed and sold than the next item needs to be found. Fast fashion is constantly creating demand for products that it then tries to satisfy.
- Not so affordable – For most of us, the attraction of fast fashion is two-fold – having the latest coveted item on our hanger virtually as quickly as we want it, and the attractive price point. However, this competitive price is often misleading. Buying one top cheaply will undoubtedly save you money, but if you feel compelled to replace it with another (because it’s poor quality or no longer desirable) a few weeks later, all those individual purchases start to erase your initial savings.
What is The solution to fast fashion?
The answer to the problem of fast fashion is the emerging slow fashion movement.
Slow fashion aims to reverse many of the damaging practices of the fast fashion industry:
- Sustainable and organic fabrics are sourced rather than manmade, environmentally harmful materials.
- Well-made garments made from durable, quality materials that you can wear for years.
- Classic and timeless designs are championed over trends that finish as soon as they begin.
- Less items produced, so everything sold and no excess pieces heading straight to landfill.
- Local, independent makers and sellers, not workers being exploited in a country far enough away that our conscience can remain untroubled.
There are many more ways in which slow fashion is trying to redress the environmental and social imbalances caused by the fast fashion juggernaut. See our article on Slow Fashion for a more detailed analysis.
Fast fashion is with us and it’s going to take a lot to break it’s dominance on the High Street and online.
Having said that, people are becoming more aware of how unsustainable such rampant consumerism is and, more importantly, are trying to change the way they shop to ensure that our planet is remains healthy for future generations.
Hope for the Future
The EU has announced that is is looking at curtailing the fast fashion industry.
There are proposals across a number of areas, such as promoting eco-friendly products and ensuring that clothing is more durable.