We get asked “What Is Fast Fashion?” more and more frequently these [strange] days.
Whenever a groundswell of readers ask the same question we feel compelled to immediately provide an answer. That people are asking this question is a positive indicator. All is not lost.
If you’re a fashionista or if you have an interest in sustainable fashion, you may have come across the relatively new term “fast fashion” and be wondering what it is.
It’s Like Fast Food
Fast food is the empty calorie of the agricultural industry. It’s cooked in seconds, devoured in minutes and forgotten about in less than an hour. It feeds your body badly and it feeds your soul not at all. [source: Healthline]
Sure, you might enjoy the sugars and fats of fast food burger, but an hour later you’ll be hungry again because of the lack of any real nutrients in your meal.
As fast food is to the food industry, fast fashion is to the fashion industry.
So, What Is Fast Fashion?
Until the end of the Second World War, there was a simple process for fashion. There were four seasons, the same as the seasons of the year – Spring, Summer, Winter and Fall (Autumn).
To deliver the goods for a season, the designers would start work up to a year in advance, they would create a look based on what they thought customers would like and that’s what customers got. While this was a tried and tested method, there were rumblings of discontent.
It meant that each season’s look was in the control of the designer. The customer’s opinion didn’t count at all, couldn’t count and thus, “high fashion” was always dictated and you had to follow the unwritten rules of the industry in order to be fashionable.
Change hit the industry in the 60s. Not only was this decade of love, it was the decade of high levels of production and diminishing costs. This paved the way for “faster fashion”. This was the beginning of the end for traditional fashion seasons.
The supply chain moved. With factories and textile mills sprouting up across Asia and South America prices started dropping and local manufacturers were forced out of business. The business of fashion got ugly fast.
Fast fashion brands use a process known as “trend replication” paired with rapid production and low-end and low-quality material to deliver styles the public loves at a price they can’t resist. Trendy clothing, however, uses synthetic fabrics, ugly supply chains, creates tons of textile waste, and is often very poor quality clothing.
That affordable clothing based on new trends? Its affordable price is not affordable for the planet. The apparel industry is laying waste to the world.
So, while this trend-tracking might make the fashionistas happy but it hurts the environment, it hurts our health and in the long run, that cheap price is not as cheap as you thought it was.
“With clothing being so cheap, consumers are able to buy more. Today, the average American purchases about 70 pieces of clothing each year, but spends less than 3.5 percent of its budget on clothes. Now only about 2 percent of clothes sold in the U.S. are made in the U.S.” [source: Treehugger]
Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion
This is essential reading for fashion lovers who care about the planet.
What Is Trend Replication?
With the advent of high-speed manufacturing, computer aided design and rapid shipping and logistics the fashion no longer operates in 4 seasons. It has, in essence, moved to 52 “mini seasons” instead.
Business like Zara or Next will see a trend appearing in fashion, replicate it and then be producing new goods that are in store in less than a fortnight!
This is great for their profits – their stores are always full of new and exciting products and shoppers love them for it.
Unfortunately, this causes a problem for the fashion-conscious shopper.
If they aren’t always shopping, they’re always falling behind “current fashion” because trend replication turns fashion into a never-ending treadmill which requires deep pockets to keep pace with.
The Decline In Quality
When customers are constantly chasing the cutting edge of fashion (something they have no hope of keeping up with) then they aren’t looking to spend a fortune on any given item.
Why would they? It will be out of fashion, next week.
So, why make clothing to last if it’s not going to be worn for more than a week? Well, they don’t.
Most major brands have done away with quality because it doesn’t matter to their customers. Cheap means cheap.
The costs of a t-shirt in H&M are probably the lowest they ever been to H&M but the cost to you is much, much higher.
The brand maintains its margins while lowering prices because it can sell more clothes than ever before as a tradeoff.
It’s a huge cash in and fast fashion brands operate at the expense of worker’s rights, worker’s safety and the environment which is abused to create cheap garments quickly with no though to sustainable processes at all.
So, What’s The Alternative?
Fast fashion brands exist because of us. It’s our shopping habits that have led to this point and it’s our shopping habits that offer a path back to “slow fashion” too. The fashion industry works for us.
The fast fashion business model is down to our demand for disposable fashion and constantly changing fashion trends even if it means poor quality clothes and garment workers being treated like slaves.
They also ensure that their workers are fairly treated and paid throughout the supply chain.
These brands aren’t as cheap as the high street names involved in the fast fashion industry but over time, they’re much less expensive to you because their products last. You might not be able to chase every trend but you will be timelessly stylish, instead. They’re also much less expensive to the planet.
One strategy we stick to these days is just to stop buying new. Check out the many online thrift stores and get thrifting!