Let’s see what Fast Fashion is and why it has to slow down
Take the time to sew a dress or make a shirt and you’ll wonder how you could ever purchase either for the cost of a Starbucks latte.
Not only that, but sometimes it feels as if new designs are hitting the shelves quicker than that barista can foam your milk. How?
The answer is fast fashion, and it might be killing the planet. So let’s look at what fast fashion is, its impact on the world we live in, and what alternatives consumers have instead.
What is Fast Fashion?
Fast fashion describes the fashion industry’s controversial low cost, fast production business model that prioritizes profit margins and speed over everything else.
Whilst you would mostly see fashion houses putting out two collections a year, the fast fashion model can see anything between 18 and 24 annual collections released.
Fast fashion giants are producing new styles at full speed, with products going from design to retail in less than 5 weeks.
How can fast fashion brands produce clothing so quickly?
Devoted to trend-imitation, fast fashion merely copies the most sought-after designs from the catwalk, celebrity-wardrobes, and whatever’s currently blowing up on social media.
When it comes to the subsequent production phase, massive quantities of product are churned out using cheap labour and cheap materials in order to maximize profits further.
Why should eco-friendly and mindful people avoid fast fashion?
Sifting through the sales racks at H&M or Uniqlo, the adverse impact of fast fashion might not be immediately obvious – but it is very real and very damaging.
A key part of its business model is to make products from the lowest-cost textiles so as to generate the biggest profit margins.
However, these cheap materials are incredibly damaging to our ecosystem. Polyester, nylon and acrylic make up about 60% of the material used, and when put in the washing machine, end up leaching micro-plastics into our rivers and oceans.
These pollutants never biodegrade or breakdown, and an estimated 35% of microplastics in the ocean come from synthetic textiles.
It’s not just the materials that are a problem either: dyeing clothes cheaply involves a huge amount of chemicals, which also end up dumped in rivers and oceans, polluting our waters further.
Fast fashion also creates a tremendous amount of waste on land, as these cheaply made clothes have a much shorter lifespan, meaning they will have to be disposed of sooner.
Compound this with the encouraged overconsumption and subsequent overproduction, and it’s no surprise that every second, one rubbish truck full of clothes is burned or dumped at landfill, with up to 85% of textiles made going into landfill, enough to fill Sydney Harbor every year.
Finally, there’s a terrible human cost to all this.
Integral to the fast fashion supply chain is cheap labour, underpinned by garment factories that not only pay their workers a substandard-living wage but also place them in unsafe conditions, with accidents, fires and disease an ever-present danger.
The associated human cost is tragic, and even extends to putting children at risk, with child labour prevalent in the sweatshops fast fashion uses to make their products.
The Alternative: Ethical Clothing and Slow Fashion
Luckily, there is an alternative fashion movement gaining momentum.
Slow fashion is everything fast fashion is not, focusing on quality and good working practices, rather than low-cost production, speed and profit maximization.
This area of the fashion industry looks to create unique, original designs, made of high quality materials that are ethically sourced and designed to last.
These clothes tend to come from smaller stores rather than your global corp-brands, and in many cases sell locally-produced clothes. These stores also put out fewer collections per year, perhaps two or three times – Zara by comparison puts out more than twenty.
Both the local production and fewer releases result in a smaller global carbon footprint. In addition, slow fashion and ethical clothing encourages the use of organic, recycled or repurposed materials in their products, looking at low impact options that are better for the environment.
This small scale production also benefits disadvantaged workers who might usually be at the behest of the fast fashion industry. Slow fashion can create a much more transparent supply chain, making sure the manufacturers used pay a fair living-wage, establish acceptable working conditions, and use no child labour.
Slow fashion and ethical clothing is all about designing, producing, consuming and living better, and with an ethos that takes the human and environmental cost into account, choosing “slow” might be the fastest decision you could make.
The most common fast fashion brands
Nearly everything that’s available at your local mall can be categorized as “fast fashion” – all the largest brands and outlets are interested in scaling their profits first and foremost. Here’s a list of the most prominent fast fashion brands that have become the symbol of fast production and low-cost synthetic collection varieties.
This Japanese brand is known for its colourful everyday basics. Their past however has also been coloured with labour law violations and alleged poor worker conditions.
This UK brand releases new fashion lines throughout the year. Questions have been asked of its associated factory workers being paid poverty wages.
The well-known Swedish company sells its products in over 74 countries. It has come under fire not only for the way it treats its workers but also its negative environmental impact.
Known for its rock-bottom prices, Primark was a pioneer of the “stack ‘em high” and “sell ‘em cheap” fast fashion culture.
Asos began life selling clothes that originally imitated what their customers had seen celebrities wear on tv and and film. Now they sell thousands of items every year, spurring on over production and over consumerism.
Zara is one of the world’s largest fashion retailers, and with a design-to-retail style of about five weeks, it produces collection after collection, over twenty times a year.
This American fast-fashion retailer is known for its trendy offerings and low prices. It has also suffered a history of labour law violations, and toxic manufacturing practices.
Boohoo is an online fashion retailer that sells its clothes across the world. With over 36,000 products in its inventory, they have been accused of quantity over quality.
This American fashion chain attracts its customers with its ever-changing collections – unfortunately these collections are rarely made from eco-friendly materials.
Victoria Secret is the largest lingerie seller in the US – however, reports allege evidence of child labour in the production of their fashion pieces.
This UK based fashion brand offers thousands of affordable fashion lines to its customers. It was involved in factory scandals which used child labour in their workforce.
An Italian company that offers its collections to men, women and children, this fast fashion retailer produced its clothes from the Dharka garment factory, which tragically collapsed in 2013 killing thousands of workers.
Interested in more fast fashion brands to avoid? Use this checklist to tell if a clothing brand can be labelled as “fast fashion”: