Clothes buying used to be a once-in-a-while experience, occurring only a handful of times a year when the seasons changed or we outgrew the existing clothes we had.
But this all changed approximately 20 years ago. Clothes have become less expensive, trend cycles have accelerated, and shopping has become a passion and encouraged as an everyday pastime.
But what exactly is fast fashion? And what effect does it have on humans, animals, and the environment?
Fast Fashion: Explained
Fast fashion is defined as low-cost, trendy apparel that takes inspiration from the catwalk or celebrity culture and converts it into items in high-street stores at lightning speed in order to meet customer demand.
The goal is to get the latest trends on the market as soon as possible so that buyers can buy them while they are still fashionable and then, unfortunately, abandon them after just a few wears.
It contributes to the notion that outfit repetition is a fashion faux pas and that if you want to stay contemporary, you must wear the latest designs as they occur.
It is an essential part of the hazardous system of overproduction and consumerism that has made fashion one of the world’s worst polluting industries.
But first, let’s look at the history of fast fashion before we attempt to change it.
The Birth of Fast Fashion
To comprehend how fast fashion came into existence, we must first go back in time. Fashion was slow before the 1800s.
Back then, you had to gather your own resources, such as wool or leather, prepare them, weave them, and finally sew the outfits together.
Getting your hands on a new outfit wasn’t as easy as heading to the nearest high street; it took a lot of work.
With the emergence of new technology, such as the sewing machine, during the Industrial Revolution, Clothes quickly became easier, faster, and less expensive to produce.
Dressmaking shops cropped up to serve the middle classes. Many of these dressmaking shops relied on groups of factory workers or home workers.
Sweatshops emerged around this period, as did certain obvious safety concerns.
By the 1960s and 1970s, teenagers were developing new trends, and clothes became a source of self-expression, but there was still a huge distinction between so-called ‘high fashion’ and high-street fashion.
Low-cost fashion peaked in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Online shopping became increasingly popular, and fast-fashion companies such as H&M, Zara, and Topshop dominated the high street.
These brands replicated the style and design features of the leading fashion houses, but they did so incredibly fast and affordably.
With all of us now having the ability to buy on-trend clothing anytime we want, it’s obvious to see how the craze caught on.
Why is Fast Fashion so bad?
It’s bad for the environment
The environmental impact of fast fashion is enormous. Because of the drive to decrease costs while increasing production, environmental corners are much more likely to be cut.
The direct consequences of fast fashion include the use of cheap, hazardous synthetic dyes, which makes the fashion sector the world’s second greatest polluter of clean drinking water, behind farming.
That is why, over the years, the environmental charity Greenpeace has used its hard-hitting and unapologetic fashion campaigns to put pressure on companies to remove harmful chemicals from their production lines.
Cheap materials exacerbate the consequences of fast fashion. Polyester is one of the most commonly used materials.
It is produced with the use of fossil fuels, which contributes to global warming, and when washed, can release microfibres that contribute to the rising quantities of plastic waste in the environment.
However, at the quantity that fast fashion requires, even “natural textiles” can be an issue. In third world nations, conventional cotton needs massive amounts of water and toxins.
As a result, there is a possibility of drought, high stress on river systems, and conflict for resources between businesses and local residents.
Other environmental factors, such as land clearing, biodiversity, and soil quality, are under significant stress as a result of the increasing speed and demand of fast fashion materials.
Leather manufacturing has an effect on the environment as well, with 300kg of chemicals used for every 900kg of animal hides tanned.
Because of the rate at which clothing is made, consumers are disposing of an overwhelming proportion of their clothing, resulting in huge textile waste.
Every year, more than millions of tons of discarded clothing end up in landfill.
It’s bad for the workers
There is a huge human cost to fast fashion, in addition to the detrimental environmental impact.
Fast fashion has a negative effect on factory workers who operate in poor conditions, for minimal pay, and without basic human rights.
Farmers further down the supply chain may be exposed to harmful chemicals and harsh methods, which can have a catastrophic effect on their physical and mental health.
It’s bad for wildlife
Fast fashion has an influence on wildlife, too.
This is because dangerous dyes and microfibres dumped into waterways are absorbed by coastal and aquatic species alike and have a destructive impact on the food chain.
Furthermore, when animal goods such as leather, fur, and even wool are used directly in fashion, animal welfare is compromised.
Several controversies that have come to light in recent years have revealed that genuine fur, including cat and dog fur, is frequently passed off as faux fur to unsuspecting customers.
The truth is that there is so much genuine fur produced under appalling conditions in fur farms that it has become less expensive to produce and purchase than synthetic fur.
It’s bad for the everyday consumer
Due to the deterioration of the goods as well as the rate at which trends develop, fast fashion can have an impact on customers, promoting a “throw-away” mentality.
Fast fashion convinces people that we need to buy more and more to stay ahead of the latest fashion trends, resulting in a perpetual sense of need and eventual disappointment.
The practise has also been critiqued for infringing on intellectual property rights, with several designers claiming that stores unlawfully mass-produced their creations.
How to spot a ‘Fast Fashion’ brand
Don’t be too eager to discard your favourite clothes brand, because not all fashion companies are harmful.
So, how do you identify fast fashion brands? Here are some of the most common fast fashion red flags:
- They launch new items quickly once a trend is seen on the catwalk or modelled by a celebrity or social media influencer.
- Their garments are made in large factories where employees are exploited and paid unfairly.
- Due to the exclusivity of their clothing, you always feel compelled to purchase it.
- The garments are made of low-cost, low-quality materials.
Some of the most popular Fast Fashion brands include the following:
Clothing, footwear, beauty goods, fitness & equipment, homeware, and music, including vinyl and cassettes, are all available at Urban Outfitters.
While it’s one of the most sought after high street brands, it’s important to note that this company does not pay its employees a living wage and they have been witnessed asking employees to work for free on weekends.
Their clothing is also made using a lot of synthetic fibres, most of which are very cheap.
This company creates footwear, apparel, and accessories. They are Europe’s largest sportswear producer, and second only to Nike in terms of international manufacturers.
Adidas manufactures a vast number of fashion clothes, the majority of which are not made from sustainable materials.
They also incorporate the use of animal products to make their clothing items, such as wool and leather.
GAP is a clothes and accessories retailer headquartered in San Francisco, California.
They have around 3500 stores globally, including approximately 2400 in the United States alone. GAP has been entangled in a number of labour disputes.
They’ve previously made news for failing to pay their employees for overtime and exposing them to hazardous working conditions.
Forever 21 was founded in Los Angeles in 1984, selling the cheapest of cheap garments, and none of these are created from natural materials.
This is one of the worst fast fashion brands in terms of employing low-quality textiles.
But hazardous petrol-based textiles aren’t the only reason Forever21 should be avoided at all cost: the company refused to sign the Bangladesh Accord, which guarantees the safety and rights of garment workers.
Furthermore, the United States Department of Labor revealed in 2016 that the brand’s clothing is made in sweatshop-like conditions by workers in Los Angeles.
Missguided is a clothing retailer located in the United Kingdom that caters to women aged 16 to 35.
Missguided was caught unlawfully using fur from cats, raccoon dogs, and rabbits in the manufacturing of shoes in 2017.
Uniqlo is a Japanese apparel company that specialises in casual wear. They have branches in Japan as well as other foreign markets.
Uniqlo has received a couple of accusations about low wages and human rights breaches. In 2015, one of their Chinese suppliers claimed violations of various labour rights.
In 2016, it was claimed that Uniqlo demanded employees to work long overtime hours for low pay in challenging conditions with a discriminating and harassing culture.
What are the alternatives to buying Fast Fashion?
You do not have to keep contributing to the devastation caused by fast fashion because there are a variety of sustainable alternatives and ethical clothing manufacturers to explore.
Here are a few great, reasonably priced options:
Shop from sustainable retailers
More and more clothing companies are considering the environmental and social impact of their practices.
There are numerous sustainable fashion brands that produce their items in accordance with ethical standards. Some of our favorites include Lucy & Yak, Levi’s, and Patagonia.
Instead of buying brand new clothes, consider heading to a thrift store. There are quite a lot of second-hand stores all over the world. Swap clothes with your family and friends, too.
This is a cost-effective and ecologically sustainable way to update your wardrobe. If you’re searching for something to wear to an event that you’re unlikely to wear again, try to rent it rather than buying it.
Consider the quality
Shoppers are always sacrificing quality in order to save money. We don’t care about quality as long as it doesn’t cost us a lot of money.
But cheaply made clothing only lasts a few months before needing to be replaced.
Consider purchasing items based on their quality rather than price. The higher the quality, the longer it will last, and thus you will not have to succumb to the toxic culture of fast fashion.
Make an effort to buy fewer clothes
Buying less is the most effective means to reduce textile pollution. The lower the demand, the fewer items will be made.
Purchase only what’s absolutely necessary and items that you are confident you will continue to wear for a long time.
Are there any advantages to Fast Fashion?
The most significant advantage of fast fashion is the low cost of garments, and most fast fashion brands include on-trend items.
However, it’s important to remember that the consequences of Fast Fashion far outweigh the advantages.
Once you understand what fast fashion is and the harm it causes the environment, you can begin to take responsibility and combat fast fashion once and for all.