What is Fast Fashion?
Fast fashion is a term used to describe a highly profitable business model based on replicating catwalk trends and high-fashion designs. The fast-fashion retailers allow mainstream consumers to purchase the hot new look or the next big thing at an affordable price. Sounds alluring, however, such a business model comes at a high cost for the planet and the industry workers.
What Makes the Business Model Successful?
The fast-fashion business model was made possible during the late 20th century as manufacturing of fabrics became cheaper and easier, mainly because of new materials like polyester and nylon.
Moreover, manufacturing methods shifted to inexpensive labor in sweatshops (low-labor protection bulk clothing manufacturing industries in South, South East, and East Asia).
A vertical integration structure is another factor that contributed to fast fashion’s success. It secures direct control over design, production, and logistics, sometimes even sourcing of the raw materials - all in the hands of one company. This shortens turnaround times, improves flexibility, and reduces the risk in the supply chain.
The emphasis is on speed in every aspect of the business operations, and vertical integration offers the possibility to react almost in real-time to consumer’s taste and demands.
Consumers Enable Fast Fashion
Fast fashion became common because of an increase in consumers' appetite for up-to-the-minute styles, and the increase in consumer purchasing power—especially among young people.
In addition, the rise of influencer culture and marketing has opened up a niche for fast fashion brands, specifically online retailers, to flourish. The influencers affect how normal people think about their own clothing choices. Through visual platforms like Instagram, anyone’s choices can be scrutinized. Wearing the same outfit twice then starts being taboo.
Fast fashion easily fulfills our desire for novelty - it’s much easier to avoid outfit repetition when clothes only cost $20.
The Impact of Fast Fashion
Fast fashion is associated with pollution, waste, the promotion of a "disposable" mentality, low wages for garment workers, and unsafe workplaces.
It's not uncommon for fast fashion retailers to introduce new products multiple times a week to stay on-trend. It plays into the idea that outfit repeating is off and if you want to stay relevant, you have to rock the latest looks all the time. This results in overconsumption and tons of discarded clothes every year, which has an immense impact on the planet.
Fast fashion’s negative impact includes its use of cheap man-made fabrics and toxic textile dyes—making the fashion industry the second largest polluter of clean water globally after agriculture.
In most of the countries in which garments are produced, untreated toxic wastewaters from textiles factories are dumped directly into the rivers.
Wastewater contains toxic substances such as lead and mercury among others. These are harmful to the aquatic life and the health of millions of people living by those rivers. The contamination also reaches the sea and eventually spreads around the globe.
Moreover, the fashion industry is a major water consumer. Non-organic cotton needs a lot of water to grow. A huge quantity of water is used for the dyeing and finishing of our clothes.
We generate more and more textile waste. A family in the western world throws away an average of 30 kg of clothing each year. Only 15% is recycled or donated, the rest goes to the landfill or is incinerated.
Mainly synthetic fibers are used in the production( approx. 72%) of our clothing. Synthetic fibers, such as polyester, nylon, and others, are plastic fibers, therefore non-biodegradable and can take up to 200 years to decompose.
Greenhouse Gases Emissions
The fashion industry is generating a lot of greenhouse gases due to the energy used during its production, manufacturing, and transportation of garments.
Synthetic fibers (polyester, acrylic, nylon, etc.), used in the majority of our clothes, are made from fossil fuel, making production much more energy-intensive than with natural fibers.
Underpaid and Unprotected Workers
Most of our clothes are made in countries in which workers’ rights are limited or non-existent. Garment workers are often forced to work 16 hours a day, 7 days a week.
A living wage represents the bare minimum that a family requires to fulfill their basic needs (food, rent, healthcare, education, etc).
Employees usually work in unsafe conditions: with no ventilation, breathing in toxic substances, inhaling fiber dust, or blasted sand in unsafe buildings. Accidents, fires, injuries, and disease are very frequent on textile production sites.
The collapse of the Rana Plaza in 2013, killing 1134 garment workers in Dhaka, Bangladesh, has revealed the unacceptable working conditions of the whole fashion industry to the world.
Another huge issue is child labour. Because the fashion industry requires low-skilled labour, child labour is particularly common in this industry.
Should and Can We Reduce the Impact of Fast Fashion?
The solution starts with raising awareness of the problems in the industry. It might be uncomfortable to acknowledge how unethical your consumerism is. But it is not about shaming and blaming or radical changes in our shopping habits, it can be done gradually, in small steps.
So stay tuned for our next blog post in which we will further discuss the topic and will suggest some easy tips on how to shift to being a better consumer.