“Fast fashion’ has become one of the most popular buzzwords amongst conscious consumers. This retail category has both severe impacts on our supply chain and the environment, but even amongst the negative press, fast fashion retailers are breaking sales records and barely keeping up with consumer demand. Our team at If Clothes Could Talk put together this guide to better understand fast fashion, its impacts, and key players. Throughout the month, we’ll continue to dive deeper into the world of fast fashion and share affordable ways to ‘green up’ your wardrobe.
What is Fast Fashion?
Fast Fashion is an approach to the design, creation, and marketing of clothing fashions that emphasizes making fashion trends quickly and cheaply available to consumers. In other words, fast fashion is both a process and retail category where clothes and accessories are quick and cheap to make, so garments land in stores as soon as possible. While the traditional fashion cycle designed garments for four seasons – fall, winter, spring, and summer – ‘fast fashion’ retailers operate within a fifty-two ‘micro-season’ cycle; this means retailers need to create hundreds of different designs to fulfill their regular product ‘drops.’ This can often lead to garment waste, as pieces are designed with the latest trends in mind and worn only one or two times, if at all. One UK-based study showed that a woman wore a piece of clothing five times before throwing it out or donating it to charity. The result? Garment waste now contributes to 92 million tonnes of waste annually.
How Are Fast Fashion Garments Made?
To meet the demand of a 52-week season, manufacturers need to design garments with the cheapest materials, often cutting corners and opting for lower working standards. One of the most inexpensive and environmentally damaging materials is made from petrochemical or fabrics derived from petrol byproducts. The most common is polyester, which has now overtaken cotton in the modern century. When petrochemicals are cleaned or washed, they can shed plastics into the water systems, putting harmful microplastics into our environment. When looked at, 71% of plastics found in waterways are from synthetic fibers made from petrochemicals. Of course, this can have harmful effects on people too. Some designs are even being recalled because their fabric contains dangerous substances.
Who are the major players in the fast fashion industry?
Many of the world’s leading retailers are contributors to fast fashion, including Zara, H&M, Shein, and ASOS. To stay competitive, brands compete on price, with some garments costing as little as $5.00. While companies like Zara and H&M have started in-store recycling programs and have set key goals to become more sustainable manufacturers, simply put, they are producing too much clothing. Ecommerce has also enabled a 24/7 buying cycle and has attracted a younger demographic of trend-seeking teenagers who can easily afford the latest trend with the click of a button. The average woman has 60% more items in her closet than 15 years ago and wears them half as much. Platforms like Instagram and TikTok have created a society where someone needs a new outfit for every occasion. While many blame the retailers, consumers are also demanding cheap and trendy garments too.
We all need to wear clothes. While it’s optimistic to think we can do away with fast fashion products and choose more sustainable products, it’s not possible for everyone. In our next blog post, we’ll explore affordable ways to avoid fast fashion and green up your wardrobe.