Fast. Faster. Fastest. I’m sure you’ve heard of fast food, but what about fast fashion?
If you’ve been in the eco space for a while, then you’ve probably heard the term A LOT. If you’re new to the eco space, well, welcome! Check out my blog posts for beginners which are full of ways you can have a more positive impact on the planet.
The term ‘fast fashion’ has become quite the buzz word these last few years, so in this post, I’m going to be taking a look at the history of the term, where it came from, what it means, how you can avoid it, and why you should.
what exactly is fast fashion?
Fast fashion typically refers to inexpensive clothing produced quickly by large retailers to keep up with ever changing trends.
But, don’t take my word for it. Here’s a definition from a few different sources.
Inexpensive clothing produced rapidly by mass-market retailers in response to the latest trends.
The globalised market for fashion manufacturing has facilitated a “fast fashion” phenomenon; cheap clothing, with quick turnover that encourages repurchasing.
Fast fashion is a contemporary term used by fashion retailers for designs that flow from the catwalk quickly to capture current fashion trends.
Clearly it all boils down to quick, cheap, and trendy clothing. Now, all of that sounds great, so what’s the problem?
why is fast fashion so cheap?
Have you ever wondered why fast fashion is so cheap?
Take a moment to think about a $5 t-shirt. Could the raw materials have been grown sustainably? Could the person who sewed it have been paid a living wage? When we look through the supply chain enormous problems begin to emerge.
Fast fashion is cheap because brands are exploiting people and the planet!
what is the problem with fast fashion?
There are a few problems with fast fashion. I’ve broken them down into two subheadings which I think encompass the majority of the issues: the environmental impact and the human rights issues.
I think this quote from fashion journalist Lucy Siegle says it best, “Fast Fashion isn’t free. Someone somewhere is paying for it.”
If you’re looking for a great documentary that covers many of these topics, I highly recommend the True Cost.
the environmental impact:
The fast fashion industry isn’t regulated very well. The goal is to create products as quickly and cheaply as possible so lot of corners are cut especially when it comes to the environment.
greenhouse gas emissions:
The fast fashion market is responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions than international shipping and aviation combined. (source)
Polyester is the most popular fabric used for fashion retailers. Polyester is plastic, and when you wash your polyester garments, they shed microplastic pieces into our water ways that are so tiny they can’t be filtered out.
ORB media found plastic in 84% of drinking water world wide. We are quite literally drinking yoga pants. For more information on this see my blog post Microplastics: What Are They?
As for cotton, most fast fashion brands source this raw material from India. It is one of the most pesticide heavy crops in the world.
The dirt has become so full of pesticides and chemicals it’s becoming increasingly difficult to grow the crops, but the problems don’t end there.
These pesticides wind up in the water table which have huge effects on human health. Of all the babies born, 80% have severe physical and mental disabilities.
The fashion industry uses a lot of synthetic dyes like disperse, reactive, acid and azo dyes to create rich hues on garments. It takes 200 tons of water to create one ton of fabric, and most of that water is returned to nature as toxic waste.
Disposing of wastewater is unregulated so big brands and factory owners aren’t accountable for the harm this causes local communities and the environment.
If you’re interested in learning more you should watch the documentary River Blue which tracks some of the most polluted rivers associated with the fashion industry.
landfills and waste:
Most brands incinerate their clothing and products because selling them at a deep discount would hurt their ‘image’. And, this isn’t just fast fashion brands – I’m talking luxury brands too.
Cartier destroyed about $563 million worth of watches over the course of two years. Burberry incinerated $36.8 million worth of merchandise. This practice also happens at Urban Outfitters, Walmart, Eddie Bauer, Michael Kors, Victoria’s Secret, J.C. Penny and more.
the human rights issues:
Even more important than the environmental impact are all of the human rights issues. I used to think that garments were sewn by industrial machines, but they’re not!
They are sewn by living, breathing human beings and a lot of them are treated very poorly.
Sequins and other bedazzled aspects on cheap clothing often indicate child labor according to Lucy Siegle.
Children as young as eight, work in the tanneries of Bangladesh which produce leather goods. Many of these children are exposed to toxic chemicals that have a direct impact on their life span.
poor working conditions:
Many of the factories that mass produce clothing are unsafe structurally, electrically, and more. Accidents, fires, injuries, and disease are all common occurrences..
Most buildings have little to no ventilation so workers wind up breathing in fibers and toxic substances.
Because clothing orders are turned so quickly, garment workers are regularly denied breaks to go to the bathroom or even drink water. They also regularly face verbal and physical abuse.
Garment workers are often forced to work 6-7 days a week for 14-16 hours a day. During peak seasons, they can be forced to work until 2 or 3 am to meet a deadline.
Children and adult employees earn as little as £6.50 a month which is significantly less than the £41.80 minimum wage for entry level garment workers set by the government.
when did this all start?
A brief history of the fashion industry:
BEFORE THE INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION: A lot of clothing was made at home or custom.
INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION: Ready-to-wear clothing was sold in stores.
MID 20th CENTURY: Fashion designers created clothing for four seasons: winter, spring, summer, and fall.
INTO THE 21st CENTURY: Someone got a big bright idea that creating more seasons = more opportunity to sell trendy clothes. Retailers now have 52 micro-seasons. Basically a season each week.
The goal of fast fashion is to make you feel like you’re out of style the moment you wear something – basically single-use clothing.
RELATED: 5 Tips for Finding Quality Clothing
how to spot a fast fashion brand?
If you head to the mall, you’re probably going to see A LOT of fast fashion brands. Think Forever 21, Zara, Uniqlo, Old Navy, GAP, Topshop, Primark, Victoria’s Secret, Guess, Fashion Nova, Boohoo, Pretty Little Thing, Mango, Nasty Gal etc. etc.
But, instead of just listing a bunch of brands, I want to share with you a few ways you can identify whether or not a brand sells fast fashion.
- Where are their garments made?
- Do they have transparent supply chains? (Take a look on their website! If they proudly tell you where their factories are that’s a good sign. If you have to dig for it through their FAQ page – not a good sign.)
- What are the materials they’re using? Are they using recycled, renewable and natural based materials? Are they using cheap fabrics?
- How well are the garments made? Are they made to last?
- Is the brand selling THOUSANDS of styles?
- Are new styles coming in every week?
- Is the clothing extremely trendy and will it be out of style next year?
- Did you see a trend from fashion week quickly in a stores window?
Be sure to check out my blog post What Is Greenwashing? if you want to know how to better identify when a brand is or isn’t doing good work!
what can I do!?
If you just read this blog post and are concerned about what you can do… don’t worry! There’s a lot you can do.
- Take care of the clothes that you already own!
- Shop secondhand and choose used clothing when you want something trendy and fun
- Borrow clothes from friends and fam.
- Rent clothing for special events.
- Invest in timeless sustainable fashion pieces that are made ethically and will last a long time.
RELATED: 10 Places to Shop Secondhand Online
the rise of slow fashion
One of the things that really excites me is the rise of the slow fashion.
After fast food became popular, there was a resurgence of ‘slow-food’ or farm-to-table dining.
Similarly, we’re seeing a resurgence in slow fashion. Slow fashion isn’t about chasing a trend, it’s timeless fashion that will look good today, tomorrow, and 10 years from now.
I know that buying slow and sustainable fashion can be really expensive and often unaffordable for a lot of people.
If you can’t buy from sustainable fashion brands, try to look for pieces that are well made, wash them less, and repair them.