What is fast fashion anyway?!
There is no exact definition for fast fashion. It is a relatively young term that was introduced in recent years. It came to light as the general awareness of the climate crisis became mainstream. People around the world start to think more about the effects of their consumer choices. Every expert you’ll ask will define it a little bit differently. The principles, however, remain more or less the same.
Fast fashion is a garment production and sales method. It is focused on low prices and large production volumes of collections that quickly go in and out of style. It is the fashion industry’s answer to consumer demand for low-cost, trendy clothing.
How did fast fashion become so popular?
There are a few key factors that enabled fast fashion to bloom.
The first one is operational and technological innovations in the supply chain. As technology evolves, so do machines in factories, delivery methods, and communication.
The second one is consumer demand for cheap clothing and the need for instant gratification. Customers nowadays want to get more for their money. They want to feel rich when they buy clothes. They long for that feeling when you go out of the mall with dozens of shopping bags.
The overall globalization process (with the help of the Internet) in the retail sector is also worth mentioning in this context.
The third one is the increase in consumer purchasing power. People in modern countries have a lot more than their ancestors had. They can afford more, to the point where they buy things that are not necessary.
These are some of the top trends that enabled fast fashion brands like Zara, Forever21, UNIQLO, and Gap to bloom.
What is so bad about fast fashion?
There are obvious advantages to fast fashion - affordable clothing for the average consumer and the general growth of the economy. Despite that, some pressing ethical issues arise from the rapid production and lowered costs of fast fashion.
The following are 3 of the most concerning issues.
Fast fashion has a disastrous impact on the environment
The first issue is that the fashion industry is the second-largest global polluter. It is only surpassed only by the Oil industry.
Most of the manufacturing factories are located in 3rd world countries. They are oftentimes unregulated. This enables them to not be held accountable for any environmental damage they cause.
Fast fashion brands produce 100 billion (100,000,000,000) clothing items every year. Most of them are made of low-quality fabric and print. Those materials emit various greenhouse gases as they decompose in landfills.
They also deteriorate in condition quickly and are deemed unwearable for the consumer after just a few uses. This causes customers to just throw them away and get a new one.
The (fast) fashion industry is also a major water polluter. It damages our rivers, oceans, and aquifers throughout the supply-chain.
The dying process releases numerous toxic chemicals into the atmosphere. In addition, washing the clothes causes microplastic to detach into rivers and oceans. Also, cottonfields enable algae growth that harms rivers and oceans.
Fast fashion brands use sweatshops to maximize profit
The second issue is that fast fashion brands manufacture in sweatshops.
A sweatshop is a factory or workshop, especially in the clothing industry, where manual workers are employed at very low wages for long hours and under poor conditions.
Sweatshops are usually located in 3rd world countries. In those countries labor is cheap and the factories are practically unregulated. This failure to enforce laws and procedures creates a fertile ground for the management to maximize profit. More often than not, it comes at the expense of employees’ working conditions.
Employees in sweatshops are subject to inhumane working conditions. Among the rest:
- They are often underpaid.
- They are also forced to work extremely long hours and in hazardous conditions. Dozens die every year due to a lack of safe infrastructure. This includes old, unmaintained buildings. For example, the collapse of Rana Plaza in 2013 in Bangladesh, that killed 1,134 employees.
- Hazardous conditions also include the fact that these factories are often unventilated, forcing employees to inhale toxic substances.
- Accidents, fires, and diseases are also common in sweatshops.
- Female employees are harassed daily and have no maternity leave, let alone any other benefits that we, in the 1st world, take for granted.
Fast fashion brands copy designs from independent small designers
The third ethical issue is design plagiarism. Plagiarism is just a fancy word for copying someone else's work.
To fulfill the need to introduce 2-3 collections every week, fast fashion brands often steal ideas from small brands. This is called “Design Plagiarism” and it is perfectly legal in many countries, including the United States. There is no law preventing them from doing so.
There have been some disputes that reached the court.
In most cases the independent designers do not have enough financial capacity to fight these huge corporations.
You have the power to change!
Now that you’re aware of these hard facts, would you think twice before purchasing your next garment?
The good news is that you, as a consumer, have the power to vote with your wallet. You can shop in local, ethical stores. This way you vote against sweatshops and environmental destruction. There are thousands of brands that do make that extra effort to be as sustainable as possible. The best thing is you also get a more unique item - one that you will not see anyone else wearing.