First things first, what is fast fashion? It is defined as “an approach to the design, creation and marketing of clothing fashions that emphasizes making fashion trends quickly and cheaply available to customers” (1)... Essentially, it’s the making of cheap clothing very quickly after it has been seen on the catwalk.
When Did it all Start?
The trend of fast fashion isn’t as recent as we think. Since the 1960s, the demand for cheaply made clothing has been on the rise. Companies like H&M, Primark and Zara were all pioneers in this fast fashion revolution (2).
However, it wasn’t until the 1990’s that things really started to take off. In 1990 Zara declared that it would only take 15 days for a garment to go from inception to sale – the New York Times used the term “fast fashion” to describe this.
Since the year 2000 clothing production has doubled and we are buying 60% more (3) and as such, both designer and high street brands have increased their production cycle. Where designer brands used to produce 2 collections every year, they are now producing up to 12. Some high street brands are producing up to 52 collections per year, that is a new collection every week.
What is the True Cost of Producing so Many Clothes, so Cheap?
How is it possible to have a top costing £5 when factoring in wages, material, shipping and marketing? the short answer is… it isn’t. The true costs are humanitarian and environmental.
The fashion industry is the second largest consumer of water, worldwide. The UN has also stated that the fashion industry consumes more energy than the aviation and shipping industries combined (4).
Companies outsource development to third world countries where there are less health, safety and environmental regulations:
Health and Safety – There are poor health and safety regulations in many developing countries. I am sure you have all heard of the collapse of the Rana Plaza factory in Dhaka, Bangladesh, in 2013, responsible for the death of over 1,000 workers. Due to poor working conditions and building regulations the factory collapsed . This factory produced garments that were sold in America, UK and Europe - these workers endured dire conditions in order to feed the western appetite for cheap clothing and this cost them their life.
Sadly, the damaging effects don't stop here. After the items are made, there is more environmental damage. Yearly, there are 92 million tonnes of solid waste produced by the fashion industry (6).
What Can we do to Make a Difference?
It isn’t all doom and gloom. There are easy things that we can do in our day-to-day lives that will make a difference:
- Buy second hand clothing – not only can you buy designer clothing for much cheaper, but you will keep items in circulation much longer, preventing them from ending up in landfill. If these items are bought from charity shops, you will also be making a difference by donating to charity
- Check where the material comes from – has it been produced sustainably? have the workers been paid fairly?
- Buy less – we, as consumers, buy much more than we need and are often afraid to wear the same outfit twice. This needs to change. It is better to have fewer items of a better, durable quality than to repeatedly buy poor quality clothing that will end up in landfill.
- Recycle – it seems obvious, we recycle our plastic, cardboard, glass, and much more. But why don’t we recycle our clothes?