What is Fast Fashion Exactly? | Little White Dress and Denim Jacket
After I wrote a post a few weeks ago about why, despite my mission towards a more sustainable wardrobe, I would be keeping my fast fashion pieces instead of throwing them all out. I got a ton of comments and I’m glad to know that this is something you guys are thinking about too. However, I also got a few comments that made me realize that perhaps the concept of fast fashion isn’t as intuitive as I thought. A few people both online and in real life something along the lines of, “I don’t shop fast fashion, I shop at places like Ann Taylor or ASOS.” Well, I hate to break it to you, but those places are fast fashion! Today I’m going to break down what exactly is fast fashion so you can make shopping decisions with all of the facts behind you, whether you decide to continue to shop from fast fashion brands or not.
Fast fashion: A Definition
Before I delve into the concept and how it affects us all, “fast fashion” is defined as:
…cheap, trendy clothing, that samples ideas from the catwalk or celebrity culture and turns them into garments in high street stores at breakneck speed.
…clothing designs that move quickly from the catwalk to stores to meet new trends. The collections are often based on designs presented at Fashion Week events. Fast fashion allows mainstream consumers to purchase trendy clothing at an affordable price.
…clothes that are inspired by recent style trends seen on celebrities and on the runway for an affordable price for the average consumer.
Essentially, it’s cheap clothes that are made quickly in order to get to consumers quickly. Easy enough, right? In order to understand the quick turnaround and why this term is such a buzzword in not only the sustainability community but the fashion community at large, you must look at the industry’s history. Traditionally, before the industrial revolution, clothing makers would make clothes for four season per year: Winter, Spring Summer and Fall. it would be a slow process as you would have to find our own sources for materials (like wool, cotton, leather, etc.) prepare them, weave them, and sew them into garments to wear. Once the Industrial Revolution arrived and introduced many new technological innovations, primarily the sewing machine, clothes became much faster and cheaper to make. Dressmaking shops turned into clothes making factories and with the advent of mass-produced clothes came new trends and a higher demand for more clothing in the average person’s closet. Now, the fashion market is saturated with shops like H&M, Zara, and Forever 21 that make trendy clothing more affordable for everyone.
What’s so bad about trendy, affordable clothing?
There’s nothing inherently wrong about trendy, affordable clothes. This post is NOT meant to shame anyone who shops at fast fashion brands. When I started my year-long shopping ban, I wrote a disclaimer about how being able to afford slow-fashion pieces or even forego shopping altogether is a privilege I have.
However, it is important to know that fast fashion isn’t cheap. If you’re paying for it at a lower cost, someone is paying for it at a higher cost somewhere else.
Fast fashion comes at a cost to the environment - It is the second largest polluter of clean water. The creation and use of polyester (which is basically plastic fabric) is made from fossil fuels that further the damage of global warming, especially as it sheds microfibers when washed, increasing the levels of plastic in our oceans. The speed at which clothes are produced also creates waste by consumers and in the US, 200,000 TONS of clothes ends up in the landfills.
Fast fashion comes at the cost of the garment worker - the low cost of the fast fashion clothing means low wages for the person (usually women) who work in the factories, usually in dangerous conditions and given no human rights. The farmers who deal with toxic chemicals that impact their health for the sake of growing the textiles for our clothes also pay a heavy cost.
Finally, fast fashion comes at a cost to ourselves. We live in a culture that encourages us to throw old things away and buy new things because “it’s cheap, why not?” If we’re constantly buying more and never appreciating what we have, how can we ever be satisfied?
OK, so how do I spot a fast fashion brand?
Fast fashion brands come in all different shapes and sizes. If you want to avoid them (or at least slow down on buying from them), here are a few commonalities they all share:
They will have THOUSANDS of styles that are all trendy or somewhat trendy.
Their pieces will all be made with low-quality materials that will degrade after several washes. Ask yourself if this $5 tee is really worth throwing out in 3 washes.
The turnaround time from catwalk to shopfront will be VERY quick (hence, the poor quality of the garment).
Manufacturing will occur offshore in places where there is a large labor force that will work for extremely cheap. Watch The True Cost documentary on Netflix to hear them talk about the Rana Plaza Factory in Bangladesh. Look at where the brand is producing and what accidents are happening in the factories in those places.
Relative to high fashion and ethical brands (like Stella McCartney or even Everlane), the price tag will be cheap. Learn to break down the price tag - if your Forever 21 tee is only $5, how much of it is going to the worker who made it, and ask yourself if you would work for that much or that little?