We Need Fast Fashion To Slow Down

Like a distance runner during a marathon – fast fashion is steady – and shows no sign of giving up. Like a runner pumps blood and sweat through their system, the fashion industry is pumping out around 100 billion garments per year – 92 million tonnes of which are discarded in a landfill. And just like that mile everyone runs once a year when they get a burst of motivation, everyone uses fast fashion, whether you’re aware of it or not. Follow me through the article as we run the fashion world’s marathon – a run through fast fashion. 

The Warmup

So what is “fast fashion”? You may have read the term in a fashion magazine or from your eco-friendly neighbor who acts like she’s better than everyone. Fast fashion is the quick designing, manufacturing, and selling of clothes to meet the high demand in the ever-changing fashion economy. According to Good On You. eco, “The idea is to get the newest styles on the market as fast as possible, so shoppers can snap them up while they are still at the height of their popularity and then, sadly, discard them after a few wears.” Because the demand for clothes is so high, the fashion industry is ever-changing and many trends change every few weeks – fast fashion is the modern, quick, and accessible approach for the average person to stay in the fashion world. Brands that use fast fashion include Zara, H&M, UNIQLO, GAP, Forever21, TopShop, Primark, and FashionNova. 

The Jog

We can consider the start of fast fashion to be in the 17th century. During that time, fashion was considered a privilege and was only really available to the high class. When the industrial revolution began, the efficiency of creating and manufacturing things made it more accessible for the public to have access to fashion, and multiple choices for fashion. According to the article “An Analysis of the Fast Fashion Industry” by Bard College, “The introduction of the ready-made garment was made possible through Britain’s enclosure movement and Industrial Revolution.” Along with the Industrial revolution came other inventions that changed the fashion industry – including mass manufacturing and the efficient sewing machine. “The sewing machine was produced and used in Britain for the mass production of garments by the mid-1800s.” (Linden)

Still focusing on Britain, a few years later, fast fashion was boosted by the manufacturing of cotton, and the ease it brought to making cheap clothes. According to an article by Alex Assoune for Panaprium, “In 1831, cotton textile manufacturing accounted for just a little over twenty-two percent of Britain’s economy with one in six people working in the industry.” The cotton industry has always been a main factor in the increase of fast fashion – and will be an undercurrent that boosts the manufacturing of clothing from then to recent times – where the cotton industry is still alive and well. “Through an increase in the supply of raw cotton and new technologies, the price of cotton fell so that the lower economic class was able to purchase cheaper fabrics. The United States post-industrialization through the end of the twentieth century was able to have a strong garment industry.” (Linden)

In the 19th century, fashion was still very much a privilege, mostly for the upper class. It wasn’t until the late 80s and 90’s that fast fashion became accessible for everyone, and catered to the larger public. “Starting in the 1990s, fast-fashion retailers such as H&M, Zara, Primark, Gap, Topshop, and Urban Outfitters reached huge notoriety and grew into large global corporations.” (Assoune)  This brings us to the height of the fast fashion industry – the middle of our marathon – the late 90s into today.

The Run

Fast forward to the 21st century, fast fashion took a huge leap with the creation and popularisation of e-commerce and online shopping. “Online shopping became possible when the internet was opened to the public in 1991.”, says an article by Miva, an e-commerce website. “Amazon was one of the first e-commerce sites in the US to start selling products online and thousands of businesses have followed since.” So how did fast fashion become such a huge success? The secret lies in affordability and the market. An article by Earth.org supports this by stating, “In the late 1990s and 2000s, low-cost fashion reached a peak. Online shopping took off, and fast-fashion retailers like H&M, Zara, and Topshop took over the high street. These brands modeled the looks and design elements from top fashion houses and reproduced them quickly and cheaply.’” The cheap production of cotton, combined with the easy creation of clothes in a small period made fast fashion the perfect solution to a growing demand for high-end-style clothes for the general public.

So why is fast fashion an issue? After all, it brings equal accessibility for all public to be able to have similar clothing – a large change from the past when only the rich coil affords to be in the fashion world. The issue with fast fashion is sustainability; the very thing that makes fast fashion efficient – the quick, cheap creation – is killing our earth. “According to an analysis by Business Insider, fashion production comprises 10% of total global carbon emissions, as much as the European Union. It dries up water sources and pollutes rivers and streams, while 85% of all textiles go to dumps yearly.” (Maiti and Thomas) The throwing of clothes is not the only sustainability issue with fast fashion as well – using the fashion can be damaging to the environment. “Washing clothes releases 500 000 tons of microfibres into the ocean each year, the equivalent of 50 billion plastic bottles.” (Maiti and Thomas)

Fast fashion isn’t slowing down, either. “According to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, emissions from textile manufacturing alone are projected to skyrocket by 60% by 2030.” (Maiti and Thomas) So what can we do? Letting the use of fast fashion keep increasing can be detrimental to our society and environment, but it is the cheapest and most efficient way to stay fashionable in today’s world. Even if you’re not a fashion-driven person, you’re bound to own fast fashion as a result of our economy. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Keeping a capsule wardrobe, limiting the number of clothes you buy, buying quality, timeless clothing, and getting sustainably rid of your clothes are all different ways you can help to reduce the impact of fast fashion in our society.

Want to know more about how you can help to limit the amount of fast fashion you own and contribute to? Stay tuned for a new article on how you can limit the fast fashion you own – and other substitutes to fast fashion.

Works Cited

Arp, Benjamin. “The History Of Ecommerce: How Did It All Begin?” Miva Blog, 23 November 2020, https://blog.miva.com/the-history-of-ecommerce-how-did-it-all-begin. Accessed 19 February 2023.

Assoune, Alex. “The Truth About The Industrial Revolution And Fashion.” Panaprium, https://www.panaprium.com/blogs/i/industrial-revolution-fashion. Accessed 19 February 2023.

Cheung, Jordan. “How to Break Up with Fast Fashion.” Earth.Org, 17 March 2022, https://earth.org/how-to-break-up-with-fast-fashion/. Accessed 19 February 2023.

Linden, Annie Radner. “An Analysis of the Fast Fashion Industry.” Bard Digital Commons, https://digitalcommons.bard.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1033&context=senproj_f2016. Accessed 19 February 2023.

Maiti, Rashmila, and Dana Thomas. “Fast Fashion and Its Environmental Impact.” Earth.Org, https://earth.org/fast-fashions-detrimental-effect-on-the-environment/. Accessed 19 February 2023.

“What Is Fast Fashion and Why Is It So Bad?” Good On You, 1 April 2022, https://goodonyou.eco/what-is-fast-fashion/. Accessed 19 February 2023.

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