Fast fashion is a popular term used in the fashion apparel industry. It refers to the rapid movement of clothing designs from the catwalk to the market. Usually, a particular design is showcased on the weekly catwalk.
As it begins to trend, there is an ongoing mass production of the collection. This makes it possible to avail the apparel collection in the market as fast as possible.
Fast fashion looks to deliver such collections to the market at the lowest cost possible. Therefore, a low production cost has to be adhered to. The history of fast fashion Before the 1990s, fashionable clothes were extremely expensive.
This is because the production process was slow, and trendy clothes were somewhat limited. Most people desired fashionable clothes but had to save money so that they can afford them. A particular collection could be showcased on the runway, then take a considerable amount of time to reach the consumers.
When it was finally availed in the stores, the high price deterred people from buying it. Upon the introduction of fast fashion, this changed.
The concept of fast fashion can be traced back to the 1980s. At first, it was just a product-driven model for manufacturing that was popularly known as a quick response that was developed in the US. This concept progressed and led to what is now known as fast fashion in the 1990s.
Since then, fast fashion has been adopted by huge brands in the apparel industry. Zara has been on the front line in terms of using this market model. Other brands that heavily rely on fast fashion include Peacocks, Primark, Top Shop and H&M.
How fast fashion works
Fast fashion is a concept that relies on using supply chain management (CSM) innovatively. The ultimate objective is to produce trendy clothing, rapidly, and in a cost-efficient manner.
This is done in regards to an emerging demand. The brands involved have to keep their eyes on shifting demand. And since consumers prefer fashionable clothes at a reasonable price, this is exactly what the manufacturer seeks to capitalize on.
Normally, you’ll find that the leading brands in fast fashion outsource labor in developing countries. The goal is to lower the production cost as well as produce in bulk, and in the shortest time possible.
It works on the principle of mutual benefit for both the manufacturer and the customer. Speed and cost are of great importance in fast fashion.
Fast fashion impact on people’s behavior Fast fashion has over the years affected people’s behaviors in numerous ways.
From a consumer perspective, there is a high responsiveness to prevailing fashion trends. People buy more clothes than they did a few decades ago. This can be attributed to the fact that fast fashion offers more affordable clothes. Therefore, the spending power of an ordinary person is increased.
Besides, people engage more in impulse buying. Also, consumers tend to use fashion and style to create certain identities. They are more concerned about being trendy. This makes them oblivious to the environmental problems that are brought about by fast fashion.
Apart from that, the younger generation has become more fashion-conscious. This means that as soon as a new trend comes along, these people find themselves under pressure to follow suit.
There is also an emerging culture of wastage among consumers. Given that trendy clothes are offered at a pocket-friendly price, people are disposing of outdated or unwanted clothes without sweating it.
They barely feel the financial burden of always shopping for new clothes.
Since the multinationals that are at the helm outsource labor, people in developing countries increasingly become reliant on the jobs offered by the fashion apparel industry.
This has been making them more receptive to poor working conditions in the name of making a living. Fast fashion effects on the environment
The fashion industry is responsible for a huge chunk of the pollution that takes place on this planet. This ranges from landfills to climate change. Moreover, pollution in fast fashion is taking place in many forms, and touching on different environmental aspects.
Fast fashion has been associated with enormous ecological damage. This is because it fosters a throw-away attitude that is detrimental to the environment. That is why it is also referred to as disposable fashion.
The clothes are sold cheaply as well as produced fast and in bulk. Substandard and harmful raw materials are used to make millions of outfits. Consequently, as one fashion trend quickly becomes outdated, another one emerges. The consumers strive to keep up by disposing of clothes that are considered to be out of fashion and buying new ones. Sadly, this happens within a few months.
Given that the materials used are hazardous to the environment, there has been an increased criticism over fast fashion contribution to pollution. There is massive waste that ends in landfills, which is tragic.
In the year 2014, it was estimated that 10.6 million tons of clothing were disposed of in the US only, resulting in massive landfills. Bear in mind that this is only a tip of the iceberg. Clothing waste is rampant all over the world.
What makes it worse is that synthetic fiber is used to make about 72% of the garments in the world. This includes nylon and polyesters. As a result, a lot of non-biodegradable garments end up on our environment.
It takes up to 30 years for them to start decomposing in a landfill. This is catastrophic for the soil and animals that continue to ingest this kind of waste.
Some of these harmful materials work their way up the food chain, putting all living things at risks. As if that’s not enough, textile industries notoriously dump untreated waste chemicals (especially the chemicals
used in dyeing clothes) are brutally toxic in natural water sources.
Once these water sources are contaminated, marine life is under siege as well as animals, and most importantly, human life. A synthetic polymer is yet another harmful raw material that is popularly used in the apparel industry.
Though it is not grown, it is extremely hazardous. The production of nylon is known to produce a harmful greenhouse gas known as nitrous oxide. This gas is over 100 times worse than carbon dioxide. With that, you can only imagine what it does to the environment.
There are unimaginable consequences that are being brought about by the need for cheap low-quality outfits. Regrettably, most consumers are not aware of this.
There are staggering numbers of clothes being donated to charities. Unfortunately, these organizations are sometimes forced to dispose of them as they are surplus to their needs.
The bottom line is that fast fashion has been impacting on the environment negatively and immensely.
Can fast fashion be sustainable?
As far as sustainability is concerned, fast fashion has a long way to go. It is no secret that this model has been operating at a high environmental cost. There are attempts from the major players to perhaps change their ways, and lean towards using less harmful materials such as cotton to make fast fashion more sustainable.
For it to be sustainable, a lot needs to be done concerning pollution. For instance, the manufacturers would have to turn to renewable energy sources and operate on zero landfills. Currently, this isn’t happening and if there are any efforts at all, they are still far from achieving sustainability.
Besides that, even if the fast fashion players were to try and become sustainable as it has been suggested, growing of materials such as cotton is still harmful to soil health. Cotton is seen to be safer than other raw materials such as nylon.
What is being done to reduce the effects of fast fashion?
As people continue to be vocal about the impact of fast fashion on the environment, the industry stakeholders are beginning to listen. There are numerous ongoing efforts to reduce the effects of fast fashion.
For instance, Zara, a brand that is currently the industry leader in fast fashion is aiming to use safer materials. It hopes that several of its manufacturing zones are going to adopt more environmentally friendly manufacturing methods. Part of this includes using renewable energy.
Entrepreneurs such as Ecoalf from Spain have already taken an initiative towards creating shoes from algae and recycled plastic. This is being done in a bid to reduce the effects of fast fashion.
Another great example is Patagonia, a company based in California. Besides urging its customers to buy only what they need to curb pollution, it has been making fleece jackets from polyesters. It sources its raw materials from recycled bottles.
Nudie Jeans, a company based in Gothenburg is also a good example. It has adopted using organic cotton to produce quality jeans. The motivation behind this is safeguarding the environment.
As part of its efforts, it constantly urges its customers to return old jeans and gives discounts to every customer that does so.
The giant retailer H&M that is also involved in fast fashion has also teamed up with iCollect to intensify the collection and recycling of garments. The program will cater to US customers, and offer discounts for those who will take back five pieces of unwanted clothes for recycling.
As people become more conscious of the environmental degradation that is caused by fast fashion, they are beginning to campaign against it and create more awareness.
For example, the Fashion Revolution movement has made great strides towards creating awareness. This is being done in the plight of garment workers who perished during the RANA Plaza Factory tragedy in Bangladeshi.
The horrific incident claimed over 1000 lives of workers in the fashion apparel industry.
How can we reduce the impact of fast fashion?
There are a host of things that we as the consumers can do to reduce the negative effects of fast fashion. Here are some of them;
Waste is a result of having more than we need or having clothes that are not durable. This keeps us buying more and more, and hence the heightened wastage.
Every garment we wear used plenty of resources before it was a finished product. For this reason, let’s buy only what we need. There is no need for one person to own an entire closet of clothes while you could do with less.
Buying from environmentally conscious brands
Buying clothes will never stop. In fact, the more we buy, the more the fast fashion grows and sees the need to expand. This increases the rate of pollution. A good number of fashion brands are doing more to produce environmentally friendly clothing.
The best thing we can do is to support their effort by buying from such brands. The more the demand for sustainable brands grows, the more the industry at large will begin focusing on sustainable clothing solutions.
Focus on buying superior quality
Poor quality leads to more waste. How about buying a better quality? This will significantly reduce waste accumulation since we will be building a culture of buying quality products that last. This will also nudge the brands towards producing quality garments.
Adopt better garment disposal methods
One of the reasons why landfills are ever-increasing is that we throw unwanted clothes in the bin. This is a poor disposal method that causes more harm to our ailing environment.
Instead, we can choose to repair some of our clothes, donate to those who need them, return to stores that collect clothes for recycling or put them in textile recycling bins.
Fast fashion falls within the textile industry. According to the World Bank, this industry is responsible for 20% of the world’s water pollution. It uses more than 8000 different chemicals and most of them end up in our environment.
As much as this may sound outrageous, it is true. Producing a single pair of jeans can use up to 1800 gallons of water.
This is not the only kind of pollution that emanates from making clothes. However, using these statistics, you can imagine how much more harm is coming from fast fashion.
With that being said, it helps to be environmentally conscious in our consumption of fast fashion.