Our clothes, and where we buy them, have always been an issue of class and symbol of wealth and status. But nowadays, there seems to be a paradigm shift regarding how people prefer to clothe themselves. Flaunting designer brands is not always the priority of the fashionista today – but flaunting personal style.
The millennial generation, with the desire to always keep up with what’s trending, has been keeping the fashion industry up and going. This started the fast-fashion boom. Fast fashion came into the fore during the vogue for “boho chic” during the mid-2000s. By 2006, an average person was buying one-third more clothes than they had in 2002, according to the Ethical Fashion Forum. It caused competition among high street brands, so they began introducing more collections every year, or every season or even every week to meet consumer demands for what’s trending, mass-producing lower-quality apparel for a lower cost.
That is what fast fashion is about: being able to buy a low-cost clothing that mimics the latest runway trends. Fast fashion is mostly bought by young shoppers who love to look stylish and appear on trend without spending a fortune.
How fast is “fast fashion?”
Fashion cycles are now moving faster than ever. Once upon a time, the only fashion seasons were summer/spring and fall/winter. Today, the fashion industry is churning out up to 11 or more a year, with some releasing 52 “micro-seasons” annually. The goal of fast fashion is to encourage consumers to buy as many garments as possible and as quickly as possible, with new trends coming out every week. Because trends change very quickly, it often causes new styles to become obsolete after just a few weeks.
Zara, a Spanish mega-retailer, is considered as the pioneer for the fast-fashion concept. They set the global standard for how to decrease the time between design and production. Zara produces 30,000 units of product every year, bringing new deliveries to its stores 1,600 stores in 58 countries twice a week. As a result, the garment choices and product availability for customers improved while significantly increasing the number of customer visits.
Forever 21 and H&M are both getting daily shipments of new styles. Topshop introduces 400 styles a week on its website. For Renner, a new mini-collection is released every two months.
The growth of fast fashion retailers is fast, too. According to the financial holding company CIT, fast fashion brands grew 9.7 percent per annum since 2011 – quicker as compared to the 6.8 percent growth of traditional apparel companies. In 2014, another report stated that the average household spent an average of $1,786 on apparel and related services.
Even luxury fashion brands are keeping up with fast fashion. They have given a whole new meaning to fast fashion as high-end retail websites have been offering same-day service in world capitals and top vacation destinations. Farfetch.com just announced April this year that it unveiled a new delivery service in which it will facilitate delivery and return of products directly from Gucci store to a customer in just 90 minutes in 10 major cities around the world. Matchesfashion.com, a luxury online retailer based in London, also offers 90-minute delivery in the city.
Negative effects of fast fashion
More style choices lead to increased purchases, and more purchases lead to greater waste. Because fast fashion garments are cheaper, lower in quality and run out of style quicker, people are more likely to dispose of them. Fast fashion becomes disposable clothing, and it is damaging to the environment and the economy.
In 2013, 15.1 million tons of textile waste generated, wherein 12.8 million tons were discarded, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. The use of cheap, synthetic, easy-to-produce, petroleum-based fabrics like acrylic and polyester are also harmful to the environment, as well as the cultivation of conventional cotton that uses a lot of water and pesticides. The decomposing of fabrics releases methane, which contributes to global warming.
The fast fashion industry also increased transportation exhausts due to more frequent shipping.
Laborers are also feeling the impact of this trend. Reports from the Ethical Fashion Forum show that factory workers are required to work extremely long hours to complete orders for retailers. A journalist-author Lucy Siegle found out that 20 to 60 percent of garment production is sewn at home by informal workers in some of the poorest regions of the world so that fashion companies can reduce costs on equipment and workers’ compensation. Fast fashion has been criticized for poor working conditions in developing countries.
The conditions of the environment and laborers abroad are being sacrificed for fast fashion, but many people in the developed countries seem to be wasting these apparels. A recent survey by Oxfam and Marks & Spencer revealed that there are 3.6 billion clothes left unworn – an average of 57 items per person – in wardrobes in the UK, with an average of 16 items worn only once and 11 still with tags on.
Developed countries deal with their excess clothing problem by donating it to developing nations. The United States is the biggest importer of used clothes, and top importers are Russia, India, and Pakistan, according to the United Nations. However, because of the strong dollar and availability of inexpensive fashion in Asia, demands for exports of secondhand clothing might decline.
Fast fashion is also affecting sorting companies that export secondhand clothes. These companies sort through the clothes, separating those that will be exported for sale and those that will be made into other low-grade fiber products. Their profit is mainly dependent on selling reusable used clothing, but if the quality is low, more of the collected garments might head to the shredding bin rather than the used clothes market. Because fast fashion items are made of lower quality materials, they are not meant to be used for so long.
On the positive side, some retailers are launching programs to encourage consumers to recycle. H&M, for instance, is allowing customers to bring unwanted clothing to their stores since 2013 to be transformed into recycled textile fibers for new products. Patagonia also resells and recycles used similar-branded products in its stores.
With all of these being stated, patronizing fast fashion brands is truly not a matter of status statement anymore, but a matter of choice. You can buy one or two pairs of quality trousers or five trendy and disposable ones – it’s up to you how well you’re going to make use of them.