What is Fast Fashion and What Is Wrong With It

Woman holding clothes. What is fast fashion? Why is it bad? What are the alternatives to fast fashion?
Photo: Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

If you’re an avid fashion fan or Instagram user, you may have seen the term ‘fast fashion’ thrown around a lot this year – but do you actually know what it means?

By definition, fast fashion is generally identified by a highly profitable business model that copies catwalk trends and sells them cheaply. But why is this a bad thing, and is it sustainable?

These questions and more are discussed in this article.

What Is A Fast Fashion Brand?

Fast fashion brands are very common, which is probably where you shop! These are usually high-street brands that can churn out hundreds of new designs every season. Their model allows them to sell these cheaply, encouraging high product consumption.

It’s estimated that fashion companies in Europe approximately went from two collections per year in 2000 to offering five in 2011. We all love buying new clothes, but should we be buying them every week?

Pile of clothes
Photo: Instagram/@neilworthingtonpics

Many fast fashion stores are online-only, too (think Boohoo and Pretty Little Thing). These newer stores produce even more garments than brick-and-mortar stores, and you can have them delivered to your door the next day.

Since it’s so quick and easy to find new pieces for your wardrobe, many fall into the trap of discarding their clothes after one use. Enormously buying pointless fashion items has resulted in garments going to landfills and having shorter lifespans, resulting in mass waste and more resources being used up.

Why Is Fast Fashion So Cheap?

Don’t feel ashamed if you currently buy from these stores. With prices that low and constant new styles, it’s understandable why they’re so popular.

Each piece of clothing requires less consideration when sold at a lower price; this can explain why fast fashion pieces tend to fall apart quicker or use synthetic materials.

Another incentive to buy is their use of online services where you can pay the items off in installments – like Klarna. These allow customers to purchase the products at first sight, making payment an afterthought!

Figures show that the average person buys 60% more clothing items than they did 15 years ago, yet the clothing is kept for half the time. “Wear it once” culture is heavily upon us, with many worried about repeating an outfit or posting a photo of themselves in an outfit already on their profile. This was backed up by a study that claimed 17% of young people said they wouldn’t re-wear an outfit already posted to the ‘gram.

Why Is Fast Fashion Bad?

Pile of unneeded clothes
Photo: Instagram/@hapawitch

Cheaper clothes can be ordered instantly, and you may think, “What’s the problem with that?”

Unfortunately, like most things, this promise of a dream wardrobe for less is too good to be true. Fast fashion is an unsustainable business model that negatively affects garment workers’ lives and the environment.

Do you ever stop and wonder who made your clothes? The answer is probably not, but you’ll find that an underpaid worker probably made the garment if you do some research.

An example of this came in 2018 when the Financial Times exposed how workers in Leister were “paid as little as £3.50 an hour” – this put them at under half of the UK’s minimum wage for people over 25.

It isn’t just a problem in the UK, though. This is happening worldwide to fund our love of cheap clothing. Many countries have also been accused of using child labor to produce these clothes, too, namely Argentina, Bangladesh, China, and many more stated in a 2018 US Department Of Labor Report.

Fast Fashion’s Impact on the Environment

Like many other things in modern life, fast fashion has environmental implications. Clothing production makes up 10% of humanity’s carbon emissions, dries up water sources, and pollutes rivers and seas.

Also, all those clothes that only see one use end up being thrown away – meaning a whopping 85% of textiles go to landfill each year. Here’s an even scarier visual – this is the equivalent of one garbage truck of clothes being dumped or burned every second. Even just washing certain clothes (namely synthetic ones) causes microplastics to end up in the ocean, causing harm to marine life.

How Do You Avoid Fast Fashion?

Taking all this information in at once is scary and a shock to the system, but the one positive to take away from all this talk about fast fashion is the fact that people are beginning to address the problem.

To get out of fast fashion, consider investing in a well-made, ethical piece that will last longer and have better overall value – even if those cheap deals online for even less expensive clothes may look tempting. This may be difficult at first, but adjusting to this new way of shopping is the right thing to do.

Avoid quick, impulsive shopping, apply the 24-hour rule if you wish, or simply try to make conscious decisions about your purchases.

Outfit repeating, i.e., wearing the same clothes multiple times, is a growing trend. And it isn’t only about the environment. It’s also self-determination, the direction towards a slow lifestyle, and inner peace.

Deliberately trying to shop sustainably or making an effort to thrift clothes is a significant first step towards beating fast fashion.

What Stores Aren’t Fast Fashion?

If you’re interested in changing your fashion game, perhaps research into slow fashion!

So many brands are committed to producing fewer collections and ensuring all fabrics are sourced sustainably. These also often last longer as they’re constructed with better materials and more care is taken into creating them.

Buying vintage also combats this problem. Instead of contributing to these brands, explore the world of pre-loved.

You’ll often find that marketplace apps – for example, Vinted or Depop – are full of items from these fast fashion sites. So, instead of buying the item straight from the retailer, scope these apps as, more often than not, someone has purchased the item, decided it doesn’t fit, and is reselling!

The Takeaway

There are many changes to make for us all, but with the proper research and brands becoming more transparent about their production, we can all move towards a greener and more ethical fashion model. Perhaps the industry will one day adopt circular fashion – a process that reduces the use of unnecessary resources within the industry.

If we become more conscious of how we shop, we can become more sustainable together!

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