Fast fashion: What it is, impacts, and alternatives
How many of us follow fashion trends and renew our wardrobe regularly? This happens because fast fashion has shaped us this way. A culture of producing and buying at each new season was created, shortening the product's life cycle, which is produced with less quality and is discarded more quickly. This is great for those who sell and those who buy, since the products also reach consumers in a more affordable way, but terrible on an environmental and social level.
What is fast fashion
Until the 18th century, making clothes took time. The garments were handcrafted using quality raw materials so that they would last longer. This cost, and still costs, time and money.
However, with the invention of machines, particularly sewing machines, the processes became easier, making possible to produce more clothes in less time. Additionally, fast fashion emerged as a market strategy to sell the production out.
But what exactly is fast fashion? It consists of producing the largest possible quantity as quickly as possible and at the lowest possible cost to encourage consumption and boost profits. Clearly, the formula of quickly getting clothing to consumers at a low cost with a reduced product life cycle has become a trend that ended up expanding all over the world.
How fast fashion works
Companies in the textile industry that work with fast fashion analyse the consumption habits of well-known brands and, based on this analysis, produce similar garments on a large scale, however with lower quality, which makes the finished product much cheaper.
These same companies practice the so-called global fashion, which basically consists into the circulation of the same type of products throughout the world without any local characteristics. The garments are distributed, in a fragmented way, between different countries, conveying a feeling of exclusivity, which is not true at all.
Fast fashion impacts
This modus operandi, as attractive as it may be for brands and consumers, has a major impact on production, consumption habits, the environment, and society. Let’s analyse them in more detail:
Production impact: Following the fast fashion model, the focus is on getting new clothing to customers each new season, and the product cycle lasts a maximum of six months. Thus, there’s a need to produce more, faster, and at a lower cost.
Consumption impact: Fast fashion has completely changed consumers’ mindsets. If clothes used to be treated as durable goods, today they are seen as something disposable because they will only be used for a short period to keep up with fashion trends and because they are made with inferior quality.
Environment impact: After the expansion of fast fashion, the textile industry has become one of the most polluting in the world. To produce clothes, it’s necessary to consume water and other natural resources, chemicals, dyes, and fertilisers are used, and it’s also necessary to transport. And as we are talking about mass production, large levels of carbon and toxic gases are generated.
Additionally, many clothes end up in landfills with no chance of recycling, and as these are made from low-quality synthetic fabrics, they spend the rest of their existence releasing chemicals and other materials, such as microplastics, into the air, soil, and water (in the last case, even before they become garbage, every time we wash them).
- Social impact: To reduce costs in the finished product, it’s necessary to reduce costs in the rest of the chain, namely in human resources. The use of precarious or slave labour is a serious problem in fast fashion, especially in Asian countries. In addition to low wages, there are several companies that make use of illegal hiring, excessive work shifts, and deplorable conditions. Many people who work in this field also see their health as concerned, as they’re exposed to chemical products and are pushed to their physical limits so that clothes reach stores on time.
Alternatives to fast fashion
The great alternative to fast fashion is, as the name implies, slow fashion, which is concerned with producing quality and durable garments on a small and/or medium scale. Slow fashion prefers local consumption, as it values local producers and promotes environmental awareness, as it opts for more sustainable fibres and materials, and promotes the recall, repair, and recycling of clothing, contributing to a circular economy. There is also a strong policy of practicing real and fair prices.
There are more and more brands on the market that assume themselves as sustainable fashion brands, looking for partners capable of ensuring responsible production methods. Although in a smaller universe, there are also brands with their own factories, which allows controlling all processes and manage to be more transparent, such as LAGOFRA and DAILY DAY.
But the alternatives are also on the side of consumers. Here are some habits you can instill to fight fast fashion:
Reduce clothing consumption: Consumerism, which is so rooted in our culture, leads us to buy things we don’t need and, sometimes, that we don’t even like that much. To avoid compulsive consumption, we should ask ourselves some questions at the purchase time, such as: Do I really need this garment? Do I have a garment similar to this one or that serves the same purpose? If the answers to these questions are “yes”, it's better to leave this item in the store. If we ask these questions whenever we are tempted to make a purchase, in addition to helping to fight the several problems already mentioned here, our wardrobe will also be much more organised and easier to use (remember our article about the capsule wardrobe here). And when you buy a new piece of clothing, choose one with higher quality so that it lasts longer.
Take care of your clothes: To make your clothes last longer, you should care for them according to the washing instructions on the label, wear them until they are worn out, repair them when possible, and recycle them responsibly at the end of its useful life.
Stop dumping so easily: If you have a garment that is quite worn out, that you think is completely old-fashioned, or that you no longer identify with, you can give it a new life. In the case of worn-out clothing, try to fix it, otherwise, transform it! Trousers can become shorts, a jacket can become a vest, a towel can be transformed into numerous cloths… give your imagination free rein! If none of this works for you and you decide to get rid of a piece of clothing, donate, sell, or recycle it. And, to avoid wanting to discard your garments early, choose to buy timeless items so you never get tired of them.
Rent clothes: When we have an important and formal occasion, such as a gala or a wedding, we often end up buying something more expensive than usual, and, most likely, we will only use those clothes once. To avoid this waste of money and impact, we can always choose to rent clothes and accessories from specialised stores.
- Buy second-hand clothes: Just as you can sell clothes that you no longer identify with, you can also buy from other people. There are already several stores and apps that sell this sort of item, where you can find unique and original garments in perfect condition at lower prices.
Cheap can be very expensive for future generations
Everything described in this article happens because brands want to deliver the promised speed to their customers without making big investments. But the formula only works because we buy it. That’s why when we, as consumers, go to buy some garment, should ask some questions, such as: Who made these clothes? What are the materials used? Where do the raw materials used in these clothes come from? Was a conscious use of natural resources made? Is there concern about human and animal suffering? Where was the production made? How many kilometres do clothes travel from the beginning until they reach me?
The good news is that, in fact, environmental awareness and social responsibility are growing not only among companies but also among consumers. It is up to all of us, as individuals and organisations, to embrace the most correct measures to defend and practice a sustainability policy. And remember: the consumer always has the last word, so consume responsibly, never forgetting that what may cost less money today may have a very high price for future generations.
And, just as important: don’t let yourself be deceived and always use your critical thinking, because there is a lot to be said about sustainability. Why? Because sometimes, maybe it’s better to buy a product made from a material that is theoretically less sustainable but which will last much longer than another that was reportedly produced in a more ecological way. Always put things in balance and act according to your conscience.