Before World War II, clothing was often handmade and produced in homes, according to Encyclopedia. During and after the war, though, standardized production of clothing increased and clothing factories began to multiply, according to Encyclopedia.
As clothing became mass-produced, middle-class consumers became accustomed to inexpensive yet well-made clothing, a bargain no one would turn down, according to Fashionista. Hence, fast fashion was born.
Fast fashion, put simply, is the creation and selling of trendy clothes which are available cheaply and quickly to consumers, according to Good on You. For the average customer, cheap and trendy clothing is ideal, and fast fashion is an easy and inexpensive way to stock wardrobes and feed consumers’ desires to stay current. Although there is great appeal to shopping in fast fashion, it is detrimental to consumer habits and plays a substantial role in environmental degradation.
Social media creates an endless demand for new and trend-focused clothing, and fast fashion races to keep up. With the ability to mass-produce clothing at low prices, fashion brands market their flashiest products to consumers, disregarding old styles which are often left unsold.
There are accounts of companies destroying unsold items rather than discounting or donating them, a practice that enables these brands to continue producing in-demand but short-lived pieces, according to Vogue Business. The ability to create products so quickly has created an arms race among brands in keeping up with the fleeting trend cycle, leading consumers into playing the vicious game of catch-up on what’s new, according to The List.
Unbeknownst to most, nearly every clothing line online is a fast-fashion brand, and this issue extends much farther than just brands known to be taboo for environmentalists (e.g., Shein and Romwe).
When shopping, keep in mind that, though clothing is expensive and appears to be good quality, it can still be fast fashion. Popular brands like Urban Outfitters, Fashion Nova, Zara and Princess Polly are also grouped into the category of “fast fashion,” according to Elux Magazine.
Unfortunately, it can be difficult to know the mission, practices and morals of a brand while shopping. Luckily, there are a number of resources available to consult when deciding on a purchase.
The best website regarding sustainability is Good On You. This website scales brands from 1 to 5 on environmental impact and explains the known policies of the brand in relation to ethics and sustainability.
Another great resource is GreenBiz, which provides articles and reports on firms’ approaches to companies’ climate sustainability. Finally, Rank a Brand compares brands and aids consumers in choosing the most sustainable options.
Fast fashion has a significant detrimental impact on the environment. Consumers in the United States who carelessly purchase and then discard old or off-trend clothing contribute to the 26 billion pounds of clothing that are thrown away each year, according to Green America.
Landfills around the world are filled with fast fashion pieces. The consequences of this textile waste are devastating. When cheap materials used by fast fashion brands decompose in landfills, they release carbon dioxide and methane, according to Columbia Climate School. These greenhouse gasses contribute to the warming of the climate, trapping heat in the atmosphere, according to The Environmental Protection Agency.
The fashion industry is notorious for treating workers unfairly, forcing even children to work in unsafe conditions for little pay, according to The Guardian. There are many accounts of factory fires and factory collapses, and many lives have been lost to these intolerable conditions, according to The Clean Clothes Campaign.
This entire issue comes down to production rates and demand. Fast fashion brands and luxury brands alike have become accustomed to consumers buying to follow trends, and have struggled to keep up.
In the end, fast fashion’s ability to mass-produce cheap clothing has warped the consumer’s idea of “fashion,” creating a culture centered around quantity over quality. The best thing that we can do is refrain from participating in this consumerist culture. Instead of following trends, find what you truly like to wear and what makes you feel most comfortable.
Most importantly, wear what you buy and make the production and cost of the clothes worth it. Few will completely change their buying habits, and it is nearly impossible to refrain from buying fast fashion, but the less you buy, the better.
By developing a longer-term personal style and sticking to things that work for you, rather than what works on the runway, you can avoid falling into the fast fashion trap and do a little good for the earth while you’re at it.