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What is Fast Fashion?

For the last few years, fast fashion has been a topic that has dominated the fashion industry. Fast fashion is the term used to describe clothing designs that move quickly from the catwalk to stores to take advantage of trends. As a result, the practice has triggered many concerns, from environmental factors to human rights issues.

Here, we go into more detail on what fast fashion is, how it came about, and how you can spot whether what you’re buying falls into this category.

Fast Fashion Explained

There’s a good chance that at least one item of clothing you purchased in the last ten years originated from a fast fashion retailer.

Fast fashion is the term for the relatively recent phenomena of mass production of inexpensive, stylish apparel in big volumes that closely resembles fashions seen on the runway and in popular culture. The idea is to get the consumer to buy the product as soon as an item becomes trendy. After that, the consumer wears the item just a few times before throwing it away.

The increased prominence of social media along with advancements in textile technology has resulted in an explosion of fast fashion brands in recent years and along with it came a range of controversial baggage.

Why is fast fashion bad?

Fast fashion is considered a bad practice due to its detrimental environmental and social impact on the globe. The overproduction and overconsumption of cheaply made clothing make the fashion industry one of the largest polluters globally. In addition, the ability of fashion brands to produce such cheap clothing on a large scale has shone a light on unethical manufacturing practices and potential human rights violations.

The environmental impact of fast fashion

Fast fashion’s impact on the planet is substantial and shows no signs of slowing down. According to research, fashion production comprises 10% of global carbon emissions and fast fashion is responsible for a large portion of that.

Energy used to create clothes

The production of making plastic fibres into textiles is an energy-intensive process that requires large amounts of fuel and releases volatile substances such as hydrogen chloride. In addition, the fast fashion industry consumes incredible amounts of water with some reports estimating that it takes 2,700 litres of water to produce one cotton shirt.

Clothing Waste

The speed at which garments are produced means that more and more clothes are disposed of by consumers, creating massive textile waste.
Excessive plastic use

Many fast fashion brands use synthetic fibres like polyester and acrylic which take several centuries to biodegrade. Plastic use in clothes also has a detrimental impact on our oceans as it is estimated that 35% of all microplastics in the ocean come from the washing of synthetic textiles like polyester.

Toxic chemicals Used in Manufacturing

The incessant demand for fast fashion results in increased stress on other environmental areas such as land clearing, biodiversity, and soil quality. For example, the production of leather requires copious amounts of food, land, water and, fossil fuels to raise livestock, while the tanning process is among the most damaging practices in all of the fashion supply chain.

The ethical impact of fast fashion

The negative effects of fast fashion extend beyond the environment. In actuality, the sector also causes societal and ethical issues, particularly in developing countries.

Low worker wages

In order to offer clothes at low prices, fast fashion brands need their costs to be low. Lowering the pay of garment workers throughout the supply chain is one of the main ways to accomplish this. For years, brands have looked for cost-saving opportunities globally, focusing on nations with the lowest labour standards so that garment workers can be exploited more easily.

Poorer working conditions

For workers in the clothing industry, workplace accidents and life-threatening health standards continue to be major concerns. Due to poor airflow in working spaces, employees frequently breathe in dust and textile fibre. This leads to lung disease, cancer, and reproductive problems in garment industry workers. Additionally, the work is repetitive, which increases the physical demands.

How Do You Know If a Shop Sells Fast Fashion?

  • If you want to discover whether your favourite brand is participating in fast fashion, here are some telltale signs;
  • Costs are extremely low
  • The brand stocks thousands of styles that are similar to that of other fast fashion suppliers
  • A short turnaround between the style appearing on a catwalk, to it being stocked by the brand
  • Materials used are low quality and feel cheap
  • The clothes are made overseas in countries with poor human and labour rights
  • An abundance of ‘Other items you may like’.

Fast fashion brands

Many big brands have been accused of producing fast fashion, however, the majority of these brands have refuted these claims and reported that their clothing is sustainably made and sourced. The claims have been met with doubt and accusations of greenwashing by environmentalists. Some of the key players in the fast fashion industry are:

  • Boohoo
  • Shein
  • H&M
  • Zara
  • Forever 21
  • Topshop
  • Primark
  • New Look

How can we reduce the impact of fast fashion?

You may have bought items that you now realise may not be as ethical as you first thought, but don’t worry, it’s common and can be difficult to avoid. There are things you can do to reduce the impact:

Wear and re-wear.

People are choosing to buy more clothes than wearing what they have. If you have items that still have a lot of life in them, then put them at the front of your wardrobe and make sure they’re in sight the next time you say you have nothing to wear.

Repurpose old clothing

Repurpose items past their best. If you have clothing that has seen better days, rather than throw it in the bin, have a look if there’s another use for it. Cotton makes wonderful cleaning cloths, denim can be changed up to make some interesting homeware and fleece makes the perfect bedding for small animals.

Donate clothes

If some items just aren’t being worn, then don’t throw them away if they are of good quality. Either look to give away on social sites or donate to charity. If they aren’t in good shape i.e broken, stained or ripped, then look for textile recycling centres, or clothes recycling banks

How to shop for clothes ethically

There are so many ways you can buy new clothes without feeling guilty. One of these is to choose second-hand or vintage clothing, rather than buying new. There are so many charity shops on the high street that stock a whole range of designer labels, styles and sizes that you may just be surprised by what you can get.

As well as the high street, there are sellers on preloved websites that also have incredible bargains. eBay is a great choice, but Depop, Vinted and even Facebook Marketplace have items that are waiting to be bought at a fraction of the new price.

If you don’t fancy second-hand buys or can’t find what you’re looking for on these sites, then just consider the ethics of the shops you do buy from; see above. Often you pay a little bit more for slow fashion pieces, but as the saying goes; buy cheap, buy twice. Often it can cost you more to keep buying cheap clothes, rather than investing in good quality garments.