The fashion industry is worth close to 3 trillion dollars annually and a major part of this industry is fast fashion alongside other industry sectors such as luxury, cosmetics and accessories to name but a few. In this blogpost, we explore what makes fast fashion what it is, as well as the impact fast fashion has on consumers and the environment. We also explore how designer brands such as U.Mi-1 are trying to address these issues and how consumers can help by making better purchases.
WHAT IS FAST FASHION?
Fast fashion is named exactly for what it is – fast. Whilst mass produced, affordable clothing became possible thanks to the industrial revolution and the subsequent invention of the modern sewing machine and large mechanised textile mills, fast fashion is a relatively new industry that can be traced back to the 1960s. What sets fast fashion apart from this earlier period of mass produced clothing is the speed at which the industry produces new styles and products. Whilst you might see most designer and luxury labels produce between 2-6 collections a year, fast fashion giants such as H&M and Zara produce anywhere from 16-104 collections a year.
Fast Fashion is trend driven and promotes the overconsumption of clothes. Fast Fashion retailers such as Zara, H&M, Topshop and GAP, thrive off selling as much new product as quickly as possible and thus orientate their entire business models around speed, quick production turnaround and trend forecasting. In order to keep generating revenue and profit, fast fashion companies have to not only continually manufacture new clothes, they also create consumer desire for these new products by making older clothes unfashionable.
WHY IS FAST FASHION BAD?
Due to the speed at which the industry requires new product, fast fashion companies will also often straight up copy smaller designers or luxury brands which have resulted in many a lawsuit. Zara has often been called out for such behaviour and some of the more famous incidents include YSL suing shoemaker Steve Madden, Kim Kardashian winning £2.7m from Missguided and Forever 21 being sued by Ariana Grande, Adidas, H&M, and Puma. Instagram accounts such as diet_prada and websites like Fashion Copycats track this copycat behaviour in the industry.
The general outcome of this practice of copying is that fashion becomes less original and creative. These mass produced copies also disregard the work of fashion designers who take the time to create original designs. Due to the sheer size and scale of fast fashion brands, which can quickly mass produce and distribute their clothes, they can push designer brands, such as U.Mi-1, with better practices into obscurity by flooding the market with clothes made with cheaper materials and poorer manufacturing.
Fast-fashion is also seeing an evolution of the industry with the rise of new online-only retailers that are being termed as ultra-fast fashion. These online only brands such as Boohoo, Asos or Fashion Nova are even faster than traditional fast fashion companies and are capable of producing prototypes of designer knockoffs within 2 days and shipping new product to customers within a week.
In order to meet costs and timing demands, garments manufactured by fast fashion retailers are also often of inferior quality, made with cheaper materials and substandard manufacturing that wears out easier. The result is that fast fashion clothes have a shorter lifecycle and are made with materials that are often not eco-friendly or biodegradable. Cheap textiles made in poorly regulated textile mills may use toxic dyes without proper disposal, polluting water sources and poisoning nearby communities.
The fashion industry, as a whole, accounts for close to 10% of all carbon emissions each year – more than the airline and shipping industry combined. Waste is clearly a big factor in the industry’s carbon footprint with a number of fast fashion brands having also been accused of disposing unsold stock in environmentally damaging ways. In 2017 alone, H&M was accused of burning 12 tonnes of excess inventory and since 2013 has been estimated to have disposed of over 60 tonnes of unsold clothes.
FIGHTING FAST FASHION
Led by luxury group Kering, close to a 100 companies in the fashion industry, including suppliers and distributors, have signed a fashion pact committing to sustainability. Zara & H&M who have been heavily criticized for their fast fashion practices are also signatories to this pact with Zara pledging to use 100% sustainable fabrics by 2025. H&M too has launched eco-conscious clothing lines as well as ad campaigns promoting the reuse/recycling of clothes.
However, as mentioned earlier, many of these fashion brands, whilst pledging to tackle climate change, may still be engaged in practices that are still environmentally damaging. Ultimately, consumers still have to play a big part in holding these companies accountable through their purchasing habits.
A number of luxury and designer brands are increasingly designing around the idea of slow fashion or seasonless collections. The design philosophy behind slow fashion is to move away from highly seasonal pieces and instead to create collections that complement previous and future collections. By embracing slow fashion, luxury and designer brands such as U.Mi-1 are creating clothes that are longer lasting, allowing customers to build a wardrobe they can mix and match from with high quality garments that become timeless staples and can be worn across seasons.
Dopamine is a chemical associated with feelings of pleasure and shopping is an activity that has been proven to release this chemical, in anticipation of a reward when making a purchase. Research has shown that two parts of the brain are activated while shopping, the medial prefrontal cortex, and the insula. The former weighs the decision and induces the pleasure of acquisition, and the latter, reacts to the cost and processes the pain of paying.
Fast fashion enables this neurological process with cheap clothes and frequent deliveries resulting in different, unexpected rewards with each visit to a store and purchasing items you are unsure of can actually trigger larger releases of this chemical. This is one of the reasons some find it difficult to switch to slow fashion, the shopping experience is not all pleasure. Higher prices activates the insula, decisions have to be more thought through. However, slow fashion can potentially lead to better decision making that also promotes longer lasting feelings of pleasure.
Cheap clothes can end up costing you more than quality clothes as you may replace the same item multiple times a year because it wears out faster. Whereas, quality clothes which are made of better materials and manufacturing techniques can save you from purchasing more whilst also reducing the amount of waste you contribute.
To summarise, fast fashion creates clothes based on speed, trends and mass production. In order to sell, fast fashion garments are often quick copies of luxury and designer brands which stifle originality and creativity in fashion whilst simultaneously making older clothes unfashionable. These clothes are also often of inferior quality, featuring cheaper materials and substandard manufacturing. Compared to designer clothes such as U.Mi-1, fast fashion garments do not last as long. Fast fashion is a big contributor to the fashion industry’s waste problem and overall carbon footprint and many of these fast fashion brands have a record of environmentally damaging practices.
Major industry players have pledged to convert to sustainable materials in order to tackle climate change. Luxury and designer brands such as U.Mi-1 have also moved towards embracing slow fashion which helps lengthen the lifecycle of a garment through seasonless design. This move towards slow fashion however requires consumers to be more discerning and to be aware of how fast fashion uses reward-seeking behaviour to create a constant desire to shop for new clothes.
In conclusion, we have discussed fast fashion’s unique traits, how the industry can be environmentally and creatively damaging and what attempts are being made to address these issues. Ultimately however, we at U.Mi-1 believe that customers play the most important role and can make a positive impact by avoiding fast fashion and choosing better alternatives such as quality designer clothes that will last.