The fashion industry has been gaining popularity for a very long time now. Every day seems to be a new height. This was not the case if we rewind a little.

Up till the mid-twentieth century, the pace of fashion was slow. Unlike now, the fashion designers spent a good time deciding and planning what the customers would want for every season. There used to be only a few seasons each year: spring, summer, fall, winter. There was a chain to be followed. Fashion was prescribed to high society before it became accessible to the masses. There was a criterion to be followed.

However, about twenty years ago, everything changed. Weekly launches replaced seasonal design launches. All those highly popular fashion items became readily available in the markets at cheaper costs. The world entered a new era of fast fashion. So, what exactly is fast fashion, and does it have any negatives?

What is Fast Fashion?

Fast fashion is a design, manufacturing, and marketing strategy that focuses on producing large quantities of garments in a short amount of time. Garment production uses trend duplication and low-quality materials to introduce low-cost fashions to the public. Hence, in simpler words, fast fashion is low-cost, trendy clothing that takes inspiration from the models and celebrity culture and quickly transforms it into high-street stores to meet consumer demand.

These low-cost, trendy items have sparked a tendency towards excessive consumption. The goal is to have the newest trends on the market as quickly as possible so that buyers may buy them while they’re fresh and trendy and then throw them away after a few wears. Fast fashion plays on the catch-phrase of fashion faux pas. It has created a necessity amongst the consumer mindsets to wear the most up-to-date looks as soon as they become available to stay trendy.

Unfortunately, this has negative consequences for the environment, garment workers, and, eventually, customers’ wallets.

How did Fast Fashion Become the New Normal?

The rise of fast fashion is directly related to globalization and the industrial revolution. Earlier, the process of making a garment was slow. In the early 1900s, for instance, you would have to spend a good amount of money to get a quality piece of garment. The garments also used to last longer. As a manufacturer, you had to find your materials, such as wool or leather, prepare them, weave them, and finally sew the garments together.

Technological enhancements within the fashion industry have speeded up this process and logistical efficiency as well. Thus, garments today are simpler, faster, and less expensive to create. Low-cost fashion peaked in the late 1990s and early 2000s. The popularity of online purchasing has exploded. Moreover, with the increase of social media, the emergence of influencer marketing and culture has created an opportunity for quick fashion firms, particularly online shops, to thrive. These influencers have such a huge fan following that everything they wear turns into a popular fashion trend.

These constantly changing visuals on social media platforms; how every influencer is always wearing different clothes, following a different fashion trend has changed people’s perception. Wearing the same clothes twice has almost become taboo now. It means more wastage and disposal as well. Thus, the constant need of wearing new clothes, new designs have resulted in seasonal launches turning into weekly launches. Hence, the rise of fast fashion. Since everyone can now wear the top trending clothes at cheaper rates, it explains how fast fashion became the new normal.

Negatives of Fast Fashion

Just like everything comes at a cost, so does fast fashion. The difference, however, is that fast fashion comes at a greater cost than what you might be thinking. From the environment to the people to the animals, fast fashion impacts all of these.

Impact on the environment

The fashion industry is responsible for a tenth of global carbon emissions. The use of low-cost, hazardous textile dyes is one of fast fashion’s negative consequences, making the fashion sector the world’s second-largest polluter of clean water following agriculture.

Moreover, as the consumer demand for fashion items is huge, the material used for these clothes is cheap and of lower quality, which does not last long. Therefore, as fashion trends do not last more than a few weeks, all the leftover clothes are disposed of. Since these items are made of cheap materials, they can’t be recycled. Therefore these disposed off items rot for years in landfills.

These low-cost textiles are also hazardous for the oceans. One of the most common fabrics is polyester. It is made from fossil fuels that contribute to global warming. When washed, it can drop microfibers that contribute to the growing amount of plastic in our oceans.

The impact of fashion will always be there on the environment whether fast fashion exists or not. But it is undeniable that the speed with which clothing manufacturing has begun is increasing day by day. Hence, fast fashion damages the environment at a faster pace.

Impact on Humans

Fast fashion affects both the workers who produce clothes and also the consumers.

Fast fashion has resulted in an increase in the number of fashion trends at lower costs. Since the costs of these garments are quite low, so does the production cost and the wages of the workers producing them. Thus, there is a human cost to rapid fashion. Around ninety percent of the clothing manufacturing is done in developing countries since the labor cost is pretty low in these countries.

Fast fashion influences garment workers who labor in hazardous conditions, pay poorly and lack basic human rights. Workers in the garment industry face life-threatening health standards and occupational accidents. Due to insufficient airflow in working environments, workers inhale dust and fibre from textiles regularly. Workers in the garment business suffer from various diseases such as lung disease, cancer, and reproductive problems due to this. Moreover, since the manufacturing process is a repetitive one, this results in physical strains and mental health issues.

While the consumers may think that fast fashion has been beneficial for them, consumers have also been affected by this. Fast fashion has also been chastised for encouraging a “throw-away” mentality. Fast fashion has convinced fashionistas that they need to shop more and more to keep up with the latest trends. It has established a mentality amongst the consumers of not wearing a trendy garment more than once or twice. Moreover, some designers have also alleged that stores have unlawfully mass-produced their designs.

Impact on Animals

Fast fashion influences animals as well. Toxic dyes and microfibers thrown into oceans and lakes in the wild are absorbed by both land and marine animals have disastrous consequences. Furthermore, animal welfare is jeopardized when animal products such as leather, fur, and even wool are utilized in fashion.

How to Identify a Fast Fashion Label?

Now that you know the negative impacts of fast fashion, you might be questioning how to recognize a fast-fashion brand. Here are a few things which are common in every fast-fashion label:

  • Such brands offer you thousands of designs to choose from, covering all of the hottest trends.
  • A garment that is only available in a limited quantity. This approach encourages a feeling of urgency amongst the consumers to buy clothes they like or otherwise won’t be available in the market later. In other words, the fear of missing out.
  • Low-cost and low-quality fabrics disintegrate quickly and are discarded after only a few uses.
  • The time taken for a garment or a trend that models have recently worn on a ramp walk or any celebrity and when it hits the shelves is extremely brief.
  • Such brands have hired clothing manufacturers in developing countries as the cost of labour is pretty low.

What can be done?

Is there an alternate way that can put a stop to fast fashion? While it may seem hard to change consumer behaviour but it is possible.

As consumers, the first step is to buy less—try to rediscover your passion for the clothing you already have by styling them differently. The second step is to choose wisely, and selecting an environmentally friendly cloth is critical. It also implies committing to environmentally friendly brands, such as those listed below.

As manufacturers, slow fashion is a direct alternative to fast fashion. It’s reassuring to know that companies and individuals are working to protect the environment and garment workers. Furthermore, by purchasing clothing from both responsible companies and secondhand stores, we can stop fast fashion.