Merriam Webster defines fast fashion as: An approach to the design, creation, and marketing of clothing fashions that emphasizes making fashion trends quickly and cheaply available to consumers.
Collections are often based on designs presented at Fashion events. Fast fashion allows mainstream consumers to purchase trendy clothing at reasonable prices.
Stumped? Here’s some context: Fashion industry, up until the mid-twentieth century, ran on four seasons a year: fall, winter, spring, and summer. Designers would work months ahead to plan, for each season and predict trends and styles, which would sell the most. This method, although way more meticulous than fashion of the present, took away agency, from the consumer. Before fashion was accessible to the masses, it was exclusive to high society, catering to the elite meant access to trends and designs were limited to a certain class.
Modern fast fashion brands produce about “52 micro-seasons” a year. At least a new “collection” every week.
Author Elizabeth Cline notes that Zara started bi-weekly deliveries of new merchandise decades back. This forced all their competition, to have a towering supply of stock at all times. This business model has kept brands like Next and Wet Seal from running out of a certain style and isolating a target customer section. H&M and Forever21 get daily shipments of new styles, while an online merchant like
Myntra introduces 200 styles on its website, in a single week”
How did our desire for looking different and fresh had the industry convince us that we are behind trends as soon as we see them being worn by others ?
H&M and Zara bank on the enormous range of options they churn out, for their profit. Such brands are able to earn millions while selling individual pieces cheap, because of the sheer number of items they sell daily, no matter the cost. To quote Lucy Siegle, author and journalist of the documentary The True Cost
“Fast fashion isn’t free. Someone, somewhere is paying.”
Elements of fast fashion: trend replication, rapid production, low quality, and competitive pricing, add up to a large impact on the environment and the people involved in its production. Along with the effects fast fashion has on the planet, they affect the consumers and the worker. Some garments and accessories even have dangerous amounts of leadin them, and exposure poses serious health hazards.
Fashion industry was built on the sweat of the powerless, the voiceless. And it intends to stay that way.
Slaves in the American South before the civil war were mostly working in cotton plantations. Modern times have outsourced the labour to Bangladesh, China Philippines and Vietnam, to bypass minimum wage laws and exploit inhumane working conditions. Worker’s health is constantly being put at risk through long hours, lack of resources, exposure to harmful chemicals, and often physical abuse. People who make fast fashion clothing have been confirmed to be underpaid, underfed, and pushed to their limits because there are often few other options. Labour laws are fiction, at best for them..
Fashion and culture journalist Dana Thomas, in her famous expose, FASHIONOPOLIS : The Price of Fast Fashion and the Future of Clothes, talks about the Tragedy of the 2013 Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh, An explosion killed 1,100 people and injured another 2,500. And this was not a one-off: “Between 2006 and 2012, more than 500 Bangladeshi garment workers died in factory fires.” And, she notes, none of this made to breaking stories of any of the major leading news networks. In fact, that same year, Americans “spent $340 billion on fashion,” and “much of it was produced in Bangladesh, some of it by Rana Plaza workers in the days leading up to the collapse.”
“Fashion fades, style is eternal.” – Yves Saint Laurent’s iconic quote may quite be literal in the current fashion climate.
Fast fashion brands may not engineer their products for durability, but they may become fossils, a relic of our hyper consumerism driven era.
Approximately, 60% of fabric fibres are now synthetic, non biodegradable materials derived from fossil fuels, they either end up in a landfill or are incinerated or even worse, find a way to the sea and get deposited along with the other plastic trash accumulating in our oceans. The Zara you so fondly cherished becomes hangman’s noose for a manta ray.
Livestock are responsible for 15% of global greenhouse emissions; fashion industry depends a lot on livestock by-products, thereby leaving a considerable carbon footprint.
A sustainable and viable alternative to cotton, as often suggested, is organic cotton, though it currently makes up only about 0.4% of the cotton market, making it nearly impossible to rely on for mass production.
Shikhee Agarwal, Associate Vice President of Kiehl’s India, talks about challenges with packaging, “The complicated nature of beauty packaging makes proper recycling a daunting task, irregularly sized containers can demand additional effort for segregation, in places without adequate recycling facilities, these products can then contribute to the pollution of water bodies. When you piece together the entire picture, it makes for the sobering realisation that even before being sold from store racks, a vast majority of beauty products have an impending date with landfills. Bearing in mind the environmental implications, the classic definition of sustainable beauty requires a contextual update”
She concludes “It needs to be understood that sustainable products might need a little longer time for offering the best results, as opposed to chemical-laden products that give immediate results.”
Stella McCartney, probably was one of the first to commit to sustainable practices. As the head designer at Chloé in the late 1990s, she refused to include leather or fur in her collections, which many considered career suicide. She made it work, even amplified those practices in her own company, using, for instance, only “reclaimed” cashmere, refusing to use polyvinyl chloride or untraceable rayon
Dana Thomas suggests the idea of a closed-loop system, in which products are continually recycled, generating, ideally, zero waste. But this system has a lot of practical limitations. Ultimately, she finds that renting clothing is the most sustainable model,
A new movement, known as “Slow fashion” aims towards sustainable production, labour rights, natural materials and durability of product. Conscious fashion means there are brands, communities, and individuals who are striving for the safety of the planet and fellow humans. Buying a garment from a responsible brand ensures consumers agency over their personal style, quality of product and a sense of responsibility.
Maybe, we finally have learnt a harsh lesson. Or is this another marketing gimmick? Mere ploy to tap in on the latest fad?
Perhaps Jim Carrey’s existential tirade during New York Fashion Week – There’s no meaning to any of this was more clairvoyant than it seemed.