Fashion Revolution: What is Fast Fashion?

Recently, fellow staff and future Ryerson Fashion Student, Kiara Julien, wrote a fantastic short essay for her portfolio on Fast Fashion. We thought it was so informative we wanted to share it with you as a Fast Fashion 101: What it is, and how detrimental it is to our world. We hope this inspires you to keep asking this month, "Who made your clothes?"

    The fashion industry is one of the most powerful industries in the world. Its reach is global; millions of people contribute to this industry : designers, celebrities, and the everyday fashionistas alike. With an industry as massive and as powerful, there are drawbacks.

    Over the past ten years, fast fashion has taken over. Powerhouse retail stores, such as H&M and Zara, offer to the public low cost clothing that mimics looks straight off the runway. Every few weeks, new items make their way into the stores and claim to be the newest trend, creating dozens of microtrends a year. The stores cycle through collections and seasons at an incredibly elevated pace, hence the term fast fashion. Its trendiness and cheap price draw consumers to spend billions of dollars annually on new clothes.

    Although fast fashion is an affordable way to keep a wardrobe looking fresh and trendy, it is unsustainable. While accepting an environmental award in 2015, Eileen Fisher, an American fashion designer, said “The clothing industry is the second largest polluter in the world… second only to oil,” (Sweeny, 2015).  The Danish Fashion Institute found this point to be true in 2013 (Ditty, 2015). Pollution and the fashion industry aren’t often seen as intersectional , but its immense environmental footprint makes their relationship undeniable.

    Fast fashion strains the Earth’s resources. For example, to produce the most widely used fibre in the world, cotton, hundreds of gallons of water are needed to grow the plant. Pesticides are used in abundance to prevent the cotton from being damaged, which further pollutes the ground and water sources. It has been calculated that approximately 10,000 gallons of water is needed to produce a single pair of jeans (Weinstein, 2014), which includes growing the cotton all the way to the dyeing process.

        Due to its quick turnover of microtrends, fast fashion clothing is extremely disposable. As an outlet for the consumers who desire to keep their closet trendy, new purchases are constantly being made and old purchases are discarded. The average American purchased 70 articles of clothing a year in 2013 (Maxwell, 2014), compared to 25 in the 1960s (Vatz, 2013). In a study about fast fashion sustainability, researchers found that “...consumers...while concerned about environmental and social impacts of their non-fashion purchasing decisions, did not apply such principles to their consumption of fashion,” (Joy, 2012). Despite the shared responsibility of the consumer and the producer to protect the environment, the consumers can start to effect change by changing their shopping habits. The way to start change is to introduce people to alternatives to fast fashion.

    Over the past two years, I have explored a multitude of alternatives to fast fashion consumption. An alternative that I adopted into my life is buying second-hand clothes from a local consignment store. After two years, the majority of my wardrobe is  comprised of used clothing. To learn about the sustainable fashion industry, I completed a co-op placement at a local sweatshop-free clothing store. Other alternatives include buying clothes made from organic materials, from environmentally conscious brands, and buying less.

    I am only a small part of the solution. Buying ethically or second-hand are just small steps to the bigger solutions. Brands could be dedicated to making environmentally conscious decisions or provide funding for increased production of organic fibres. The fact is, consumers hold a great power when they are aware and make informed choices. Not only is there power in people, but also in clothing. The author Isaac Bashevis Singer said “What a strange power there is in clothing.” When the world starts to make a strong effort to better the production of clothing, it will truly begin to show its power.