Today’s fashion industry is rife with fast fashion. Brands like Zara, Topshop, and Uniqlo are known for their extremely quick turnover time of new collections. This means they can take a design from prototype to shelf space in less than a season. Immediate-needs retailers like Forever 21 and H&M are another example of fast fashion. They stock their stores with clothing that’s trendy and cheap to produce in limited quantities so it won’t last long on the shelves.
The result? Consumers get cheap, trendy clothes that they will discard after one or two wears because there’s a new collection coming out next week. Fast fashion has left people feeling unsatisfied about their closet — but why? And how can we stop it?
What is Fast Fashion?
Fast fashion is seasonal production of low-priced, disposable apparel that are created to be trendy and only last a little while. It’s the practice of creating and selling trendy clothes to be worn only a few times, then discarded in favor of new items.
It’s a response to the fact that the world is consuming fashion at an alarming rate — we are literally wearing out our clothes. The average person has nine garments in regular rotation, and each item is worn just six times before being consigned to the back of the closet. This level of consumption is simply unsustainable. It’s bad for our wallets, bad for the environment, and bad for our mental health and well-being.
Why Fast Fashion is So Popular
We live in an era of instant gratification that is characterized by a longing for newness and a desire to be ahead of the curve. The race to the top is fueled by the pervasive availability of information and images in real time. We are all connected and know what’s going on everywhere at any given moment. That means we know about the latest fashion trends almost as soon as they hit the runway. And that makes us want to be the first ones to try them.
Fast fashion has been around for decades. What’s changed is the speed at which we’re consuming it. This is partly due to the massive growth of e-commerce, which has given consumers a way to instantly acquire anything they desire. And it’s partly due to the culture we live in. We are a culture of immediacy — and we’re too impatient to wait for anything.
The Environmental Impact of Fast Fashion
When we buy cheap clothes that fall apart quickly, we’re creating a lot of waste. According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, 15% of the world’s carbon emissions come from the fashion industry. That’s more than the entire transportation sector combined.
One of the reasons for this is the vast amount of water required for the process of making fabrics. Cotton is the world’s most polluting crop, using 10% of the world’s pesticides. And it takes almost 10,000 litres of water to produce 1kg of cotton — enough to fill a single pair of jeans.
The fashion industry is also a leading source of soil and water pollution. A single pair of jeans can contain up to two tonnes of chemicals, including pesticides, formaldehyde, and heavy metals.
The Psychological Impact of Fast Fashion
It’s no secret that shopping can be an addictive activity. And, like any addiction, the more you do it, the more you want to do it. Buying new clothes to replace old ones because they are not in style anymore or have become worn out has become an acceptable practice today. But the psychological effects of this need to always be in style and replace things quickly are more damaging than we realize.
Humans are pack animals that are meant to build communities and social connections. Wearing the same clothes over a long period of time connects you to the different experiences that you had while wearing them. It represents who you were when you purchased it. But buying new things and discarding old items before they have the chance to connect you with your past is unnatural and unhealthy.
What We Can Do to Stop Fast Fashion (or At Least Reduce It As Much As We Can)
Do you still want unique clothing or low prices that fast fashion provides?
“La vie en Rose” hand-painted jean and lace jacket$177.67
Black Muumuu Crop Top$38.56
Product on saleBlack Beauty bleached carpenter and denim pants$122.11
Block Print 70’s Top$83.11
Product on saleBloom where you’re planted floral jacket$233.22
BLACK AND WHITE SNAKE Painted Denim Jeans$566.56
Product on saleChampion flannel shirt$33.22
Butterfly Blanket Pants$194.33
There are a few things we can do to cut down on our consumption of fast fashion and help the environment in the process while still finding unique clothing that expresses the person we want to be. First, we should reduce our clothing consumption. And, when we do buy something new, we should make sure it’s made ethically and that it’s built to last.
There are a couple of ways we can do this.
First, if possible, buy clothing that is long lasting and made to be repaired. More importantly, you should wear the clothes you buy! If there is a tiny hole or rip in something you’ve loved to wear for a long time, mend the clothes yourself or hire an alterations shop to do it.
Second, when you are in search of unique clothing, look for upcycled clothing – which is new clothes made from used or unwanted materials. These are one of a kind clothing that makes you stand out, and they are inherently sustainable because their materials would’ve been otherwise discarded if it weren’t for the designers who believed in their potential.
Lastly, you can continue to buy secondhand when possible. As you get bored of your clothes, it would also be beneficial to your mental health and the planet to attend clothing swaps, resell your clothes, or donate them.
As consumers, we have the power to shape the industry. And clothing is a great place to start because it’s something we all have to buy and use regularly.
We can do this by being more mindful about our purchases and buying fewer items that are built to last, and then seek upcycled or secondhand clothing when we are looking for novel clothes. If we want to live in a sustainable fashion future, we need to start now, with more thought on when, where, and why we purchase.