Whether you like it or not, over the last 20 years, life has gotten undeniably faster. With the ever-accelerating pace of technology, the power of the internet, and (arguably) shorter attention spans, almost everything these days is optimized for speed. “The latest trends” that might have once lasted for years are now passing in the blink of an eye.
In the world of fashion, things are no different! With massive clothing retailers and branch stores around the globe, fashion is changing and growing faster than ever before, and that’s not a good thing. As the demand for affordable prices in fashion evolves, clothing has to be made faster and cheaper, and that is causing all sorts of problems.
Fast fashion, as it’s been labeled, has a shockingly significant environmental impact and an even larger ethical impact! Companies will often ignore sustainable and ethical boundaries to keep clothing cheaply manufactured while keeping up with the rapid trends of fashion.
This article will explore some of the most common questions about fast fashion and why it’s become such a problem in our world today. Fast fashion is likely a bigger problem than you may think, and unfortunately, there’s probably a good chance that most of us are contributing to the problem.
By learning about fast fashion, we can all become a little more conscious of our impact!
What Is Fast Fashion Anyway?
Even if you can make a good guess based on context clues, let’s briefly examine the official fast fashion definition!
As Merriam Webster defines it, fast fashion is “an approach to the design, creation, and marketing of clothing fashions that emphasizes making fashion trends quickly and cheaply available to consumers.” In short, fast fashion brands are focused on making new clothes as quickly and cheaply as possible.
From an economic standpoint, the model makes sense. By creating new products at the lowest cost possible, companies can maximize their profit, and by emphasizing speed, they can push more products to their customers more often.
So...Why Is Fast Fashion Bad?
Despite the “effectiveness” of the business model, fast fashion makes enormous negative impacts on the environment, and in some cases, the workers that make fast fashion possible are being heavily exploited. We’ll look at both the ecological and social impacts of the trend and a couple of ways to break out of the cycle.
When speed is the main focus of your industry, sustainability is one of the first things to go. No fast fashion company is going to use sustainable materials in their production because that would slow down the rate at which clothes can be made, cutting into “valuable” production costs.
In fact, sustainable fashion is practically the direct opposite of fast fashion, as it emphasizes reusing clothes, donating and recycling old materials, and extending the life of your current wardrobe as much as possible. This is typically referred to as up-cycling.
Some great companies, like Thousand Fell, are putting in the work to make sustainable fashion a reality! By using sustainable materials, and striving to create a circular economy within their industry, Thousand Fell is successfully creating sustainable shoes for anyone and everyone by repurposing old shoes, waste, and plastic into brand new sneakers!
Similarly, online resale markets like treet.co and cerqular.com are changing the face of sustainable fashion. By providing convenient online outlets to shop for sustainable and repurposed clothes, these companies are showing the rest of the world the way forward in slow fashion.
However, not using eco-friendly materials is only one of the problems that fast fashion creates. Globally, clothing production is the third-largest manufacturing industry, just behind the automotive and technology sectors. With air and water pollution coming from garment factories and massive amounts of textile waste thrown away each year, clothes actually have more of an impact on the environment than air and sea travel combined.
Once a fast fashion item isn’t sold, it is shipped away, ending up in places such as Chile or Ghana, where landfills are piling high with discarded clothes from the US and UK. Not only do fast fashion brands create enormous amounts of waste locally; they create global waste as fast as they can produce it! Roughly 39,000 tons of clothing end up in Chilean landfills every single year, so it isn’t hard to imagine that the rest of the world is suffering as well.
Additionally, because sizable, brand-name designers need to move products as quickly as possible, enormous amounts of clothing are thrown out every year by businesses themselves. It’s estimated that roughly 3 out of 5 fast fashion items end up in a landfill.
This doesn’t even mention the pesticides used to source clothing materials, toxic dyes and solvents that get pumped into rivers and streams, microplastics, and microfibers, all of which make significant contributions to climate change in their own right.
Simply put, fast fashion is a model designed for profit, not sustainability, and as a result, it is one of the most damaging business models on the planet.
If you thought it couldn’t get any worse, we’re sorry to say that the trouble doesn’t end with the environment. Due to the unreasonable pace brands expect new clothing to be made, cutting corners is the norm rather than the exception.
Thanks to this, most fast fashion companies outsource their labor to garment workers in countries with less protection and cheaper production costs. To keep up with the demands from their customers, the working conditions for these companies can be brutal. Garment workers will work excessively long shifts with little to no breaks and for severely unfair wages.
Not only that, but the factories that produce these clothes can be incredibly unsafe, as the world saw in 2013 when the Rana Plaza building in Bangladesh collapsed. The disaster injured more than 2,500 people and killed around 1,300 more, all of whom were working with little protection and minimal pay.
In fact, when surveyed, it was found that around 93% of fashion brands aren’t even paying their workers a livable wage! Clearly, the industry has been built upon labor and wage exploitation, and with no real end in sight, changes need to happen soon.
Here at Manifest Commerce, we’re on a mission for sustainability! We have a passion for making things that last, and reusing them once we’re done. By partnering with slow fashion brands, we hope to amplify their message and start the chain of sustainability early. Similarly, Manifest Commerce is working with eCommerce retailers to make their entire supply chain eco-friendly! We offer 100% recyclable packaging, green warehousing, and carbon offsets in efforts to reduce fossil fuels and carbon emissions!