We often make a link between fast fashion and fast food: both are cheap, of poor quality and consumed quickly. Fast fashion gives us more choice, right away, that’s good, right?

Unfortunately, this phenomenon of overconsumption also causes big problems on a global scale.

Gens marchant devant une boutique

We live in a world of fast fashion, a model that relies on impulsive and frequent purchases, dictated by trends, of cheaply made clothes that too often end up in the trash.

But first, what exactly is fast fashion?

What is Fast Fashion?

According to Wikipedia : Fast fashion is a term used to describe the clothing industry's business model of replicating recent catwalk trends and high fashion designs, mass producing them at low cost, and reproducing them. get to retail stores quickly when demand is highest. The term "fast fashion" is also used generically to describe products of the fast fashion business model.

The term is said to have been officially coined in the 1990s by the New York Times, which was inspired by the rapid production model implemented by Zara, where clothes moved quickly from the design stage, inspired by Fashion Week, to stores where they could be purchased by everyone.

This rapid production model was able to explode thanks to the formation of the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 1995 and the abolition of global customs duties, which encouraged trade and opened up global markets. Thanks to this reduction in protectionist quotas, companies were able to move each step of the production chain to the country offering the lowest price. This has allowed these fast fashion brands (Zara, H&M, Topshop, Shein, etc.) to become real empires.

But how do we make clothes so quickly and sell them to us so cheaply? All this while still making huge profits?

How does Fast Fashion work?

To be able to function, fast fashion needs very specific conditions:

Low-cost and unethical production

To reduce production costs, fast fashion brands produce their clothes in countries where wages are obscenely low and workers' rights are non-existent.

A very rapid production rate:

Before the fast fashion model there were generally 4 collections per year. Now the period from product design to when the product is available for purchase in the store can be as low as 15 days (Zara).

It is not uncommon for fast fashion to offer new products every week and even twice a week.

Low quality raw materials

The products used are often synthetic and of poor quality.

This causes the garment to deteriorate quickly (if it survives 2 washes it's practically a miracle) and quickly ends up in the landfill.

And there, since it is made of plastic (for example polyester), it will take hundreds of years to decompose.

Massive advertising investments

Fast fashion brands invest a lot in advertising, in order to arouse desire. Since there is a lot of stock, you have to make sure you sell it as quickly as possible.

Unfortunately, fast fashion has a disastrous impact on the planet and on humans that we do not see in the price of clothing.

What is the social cost of Fast Fashion?

Rana plaza building collapse By Sharat Chowdhury
Rana plaza building collapse / By Sharat Chowdhury

Fast fashion production generally takes place in countries where worker protections are minimal or non-existent. The absence of a contract, long working hours from morning until late at night and poverty wages are very common practices.

Brands impose their conditions on factories that comply with their demands for fear of losing production. Wages are falling and working conditions are deteriorating to be able to produce ever faster, ever cheaper.

We will become aware of the lack of ethics of this situation on April 24, 2013, when a building collapsed in Dhaka, Bangladesh. A total of 1,134 garment industry workers, most of them young women, were killed in the Rana Plaza disaster: the workshops forced their employees to work while the structure of the building was unstable and he should have been evacuated. All this to avoid production delays.

It was a rude awakening for everyone, which led to a questioning of our consumption habits and their effects on industrial workers. But changes are slow and fast fashion is still very present…

What are the environmental impacts of Fast Fashion?

“Clothes have become so cheap. Someone has to pay the price,” Kirsi Niinimäki, professor of design at Aalto University in Finland. “Often, it is to the detriment of the environment”

The effects of fast fashion are also felt on the environment. The chain for making a garment is really long and complex. Each step, from manufacturing fibers, yarns and textiles, to dyeing and sewing, to warehousing in the store, may take place in a different country. Dozens of people are involved in the creation of the same garment, and this journey is made with waste: water, chemicals, CO 2 and plastic.

With the globalization of production, companies have moved production to countries offering the best prices. Often the reason why these countries can offer these prices is the lack of environmental protection rules.

We therefore move production to countries which will have little control over pollution, which leads to a deterioration in the quality of the environment of the producing country.

It is known that the textile industry is one of the most polluting industries. By accelerating production and the number of clothes produced, the fast fashion model is devastating for the planet!

Fast Fashion and Waste

Pile de vêtements

All these parts produced also lead to an increase in the number of clothes that will eventually end up in landfill. As the industry overproduces, it must encourage us to overconsume. We have more clothes in our wardrobe, we wear them less often before getting rid of them. The fact that we didn't pay much for the pieces makes it less valuable and we throw it away without much regret.

130 billion items of clothing are consumed per year worldwide. This number doubled between 2000 and 2014! Source

Waste is also at the brand level, when producing a lot there are often unsold items and because of the ephemeral phenomenon of fashion, the merchandise loses its value quickly and the companies prefer to destroy the surplus (by throwing it away or burning it). rather than selling them at a discount.

But once we know about the effects of fast fashion, what can we do? While consumers alone can't change an entire industry, increasing demand for slower, more sustainable fashion could have some leverage in moving the market.

And as Vivienne Westwood, artist, designer, stylist, said:

“Buy less. Buy better. Make it last. Quality, not quantity. Everyone buys way too many clothes”


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