I’m sure you’ve been there. In fact I am sure we all have been there. Heading to the mall and finding out that all the trends have changed since the last time you were there. In some stores, that change might be every few weeks, for others it might be every couple of months or more. But, it makes no difference, the clothing you bought that last visit are now replaced by newer and more fashionable garments, or are they?
These rapid fashion changes are just one characteristic of Fast Fashion. Fast Fashion is a trend, a habit, and a problem. The urge of new and trendy betrays the ravages of Fast Fashion but it also symbolizes a much bigger and deeper issue that is important to point out.
What is Fast Fashion?
When consumers talk about Fast Fashion, they often relate low quality, affordability and disposability as Fast Fashion but that is only the frequent outcome of what Fast Fashion really is.
Fast Fashion is actually an operation management method pioneered by Zara in the late 90’s with the goal of creating a supply chain to produce clothing as fast as possible and with low cost as possible.
Traditionally, Retailers worked in increments of two collections a year – spring/summer and autumn/winter. The process of Design to Market could take from 6 months to a year and Retailers would commit to buying large quantities for their collections a year in advance.
Fast Fashion broke that mould by creating an effective operational system that is highly responsive to the market (Quick Response), with small production batches, high turnover and dynamic assortment allowing the Design to Market process to be cut down to as little as 2 weeks.
That means that new designs and hot trends can now be brought almost in an instant into stores every couple of weeks instead of relying on the traditional semi-annual collection turn over. New designs are changed on a weekly or daily basis creating a sense of urgency for the consumer and motivating frequent store visitations and purchases.
The problem with that is that in order to create a low cost and highly efficient process to manufacture clothing, there’s a need to compromise numerous factors that as a whole, make Fast Fashion unsustainable but also all too many times ethically, socially and environmentally questionable.
Why Fast Fashion is unsustainable?
The Fashion industry let alone the Fast Fashion industry produce significant amounts of waste in all cycles of a products life starting from the Design, Production and Distribution and to the Care and Maintenance of a garment by the consumer.
Keeping prices low requires Fast Fashion companies to manufacture in countries with low wages, where contractors and subcontractors compete over the race to keep cost low and produce quickly while often on the account of workers’ safety and their working conditions.
To top that, many of the clothes running through Fast Fashion process are made with synthetic, petroleum-based fibers, that are low cost but sometimes toxic not only to the wearer but also to the workers of the fashion industry, during the production process.
The Fashion industry and the Fast Fashion including, are not transparent, the buyer doesn’t know where the clothes actually came from and what is the true cost of a garment beyond its luring bottom price.
As such, consumers are happy to pay floor prices for a garment even if poorly constructed, knowing that it would be cheap and easy to replace it if the garment becomes un-wearable after a couple of washes. And it does – that is what often called Planned Obsolescence where the garments are planned to last only few wears in order to encourage consumers to discard of it and purchase another one.
But what is so interesting to point out is that research shows that while consumers are becoming more and more conscious about environmental issues and are mindful about recycling or eating organics, the same environmental values are not translated into actions when it comes to consumption of Fast Fashion and the discussion about the impact of Fashion is still severely lacking.
Fast Fashion makes consumption easy and it creates disposable culture as a standard all while increasing textile waste and leaving the environment to pay the true cost of Fashion.
The “Slow Fashion” movement
Slow Fashion was first coined by Kate Fletcher from the Center for Sustainable Fashion when fashion was compared to the Slow Food movement.
Slow is not the opposite of fast – there is no dualism – but a different approach in which designers, buyers, retailers and consumers are more aware of the impacts of products on workers, communities and ecosystems. It is about bringing back the focus to quality-based garments and not time-based.
Slow fashion asks shoppers to change their consumption habits in favour of higher quality pieces bought more selectively over time. Because while globalized, mass production of clothing gets fashion onto the retail floor much quicker, the moral and human cost of outsourcing far outweighs the benefits.
Slow fashion is a glimpse of a different – and more sustainable – future for the textile and clothing sector and an opportunity for business to be done in a way that respects workers, environment and consumers in equal measure.