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  • Writer's pictureMeredith Holland

Confessions of an Ex-Shopaholic (Part 1): What is Fast Fashion?

Updated: Oct 7, 2020

Source: Stella McCartney

Shopping for new clothes used to be an occasional event something that happened when you outgrew the clothes you had or when you needed an outfit for a special occasion. Now, shopping has become a hobby for many (I, too, am guilty) and with clothes becoming cheaper, trend cycles speeding up, and online shopping dominating, fast fashion was born.

I used to do a fair share of shopping from fast fashion brands (more than I’d like to admit). However, now I have learned to change my habits and recognize the power I hold as a consumer to make more ethical, eco-conscious choices. The fast fashion industry has gained widespread attention for the harm it causes not only to the environment, but to the un(der)paid garment workers that are put at serious risk. I have taken great interest and time to research the origins of fast fashion, as well as ways I can still indulge in my love of fashion without harming the planet, funding unethical practices, and breaking the bank. In this three-part blog series, “Confessions of an Ex-shopaholic”, I hope to walk you through: What is fast fashion and how it came about, fast fashion’s impact on people and the planet, and how to break the habit of buying from fast fashion brands.

So, let’s begin!

What is Fast Fashion?

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 around the latest fashion trends. With this strategy, both the quality of materials and the sustainability of manufacturing methods are sacrificed to provide consumers with high-end style at a low price.

The result? Consumers are given an irresistible offer to buy trendy clothes at astoundingly low prices, wear them a few times before discarding them, and then go back to buy the latest trends. This toxic cycle has led to overconsumption and overproduction that has made the fashion industry one of the most polluting industries in the world.

How did Fast Fashion come about?

Before the early 2000s, consumers were willing to buy clothing from major fashion brands for the brand name and guaranteed quality. Now, consumers want the same latest trends without the high price tag, and therefore do not hold quality at the same standard. With consumers driving the market, and fashion retailers striving to match consumer demands, the concept of ‘fast fashion’ was born.

Let’s go back in time to before the 1800s. Fashion was SLOW. Most people relied on raising sheep in order to get wool to spin into yarn to weave their own clothes. It wasn’t until the Industrial Revolution with the introduction of factories and new textile machines such as the sewing machine, that the price of clothing manufacturing began to fall, and its scale began to increase. Clothes became easier, quicker, and cheaper to make. Dressmaking shops emerged for the middle class, while the lower class continued to make their own clothing. A lot of these dressmaking shops used teams of garment workers, called “sweaters”, who worked from home for very low wages. This practice of using “sweaters” foreshadows what later became the basis of most of our modern clothing production.

At the time of World War II, fabric restrictions and more functional styles led to an increase in standardized production for all clothing. Such standardization became more common and middle-class consumers became more open to the value of purchasing mass-produced clothing after the war. By the 1960s and 70s, clothing became a form of self expression and creativity, and in the late 1990s and 2000s, low-cost fashion reached its peak and online shopping took off. Retailers took the looks and design elements from top fashion houses and reproduced them quickly and cheaply. With consumers having ready access to affordable, on-trend clothes, fast fashion gained its popularity.

How to spot a Fast Fashion brand

  • They offer thousands of very on-trend styles

  • Fabrics are generally made of cheap and low-quality material

  • The cost of clothing is very cheap and garments rip after a few wears/washes

  • Garments are available only for a limited time (beware of frequent deals and sales going on)

  • New styles are coming in each week

I think it’s important to first establish an understanding of how such a booming industry came about and how it completely transformed the global fashion market and consumption habits of shoppers. In my next post, I will take a deeper look into fast fashion’s impact on people and the planet. I hope this three part series helps to make you reflect on your personal consumption habits and how you can become a more ethical, eco-conscious consumer.

Xx, Mer

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