The basics of fast fashion

H&M. Zara. Forever 21. Fashion Nova. These brands are examples of fast fashion, cheaply and quickly made, trendy clothing. Fast fashion allows consumers to copy the styles they see on the runway or an on a celebrity’s Instagram page while staying on a budget. Not only are people able to purchase on-trend pieces of clothing, but they can shop in larger quantities because the clothes are affordable.

The rise of fast fashion started in the 1990s and 2000s, and while brands like H&M and Topshop had been founded years earlier, fast fashion began to have a stable consumer base. Although fast fashion allows an increase in outfit choice, there are consequences to such an industry, including harmful effects on the environment, dangerous working conditions for production workers and newfound moral issues in the fashion industry.

According to The Economist’s video “The true cost of fast fashion,” more than 300,000 tonnes worth of clothing ends up in landfills every year in Great Britain alone. The relationship between waste and fast fashion is that apparel is the largest growing category of waste. Since more articles of clothing are being produced due to the escalation of the speed of production, more textile waste is disregarded which ends up in landfills.

Chemicals being used in the fast fashion factories are also harming the environment. Chemicals and dyes are at times dumped into local bodies of water and polluting it, while factories are also releasing pollutants into the air. Since products are being sold at cheap prices, the production price is also cheap. There is a multilayered decrease in the quality of production. This can be seen with the chemicals and dyes being used to make these products, as well as the choice of fabrics. One example is polyester. Polyester is made out of fossil fuels which increases the impact of global warming. Environmental harm can also be seen with cotton, as it requires large amounts of water to process, which can result in local droughts around the production zone.

A 2013 production accident in Savar, Bangladesh,  reached consumers and made them truly aware of the human repercussions of fast fashion. Rana Plaza, a production factory, collapsed due to its unsafe facilities and infrastructure, resulting in over 1,000 deaths of factory workers. The collapse of the Rana Plaza was one isolated incident, but there are many more factories working under dangerous conditions that have collapsed, which can be seen in director Andrew Morgan’s documentary, “The True Cost”. Factories that produce fast fashion items cut corners in order to meet the production speed that companies demand.  

As clothing prices get cheaper, the worker’s wage also decreases. Workers are denied basic human rights such as a livable minimum wage, and the conditions of the production factories lack proper regulations and safety procedures. As seen in “The True Cost,” the reason for one production factory collapse was the owner’s refusal to follow expert opinion which recommended the factory be shut down. The factory owner ignored the safety concerns and kept the factory open.

Of course, fast fashion has an effect on non-fast fashion brands. Buxton, a company that analyzes a brand’s consumer base, stated that fast fashion brands are “reproducing luxury trends from the runway months before they’re released to the public, putting a dent in luxury sales by the time their apparel becomes available to consumers.” One way companies deal with this issue is to have a faster cycle of production. This can be seen with Kohl’s, a home and clothing department store that is transitioning their production cycle from six months to three months.

While fast fashion allows the average consumer to purchase greater amounts of clothing at a cheaper price, it is important to note the consequences of such an industry. The amount of clothing being produced has negative effects on the environment through chemical pollution and the amount of waste being produced. There is also a human tax with this industry which can be seen in the low wages and dangerous working conditions in production factories. Recognizing these issues is critical. The fast fashion industry doesn’t seem to be slowing down, but raising awareness to the consequences of the industry could result in reforms which would benefit us all.

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