What is Fast Fashion and why does it need to stop?

Shree reports on the ravaging implications of fast fashion and encourages alternative ethical and stylish options.

‘Fast Fashion’ is a term which increasingly circulates on social media, especially in the past year. Saying ‘no’ to fast fashion and instead investing in the ‘Slow Fashion’ movement is becoming a vital part of moving towards a more ethical and sustainable future. But what is the actual reason that popular retail stores (think Zara, Urban Outfitters, and Boohoo) are top on our boycott list? What does fast fashion actually mean?

In a need to meet the increasing consumer demands for clothes, the early 2000’s gave birth to the concept of ‘Fast Fashion’. Fast fashion refers to design, manufacturing and marketing methods focused on rapidly producing a high volume of clothing. It also describes the fast turnover of garments from the catwalk to the shelves in order to keep up with trends. Until the 1950’s the fashion industry ran across the four seasons: Winter, Summer, Autumn and Spring. However, nowadays fast fashion brands have introduced as many as 52 micro-seasons a year in disguise as the ‘collection of the week’, demanding faster production and marketing of clothing. You can now browse a fashion site one week apart and find yourself looking at a completely different collection of clothing; this development is reflected in our very own wardrobes, whereby (as a generation) we now have five times as many clothes as our grandparents.


So, the question to ask: why do we have more clothes? Firstly, we try to keep up with ever changing and developing trends. Last year bucket hats were in, this year matching hoodies and sweatpants, another year flares. During my three years in St Andrews my wardrobe style completely changed several times, reflecting the new trends and styles popping up around the three streets. Secondly, the price and quality of clothing rapidly declined. In order to maintain this fast turnover, fast fashion brands are resorting to cheaper and lower quality items to reduce their costs. As a result, we pay less for more.

So, we have more clothes than our grandparents had. Why is that a bad thing? Well, simply put fast fashion has extremely negative environmental and ethical consequences. Fast fashion results in the production of 80 billion garments per year, leading to around an average of 35kg of textile waste per person in the US. It is estimated that women only wear between 20-30% of the clothes they own, which means that over 70% of our garments are wasted material, energy and pollution. In addition, the creation of low-quality clothes is ravaging the environment with toxic chemicals and dangerous dyes seeping into water supplies, and huge amounts of discarded clothes laying wasted in landfills releasing toxic chemicals into the air.

The environment suffers from fast fashion along with millions of individual workers- mainly women- who are paying the price for our low-cost clothing. Garment workers are often forced to work 13-16-hour days 7 days a week on a wage resting between ½ and ⅕ of the living wage. Adding to the cost of our fashion, these people are forced to work in harmful and dangerous conditions with toxic materials. Sweatshops thrive under fast fashion, and the rights of these millions of workers are continuously violated to ensure that we are able to keep up with the fast-moving trends.

That being said, it is not all bad news. You do not need to cut out shopping from your life and reuse the clothes you have for the rest of time (although recycling and reusing clothing is encouraged). The issue of fast fashion has been highlighted and since then the slow fashion movement is rising. Slow fashion refers to the movement in the fashion industry that relies on fair labour rights adhering to environmental standards, natural materials and lasting garments. More and more slow fashion brands are popping up, with focus on garments made from high quality materials, locally sourced and produced items and fewer styles per collection. Although items from slow fashion brands are unfortunately more expensive than those from fast fashion, they are by far more ethical and sustainable. In my opinion it is worth sacrificing quantity for quality.

Here are some great ‘Slow Fashion’ brands to browse, many of which are owned by women of colour!

  1. Arielle
  2. Kowtow
  3. Subrina Heyink Vintage
  4. Wasi clothing
  5. Black
  6. EDAS
  7. House of Ama

This is an important issue to be aware of as students. Especially now, with online shopping on the rise and not much else to do in lockdown, many of us can’t help but browse for future outfits for when we are free to go out. As such, I want to ensure that people think about the implications of fast fashion and explore the alternative options available before clicking ‘checkout’.





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