What’s Fast Fashion?

A Closer Look at the Definition of Fast Fashion and Why We Need to Slow Down

In the sustainability world, “fast fashion” is a buzz phrase, and as we keep encouraging the industry to move towards a more ethical and sustainable future, it is important to know what we are up against. Still, the question is, what does the term actually mean?

Fast fashion refers to a design, manufacturing, and marketing method that focuses mainly on the rapid production of high volumes of clothing. The production of garments utilizes low-quality materials and trend replication to bring inexpensive styles to the public.

These trendy and cheaply-made pieces have resulted in an industry-wide movement towards copious consumption. Unfortunately, this results in harmful impacts on garment workers, the environment, and the wallets of consumers.

To better understand and define fast fashion, however, it is first important to familiarise ourselves with the context and history of the movement.

Trend Replication and Increasingly Rapid Production

Up until the mid-20th century, the fashion industry ran on 4 seasons a year: autumn, winter, spring, and summer. Designers typically worked many months in advance to plan for each season and predict the styles they believed consumers wanted.

While that approach was more methodical than today’s fashion, it took away agency from the wearers. Prior to fashion being accessible to the masses, it was first prescribed to high society and rules had to be followed.

It would not be until the 1960s that a properly-timed marketing campaign for paper clothes, such as men’s gloves, finally proved that consumers were truly ready for the fast fashion trend. It is this that lead to the fashion industry increasing its pace and lowering costs.

It has been common for stores to always have a towering supply of stocks, which means that brands don’t need to worry about running out of clothes. It wasn’t until several decades later, however, when fast fashion reached a point of no return in the mid-2000s.

Today, fast fashion brands produced 52 “micro-seasons” annually – or essentially 1 new “collection” every week. It is a trend that started once Zara moved to bi-weekly deliveries of new merchandise. It has been customary since then, for stores to always have a towering supply of stock, so that brand don’t ever need to worry about running out of clothes.

By replication streetwear and fashion week trends as they appear in real-time, these brands are able to create new, desirable styles every week if not every day. The brands then have staggering volumes of clothing and can make sure that customers never tire of inventory.

Most overproduction complaints have been directed towards brands such as Topshop, H&M, and Zara, but even luxury brands measure growth by increasing production. Fast Company reports that companies make 53 million tonnes into the world every year. If the industry keeps up with this exponential pace of growth, it will most likely reach 160 million tons by 2050.

Low Quality, Lower Costs

People often debate what came first: top players in the industry convincing us that we are already behind trends by the time we see them being worn or the desire for fresh looks at a high rate. It might be hard to say, but there’s no doubt that we now thirst for the “next best thing” every day of our consumer-driven lives.