5 hard facts about fast fashion
What is fast fashion
Fast fashion refers to a specific category of fashion brands that generally sell low quality garments at very low prices. These brands produce numerous collections inspired by the most recent Fashion Week shows, bringing new garments to their stores every week.
Basically, they don't invent anything new. On the contrary, they simply make the designs and styles of the most prestigious brands accessible to the general public.
The combination of low prices and continuous new collections promotes the compulsive purchase of garments. Unfortunately:
the low quality makes them not very durable;
their style easily goes out of fashion.
Ultra fast fashion
Ultra fast fashion is the evolution of fast fashion. In ultra fast fashion, production is faster but also trend churn is faster.
As reported by Good On You, what fast fashion does in weeks, ultra fast fashion does in days. Just to give an example, a typical e-commerce of an Ultra Fast Fashion brand uploads hundreds of new garments on a daily basis.
What’s The Problem With Fast Fashion?
Lauren Bravo, author of the essential handbook “How To Break Up With Fast Fashion” explained it clearly:
“We’ve reached the point where clothing is now essentially being sold as a ‘Fast Moving Consumer Good’, in the same category as snack foods, fizzy drinks and toothpaste—as something entirely disposable, to be consumed once and then thrown away. Except, of course, with fashion there is no ‘away’. Those synthetic clothes will be weighing down the planet for a century or more.”
Indeed, in fast fashion, the production of unsold or discarded clothes is abnormal.
Moreover, to produce cheap clothes, companies often exploit workers in emerging countries and the production requires a large consumption of natural resources, such as water, and the release of pollutants.
It's time to disclose what's behind this fashion trend.
Here are 10 hard facts about fast fashion
We think that long theoretical disquisitions on the environmental and socio-economic impact of fast fashion may not have much effect. For this, we prefer to rattle off some shocking numbers and data about it.
1 - “Fashion accounts for 20 to 35 percent of micro-plastic flows into the ocean”.
The State of Fashion, McKinsey 2020
These micro-plastics derive from the synthetic fibers used for clothes. Some of them are the result of production, but others come from washing by consumers.
2 - “Nearly 70 million barrels of oil are used each year to make the world’s polyester fiber, which is now the most commonly used fiber in our clothing”
Fast Fashion loves polyester because it is economical, durable and very versatile. Unfortunately, it takes more than 200 years to decompose.
3 - “Washing, solvents, and dyes used in manufacturing are responsible for one-fifth of industrial water pollution”
The State of Fashion, McKinsey 2020
Before becoming an item of clothing, a fabric must undergo finishing. This operation includes various treatments, such as fabric preparation, printing, dyeing. Finishing requires solvents and pigments which are pollutants by themselves. Moreover, textile companies often do not have purification systems. Thus, the dirty water ends up directly in the environment.
4 - “The textile sector still represents 10 to 20 percent of pesticide use.”
The State of Fashion, McKinsey, 2020)
Cotton is the most common natural fiber, but its cultivation requires land, water, fertilizers, insecticides and pesticides. These substances dissolve in the environment, polluting it. But they also end up in the food chain, with all that goes with it for our health.
5 - “The fashion industry is responsible for 8% of carbon emissions”
(UN Environment, 2019)
That is more than all international flights and maritime shipping combined.
6 - “Three out of five fast fashion items end up in a landfill”
(Clean Clothes Campaign, 2019)
Recycling is not yet popular with fast fashion brands, so at the end of the product life cycle consumers simply throw away their clothes. Not to mention the huge amount of unsold items.
7 - “The average American throws away around 81 pounds of clothing yearly”
(Saturday Evening Post, 2018)
In the US, rubber, leather, and textiles make up more than 9% of municipal solid waste. That is a huge amount of waste, which is increasing year per year. And as we have already said, it takes a long time to decompose.
8 - “Bangladeshi tannery workers often work without basic protective equipment […]. Partly as a result of this, they have only a one in two chance of living beyond the age of 50”.
(European Parliament, 2020)
Is there anything else to say?
9 - “68% of fast fashion brands don’t maintain gender equality at production facilities”
(Ethical Fashion Guide, 2019)
At the time of the report, all countries in Asia-Pacific recorded a gender pay gap. Moreover, 39% of the surveyed fashion companies didn't have policies addressing gender inequality in their supply chain.
10 - “93% of brands surveyed by the Fashion Checker aren’t paying garment workers a living wage”
(Fashion Checker, 2020)
It means that the majority of workers cannot afford life's basic necessities. They lack access to food, housing, health care, education and - paradoxically - clothing.
The future of fashion
More and more consumers are becoming aware of the impact of their purchasing choices. For this reason, fashion companies are facing a greater demand for transparency, sustainability and ethics.
Fortunately, technological innovations, digitization and blockchain can make it possible. But it also takes a change of mentality. It is therefore important to abandon the traditional consumer business model and adopt the circular economy. Resell, reuse and recycle will be the new cornerstones for future fashion.