What Is Fast Fashion? A Consumer Guide
October 14, 2022
When you hear the phrase “fast fashion,” you might think of a few things: a fast-paced retail industry, a fast-paced lifestyle, or the urgency of refreshing your wardrobe to keep up with the latest trends.
But what does it actually refer to? And why is it important to learn about as an informed consumer?
Fast fashion is a sector of the fashion industry that produces and sells clothing at an incredibly rapid rate. The goal is to capitalize on current trends by manufacturing clothes quickly enough to meet consumer demand.
Fast fashion has been growing in popularity since the 1960s, and today it accounts for more than 10% to 20% of all clothing sales in the UK.
However, it isn’t just about what consumers are buying—it’s also about how they’re buying it. Many consumers turn to fast fashion because they want to be able to try new looks without having to spend too much money on each piece. Some prefer to shop at popular fast fashion stores because of the easy access to thousands of options.
Fast fashion leverages FOMO or fear of missing out on current fashion trends. And whenever a fresh new trend emerges, it is also quick to flame out. This cycle of creating, purchasing, and throwing out is not a benign phenomenon—it has serious consequences for the environment, consumers, and to the fashion industry.
Read on for a comprehensive guide to fast fashion, its many examples, and what you should know as a consumer.
What Does Fast Fashion Do?
The fast fashion industry makes clothing pieces available for purchase as soon as a new trend emerges. It is incredibly competitive — brands use all of their resources to stay ahead of the latest trends and designs to meet customer demand.
To churn out hundreds or even thousands of new pieces each month or each week and offer seemingly endless options to their customers, fast fashion brands do the following:
- Maintain a network of factories all over the world to produce their garments at rock-bottom costs
- Use cheap materials like polyester and acrylic instead of more expensive and durable cotton or wool
How Do Fashion Brands Keep Up?
It has become common to see fashion brands producing new collections every month. To keep up with the trends, they must develop creative ways to produce and distribute their products.
Even though Zara sells clothing at a relatively higher price point than its competitors, it is still known as the ultimate fast fashion brand. They release new collections based on events and seasons, enticing buyers to purchase as many pieces as possible to keep up with trends.
Zara does a great job maintaining its reputation in the fast fashion industry. They have streamlined the production process and used technology to their advantage. Their mobile app is especially popular—they have a lightning-quick and accurate logistics and delivery system that caters to millions of customers worldwide.
H&M is another prominent fast fashion brand. Despite its effort to produce “sustainable” apparel and accessories, the company continues to do what the rest of the industry is notorious for—dispose of old clothing by the millions.
H&M offers a unique greenwashing technique to attract customers to purchase more by introducing them to a clothing recycling concept that may seem sustainable, but it really isn’t.
Forever 21 is one of the fastest-growing companies in the world, and it seems like they’re on a never-ending mission to sell more clothes.
Masses criticize Forever 21 for its cheap labor and production costs, which has led them to produce cheaply made clothing that doesn’t last long. The brand is also notorious for stealing from independent designers who spend years working on their collections.
Forever 21 declared bankruptcy in 2019 and closed hundreds of stores around the world. It remains a popular fast fashion store in the US, with 407 stores in 43 states.
Marketing in the World of Fast Fashion
Fast fashion is an aggressive industry that thrives on consumerism. While the fashion industry has been in the business of selling clothes that are cheap, trendy, and disposable for decades, fast fashion brands have taken it to another level.
With the dawn of social media and the exponential growth of ecommerce, the turnover rate for clothing is higher than ever. Fashion enthusiasts can be as stylish as top models without spending too much money. And fast fashion brands are taking advantage of the many opportunities for aggressive marketing.
Fast fashion brands, such as Shein and Missguided, are pressured to maintain a consistent flow of new and trendy clothing every season. So, they maintain consistency by designing new trends, producing them at minimal cost, and selling them at an affordable price.
While fast fashion creates a surplus of clothing waste, the rock-bottom prices, and the ability to meet consumer demand give it a competitive advantage over sustainable fashion.
Sales are also a common tactic to get customers to continue to support fast fashion brands. They offer attractive deals at multiple touchpoints: a discount code just for signing up, sitewide sales at certain dates every few weeks, and many other exclusive offers every time customers interact with the brand.
This strategy essentially tricks consumers into purchasing more than they initially intended. Thus, further worsening the wasteful mindset in which clothes are discarded once the season ends or the trend dies down.
How Can You Tell Fast Fashion from Afar?
If you are unsure whether a piece of clothing is a product of fast fashion, there are some signs to watch out for.
If the cost of the item is exponentially lower than competitors, it is almost certainly produced by a fast fashion brand. They sell their products for meager prices because production costs are incredibly low, and it is the best way to offload their inventory before they go out of style.
Fast fashion brands use cheap polyester instead of genuine cotton. The pieces usually have a weird texture that feels itchy or scratchy when worn.
Fast fashion pieces are made from very flimsy materials or have very poor construction. The seams may be uneven, with loose threads hanging off of them. These pieces do not last long because no effort has been put into quality or durability.
How Does Fast Fashion Affect the Planet?
The fast fashion industry has done tremendous harm to the environment. Their production processes create cheap products that quickly degrade, filling acres of landfills with waste. Their factories use harmful chemicals even when disposed of properly, so they can cause problems if they leak into the ground or run into nearby waterways.
Fast fashion companies produce tons of clothing that get discarded once the demand dies down. This leads to stockpiles of waste from production and overstocked inventories that populate landfills.
On the consumer level, these flimsy clothing do not last very long in people’s closets and are thrown away, too.
As climate change continues to worsen, we need to find ways to reduce our carbon footprint. The carbon footprint of fast fashion is substantial: it is responsible for 2% to 4% of all global greenhouse gas emissions, making it a significant pollutant.
Chemicals used in fast fashion release toxic fumes into the air that cause respiratory problems for those who live in surrounding areas.
Chemicals and materials used in fast fashion lead to water contamination, which harms wildlife and limits water access in nearby areas.
Fast fashion is quickly populating landfills. Toxic substances may get into groundwater sources and pollute the water and soil.
Make the Switch
Switching to sustainable fashion is the best way to reduce your impact on the planet and become a more responsible consumer.
You can start with something as simple as buying fewer items and investing in quality pieces that will last much longer than fast fashion trends.
Choose Quality Over Quantity
Instead of buying many cheap items, invest in high-quality clothes that will last several years. The fashion industry calls this “slow fashion.”
Slow fashion will significantly reduce the number of new pieces you feel compelled to purchase, and it will also help minimize the waste from manufacturing cheap clothing.
Choose Sustainable Material
Instead of buying clothing made with synthetic materials, such as polyester and nylon, consider choosing natural fibers. Cotton and wool are better for the planet because they can be composted or recycled at the end of their lifecycle.
You can also support brands that use sustainable fabrics like organic cotton or recycled polyester instead of synthetic materials.
You can also buy secondhand clothing and accessories, often just as stylish and in demand as the latest runway pieces.
Consider renting clothes instead of buying to go easy on the planet and dress trendy at the same time. Pay attention to what kinds of clothes the rental company offers and how it manages shipments, packaging and returns as transportation tends to be a large contributor to fashion footprint.
Reduce Your Carbon Footprint in Three Easy Steps
If you want to reduce your carbon footprint and help save the planet, consider these simple changes to how you look at fashion:
Donate Your Clothes
If you have clothes that are still in good condition but that you no longer wear, consider donating them to charity. Many organizations accept clothing donations and sell them to raise money or distribute them to those in need.
Remember to donate to appropriate organizations or thrift shops because they have waste streams that can prevent polluting the environment.
Mend, Upcycle and Reuse
Instead of throwing away old clothes, consider mending or upcycling them. You can turn old shirts into pillowcases or blankets, for example. You could also use the fabric to make something new, like a tote bag or scarf.
Recycle Your Clothes
If you can’t donate your clothes or upcycle them, consider recycling. Many cities have textile recycling programs that accept old clothing for store credit or vouchers. You can use these vouchers to purchase new items made from recycled materials.
Start Sorting Out Your Closet
Using closet organizer apps will help you organize your closet and keep track of the pieces you can use to build different outfits. They are also helpful in organizing accessories, shoes, purses, and other items in your wardrobe.
Check Inside Your Wardrobe
You may have many unworn items in your closet right now. Some of them may be outdated or out of fashion, or they may no longer suit the image you want to put forth. If so, it is time to offload them. They can be used for better purposes than staying at the back of your drawers.
There are a few ways to redeem those years of fashion regret. If you are ready to make better choices for yourself and the environment, do your due diligence and check out new clothing pieces you want to buy. See if they are made with sustainable materials. If they are not, consider supporting other brands that focus on environmentally friendly practices.
Look for stores specializing in organic and eco-friendly clothing. You can also search online for specific brands that use bamboo or cotton.
How We Keep Track of Your Favorite Fashion Brands
Fast fashion brands produce thousands of pieces that are distributed all over the world, and it can be difficult to track their reach. If you are shopping online, it can be hard to determine where the piece actually came from.
If you see an item you like in stores or online, scan the barcode immediately to see what company produces that particular piece of clothing. Consider buying clothing from an all-organic and sustainable company that produces organic cotton, bamboo, and hemp clothing. Download our app to become a more informed consumer today!
Have more questions? GET IN TOUCH