Imagine it. A mega mammal found its way back to planet Earth and is set on destroying everything in its path. For some reason, people can't help but get up close and personal to the beast, following its every move as it ravages. They know it's wreaking havoc but can't seem to muster up the courage to stop it—despite the ability to do so.
Fast fashion isn't much different. With the average consumer now buying 60% more clothing compared to the start of the century—but only wearing them for half as long—industry giants like H&M and Victoria's Secret feel they must keep up. But what exactly are the pros and cons of fast fashion, and what are our sustainable alternatives?
Defining Fast Fashion
When you hear fast fashion, what's the first thing you think of?
If it's fast food, you're not far off.
According to the surprisingly woke Teen Vogue, fast fashion is "cheap, quick and of questionable quality."
Online secondhand clothing retailer ThredUP gets a little more specific. Here's their definition:
Fast Fashion: "Specialist clothing retailers with a fast stock turnaround and whose model relies on selling high volumes at (usually) inexpensive price points."
Basically, we started with tailor-made clothing targeted toward the elite. When we reached the era of ready-made apparel, industrial thinkers began to conjure up larger and larger factories where hardworking employees churned out style after style.
In 1963, a man named Amancio Ortega Gaona started a fashion line in the beautiful village of Galicia, Spain. Today, that company is known as Zara Inditex. To think that something so massive had such a modest start is difficult to fathom.
Figure 1 Source: https://www.newdresscode.com/stylecode/slow-fashion-vs-fast-fashion-infographic-1
As we dive headfirst into 2020, fast fashion remains the standard of the modern mall. However, with competing companies increasingly focused on quality and sustainability, that very well may change.
The Lowdown on the Latest Fast Fashion Brands
H&M - The world's second largest retailer pledged to increase its environmentalism, becoming what they refer to as "climate positive" in the next 20 years. Unfortunately, that doesn't make up for their failure to pay hundreds of thousands of workers a living wage.
Zara - Inditex's owner is the second wealthiest person in the world. They prioritize disposable clothing at a cheap cost. With 840 million pieces of clothing produced each year, they're the epitome of fast fashion.
Victoria's Secret - After their child labor scandal less than a decade ago, you'd think VS would make active efforts to reduce their social and environmental impact. So far, they're doing about the same.
Ripcurl - This outdoorsy brand from down under was caught producing ski jackets in North Korea, a place where poor working conditions are commonplace.
Primark - Primark is cheap. Like, cheaper-than-a-latte cheap. While they claim durability, the model is based on fashion binging and purging.
Fast fashion has its merits. After all, it wouldn't have gotten this far in the world if it weren't for some semblance of positivity. Here are the pros, which you likely already know about.
On average, consumers spend just 3% of their income on clothing. Back in the 1950's, this ratio was way higher (think 10-15%). When we trace the roots of this, we land at none other than fast fashion.
We have mega fashion empires to thank for cheap clothing. Keep in mind, however, that these production models are not without their dues—we'll get there soon, so stick around.
The feeling of having nothing to wear is a horror story of the modern age. We've all been there, and it's not fun. Fashion giants have catered to this fear by increasing the number of trend cycles we see each year.
The fast fashion industry has skyrocketed from two trend cycles per year to a staggering 50, and the masses are eating each and every one of them up. Having your favourite trends at your fingertips is an undeniable perk, but we need to remember where all those styles go when we're done with them.
Let's face it. Fast fashion is doing a lot of harm, and we'd be lying if we didn't address the issues.
Goodbye, Non-Renewable Resources
The premise is simple. The world only has so much it can give. More clothes means more resources used to make them.
Clothing manufacturers can only produce fashion and accessories so rapidly because of things like water, electricity and oil—all of which just so happen to be finite resources.
- According to the World Resources Institute, producing one cotton t-shirt takes 2,700 litres of water. That's enough water to sustain a person for 2.5 years!
- Polyester is the most commonly used fibre in the clothing industry. Every year, the creation of this fabric guzzles up 70 million barrels of oil. Yes...you read that right!
- Because of the use of fossil-fuel-based electricity, clothing companies pump out 1.2 billion tons of greenhouse gas emissions. That means a tenth of the world's GHG emissions can be traced back to none other than clothes.
Fast Fashion and the Landfill Problem
It's pretty safe to say that trash is bad, but the reality is a lot more complicated than that. Trash is actively dangerous, and it's one of the primary contributors to climate change today.
Let's do a little math.
The average person tosses out 37 kilograms of clothing each year. With 7.53 billion people on this great planet of ours, that's nearly 279 billion kilograms of garbage worldwide...per year!
Here's why trash is so bad. As trash decomposes in a landfill, those landfills create a lil' something called methane. When methane releases into the atmosphere, it warms the planet. In fact, atmospheric methane is one of the most potent greenhouse gases in the world, and it's on the rise.
With humans directly responsible for 60% of all methane pollution, it only makes sense that tackling the issue of fast fashion would help ease this all-too-urgent burden.
Cheap Microfibres Create Plastic Pollution
Unless you've lived your entire life under a zero-waste rock like Patrick Star (who, by the way, wore the same pair of shorts his entire life), you're aware of the plastic crisis. Plastic pollutes our planet, especially the waters that make up most of its mass.
Every year, plastic kills about 100,000 marine animals. The culprit includes fast fashion, which produces cheap microfibers that release into the oceans.
One synthetic article of clothing has the capacity to produce upwards of 1,900 indigestible, non-biodegradable microplastic fibres in a single machine wash. Can you believe that?
Better believe it, because it's true.
Microplastic pollution often falls under the radar. These particles are microscopic, something we can't see with our human eyes. Still, their small size doesn't make them exempt from toxicity. The more synthetic clothes you buy, wash and ultimately throw in the trash, the more microfibers you're sending to the oceans.
The Negative Impact of CO2 Emissions
If fast fashion doesn't slow down, things don't look so good for the years ahead. By the year 2030, the industry's CO2 emissions are set to increase to about 2.8 billion tons per year.
To put it in perspective, this is the same amount of pollution produced by 230 million passenger vehicles in the same time frame.
Greenhouse gas emissions from carbon dioxide directly cause global warming. This includes quick temperature changes, desertification and acidification, among other unnatural effects.
The Problem with Cheap Labour
We're stewards for the planet. However, environmental woes are not the only fast fashion faux pas. Many players in the industry look to workers in developing countries for cheap, unethical labour.
In 2011, it came to light that Victoria's Secret used cotton picked by child workers in Burkina Faso, West Africa to craft some of their panties.
H&M and Gap have maintained the standard for low wages and unsafe working conditions, even after their blunder hit the news.
In 2018, Zara's unpaid workers in Turkey wrote cries for help before sewing them into garment pockets. The brand blamed a third-party employer called Bravo and responded by setting up a hardship fund. But where's the long-term accountability? How do we know it won't happen again?
As a result of all these troubles, consumers launched the #whomademyclothes campaign. With more than 560,000 posts on Instagram, it's sure gained some traction.
It's easy to roast these corporations, but the fact of the matter is that 1 out of every 6 humans works in the fashion industry—and most of them live in developing countries making less than a living wage. This problem takes all of us to fix.
Alternatives To Fast Fashion
Take it from us at Tydlos—fast fashion is not the only way. As human beings with free will (we think…) we have the agency to act on our morals.
The opposite of fast fashion is just what you'd expect: slow fashion. Picking just one of these alternatives will make a huge difference in your own environmental and social impact. Wahoo!
By definition, couture is made-to-measure clothing that's tailored to each individual. If your wallet can swing it, couture is a solid option for buying slow fashion.
The best part about couture and designer clothing is its durability. It lasts longer, so you can buy less without looking drab. Gucci, Fendi and Prada are just the start, and Tydlos is your in.
2020 is the year for secondhand clothing. By thrifting your pants off, you can swing vintage, designer and everyday clothing for an affordable price. Moreover, doing so allows you to contribute to a circular economy, which just so happens to be a badass sustainable action.
Making use of all those once-loved garments is the best way to tackle the issue of overconsumption. And according to ThredUP, the secondhand clothing market may just surpass the fast fashion empire before this fresh decade is up.
Fortunately, slow fashion brands with sustainability in mind are popping up everywhere. Our favourite may very well be Ecoalf (considering they use recycled plastic water bottles and fishing nets to craft their clothing, and they work tirelessly to clean up our oceans). Men, women and children love this brand.
Reformation is the place to go if you're a woman after some seriously sustainable jeans. Recycled water, you say? Heck yeah.
Looking for bodysuits and workout attire for ladies? Gil Rodriguez is a sustainable designer making it happen.
Urban Fawn artisanally crafts eco-friendly jewellery, right here in Spain.
Alternative Apparel offers luxurious basics for everyone, no matter your gender or lack thereof. Their production is rooted in sustainability, for people and the planet alike.
If you're steadfast on fast-moving trend cycles, renting clothing is the way to go. It's also the perfect solution for fashion-forward folks who don't have the budget for designer price tags.
Sometimes, being seen with a Versace shoulder bag is more important than owning it. That's when renting is the answer.
A Fast Fashion Future is No Future at All
At Tydlos, we think it's important to look at the big picture of the fashion industry. If we keep churning out clothes without thought, we may not see a future at all. But if we ditch the fast fashion empire, the styles of tomorrow are sure to pleasantly surprise us.
We can easily avoid this speedy, thoughtless method of production by simply rethinking what fashion means to us. Doing so can help us minimize our own footprint while giving less power to the fast fashion megafauna that ravage our lands. As far as we're concerned, that's an impact we can get behind.