Fast fashion

Thirsty? The water used to make one T-shirt is enough for one person to drink for 900 days.

Internet fashion retailers Boohoo and Asos continue to grow in popularity – partly due to online trends and social media pressure. Some worry about the growing problem of fast fashion.

  • What is fast fashion?

    Fast fashion is all about cheap, trendy clothing that takes ideas from the catwalk and turns them into high street stores at speed. The idea behind it is to get the newest styles on the market as possible. Shoppers can then buy the clothes they need to stay on top of the trends.

    Historically, fashions have moved with seasons – typically releasing a new collection four times a year. Fast fashion brands now release 52 “mini-seasons”, one every week.

  • How did it happen?

    Until fairly recently, clothes shopping was an occasional event. Before the 1800s, fashion was slow. People sourced their own materials like wool or leather, prepared them and made them into clothes.

    The Industrial Revolution brought technology like the sewing machine. Clothes became easier, quicker and cheaper to make, and throughout the 20th Century, demand for ready-made clothes grew. By the 60s and 70s, young people were creating new trends. More than ever before, clothing became a form of expression. Today, low-cost fashion is at its peak. Online shopping means that cheap, on-trend clothes are available to anyone whenever they want.

  • Why is it a problem?

    While creating clothes quickly is not a problem in itself, its impact is. Fast fashion buys into the idea that repeating an outfit is a faux pas, encouraging buyers to continue getting more items to keep up with the trends.

    Around the world, 2,625kg of clothes are burnt or put into landfill every second. In the United States, only 25% of all textiles are reused. And the problem isn’t just down to waste – production is an issue too. Textile dyeing is the world's second-largest polluter of water, while the whole industry is responsible for 10% of total global carbon emissions.

  • Does it just affect the climate?

    No, on top of the environmental toll, there is also exploitation of textile labour. Many of those who work in the industry have to work in poor conditions for unfair pay. In Bangladesh, garment workers earn around £50 a month – less than a third of what is needed to maintain a decent life with basic facilities.

    Last year, a factory in Leicester producing clothes for Boohoo was exposed for exploiting its workers. Employees were paid just £3.50 a day and cramped conditions made social distancing impossible.

  • Is the internet to blame?

    It’s a big factor. The rise of online shopping has made it possible to buy clothes quickly, cheaply and in high quantities. Online-only retailers like Boohoo and Misguided sell dresses for as little as £4, making them hugely attractive.

    Social media also has a huge impact. Trends like the clothing haul normalise buying. Meanwhile, outfit repeating is a major worry for young people. A survey from Hubbub found that one in six say they don't feel they can wear an outfit again once it's been seen on social media.

  • What is circular fashion?

    Unlike linear fast fashion, which moves from production, to sale, to the bin, circular fashion is an industry that attempts to keep products and materials in use for as long as possible. This keeps waste and pollution down – and it means that companies can charge more for longer-lasting clothes.

    While social media can drive fast fashion, some influencers are using it to promote fixing and repurposing old clothing. Meanwhile, the clothes rental industry experienced a boom last year during the pandemic, with one platform gaining 25,000 users in six months.

You Decide

  1. Is it unethical to buy clothes from fast fashion brands?

Activities

  1. Find a piece of clothing that you have only worn a few times – or something you haven’t worn in a while. Challenge yourself to wear it tomorrow as part of a new outfit.

Word Watch

Industrial Revolution
The transition to new manufacturing processes in Europe and the United States, in the period from about 1760 to sometime between 1820 and 1840.
Sewing machine
An early sewing machine was designed to mass-produce uniforms for the French army, but 200 rioting tailors, who feared that the invention would ruin their businesses, destroyed the machines in 1831.
Faux pas
An embarrassing remark or action in a social situation.
Landfill
A huge space where rubbish that is not due to be recycled or repurposed is piled up or buried underground. Decomposing food waste in landfill releases methane, a greenhouse gas that's 28 times more potent than carbon dioxide.
Social distancing
The story was linked to a rise in Covid-19 cases after the factory opened during a local lockdown.
Clothing haul
The trend of buying a large amount of clothes online, trying them on and giving honest reviews for viewers.
Rental
By Rotation is a company that lets users rent their designer dresses to others – it is described as an AirBnb for clothes.
Boohoo
A UK based fashion brand which operates almost exclusively online

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