Death by Fast Fashion


On the surface, fast fashion seems like a way for us to stay up to date with the latest trends for a low cost.  That’s pretty cool right?  Who’s gonna get hurt if I pick up these $14 jeans that went on sale after only three weeks on the rack? One thing it’s not hurting is my pocket, right? 

Fast fashion is a scourge, and I say that bluntly.  I’ll say it to your face like an Xavier Wulf song.  Not only is it harmful to the environment, but it’s harmful to the design community and ultimately the people buying it.  

Let’s start with the environment, probably the least sexy cause to scream about.  

People say they care about the environment, but many of us do not-- flat out.  If this is the first time hearing about the effect fast fashion has on our world, then welcome to the conversation.  Here’s your chance to make a change.  However, there have been numerous articles and news stories describing the sheer amount of resources needed to produce these cheap garments as well as the resulting pollutants coming from the manufacturing process.  Consider that almost half of our clothing is made of cotton.  In order to make one cotton t-shirt, even an organic cotton one, the process uses 5,000 gallons of water.  That’s a shit ton of H20.  Now, factor in the growth process of cotton and the large amount of insecticides needed for textile companies to yield cotton at an optimal pace.

cotton fields

Okay, so that briefly touches on the issue of production. Let’s go in on the discarding process.  Both you and I know that the clock is ticking before that Century 21 top starts to shred itself.  It’s not that you partied so hard that it ripped-- it was just a poorly made shirt for someone who really doesn’t care about quality.  

And because we’ve come to consume and discard these garments at such a breakneck pace, donating the decently preserved stuff to Goodwill doesn’t really solve things.  There are landfills in India and Haiti and many other underdeveloped locations dumped with these fast fashion closet casualties piling as high as the sky.  There’s actually too much being tossed over to these countries and it won’t stop because we are now buying nearly double the amount of clothing we did twenty years ago.  Think of the clothing compounding in these landfills and now think of the water/insecticides used for these things.

The kinda sexy reason to be skeptical about fast fashion is the affect it has on the design community.    

Spring, summer, winter, fall--thems the traditional seasons of a calendar year.  Designers used to be able to prepare for just that, four seasons.  Now, they need to keep up with Topman, Zara and H&M doing maybe... 11 to 14 seasons.  Let that sink in.  Who has time for that and where does this sort of cycle leave creativity for a designer?  Fashion has always been a business, and I’m not disputing that. But, this pace is not sustainable for the vast majority of designers. Having so many seasons really benefits behemoth companies like Zara, they just take notes of what hit the runway and what’s poppin' in the streets then copy it with very slight variations. The problem is that consumers eat it up and therefore force designers of smaller companies to keep up or close up shop or raise prices (ahhaaa!).

Zara Speed

Zara Speed

Traditional Fashion Calendar

Traditional Fashion Calendar

All this contributes to an industry that demands unfeasible production of ideas, which ultimately detracts from creativity.  High street and moderately priced designers start producing items that look the same because designers can’t really afford to take a chance on a season not hitting. There’s no time for flexibility, we need that bread or you’re outta there.  

And finally, there’s the consumer psyche getting worked over.

Consider change in mindframe we as consumers have undergone over the past ten years.  The average number of garments purchased for a family twenty years ago was about 35 and now it's 65-ish.  The thing is, our disposable income really hasn’t increased along with our consumption.  With inflation, you still have the same dollars in your account, but buying double the clothing.

The prices and shiny new buttons of fast fashion are creating a dangerous illusions. 

The truth is that you don’t have more money to blow on clothes (OECD 2013 data).  

The truth is that more clothes can’t make you more fun to be around.

The truth is that you look like everyone else wearing the same mass produced items.  

The truth is that it doesn’t cost a fortune to shop sustainable.


So, I've picked out just two easy ways to combat this zombie strain. 

Be more aware about the production process.

This can take a little bit more research before you click to purchase or buy at the shop, but you’re helping yourself, the design community and the environment in the process.   Prices will be higher, but Fam, do you really need 28 poorly made jackets? Just save for a bit.

Buy thrift or vintage

If you still want to shop (which is fine) curtail the success of mass production by buying garments already in circulation.  There are plenty of lightly used gems from today and yesteryear floating around.  In this way, big companies can’t really benefit off of the purchases and hopefully decide to produce less in the future.


Suggested Posts