Sustainable buzzwords such as fast fashion, ethically made, and slow fashion cluster hashtags, blogposts, and shopping guides, but what is the real weight behind these words? For consumers and companies to be on the same page, it's essential to breakdown the impacts behind these words that are leading social and environmental movements. So what are these buzzwords that are making an impact on the people and the planet? Let's talk about fast fashion.
What is Fast Fashion?
Merriam Webster defines fast fashion as "An approach to the design, creation, and marketing of clothing fashions that emphasizes making fashion trends quickly and cheaply available to consumers."
Fast fashion is the cheap production of clothes that water down creativity from the catwalk to the consumer. Traditionally, in the fashion world, there were only four seasons: fall, winter, spring, and summer. Designers would work a year ahead of time to predict consumer habits and trends. Now, in the fast-fashion realm, there are over 52 "micro-seasons."This rapid trend replication is at the cost of using cheap fabrics, criminal working wages, and a detrimental impact on the environment.
Companies like H&M, Forever 21, and Zara are the titans of the fast fashion industry. They replicate the trends of fashion week in real-time and re-stock their clothing stores bi-weekly with new merchandise.
So what is the real cost of fast fashion?
Low Cost = Low Quality
Fast fashion is designed to be worn only a few times before it gets thrown away- it's built to break. It's expected to satisfy shoppers for only a few wears, in hopes that consumers return for more. There is a common saying that buying a dress from Forever 21 is like the Cinderella story; by midnight, your dress is unraveling and about to disappear.
What happens when consumers dispose of fast fashion clothing?
90% of fast fashion materials are human-made, synthetic fabrics that will never decompose.
Polyester is the most common fabric for fast fashion, which is made from oil and plastic. Every time this material is washed or thrown in the landfill, millions of micro-plastics enter our waterways, rivers, and oceans. Don't be fooled by the price tag; the vicious cycle of consumption ends up costing consumers and the planet a larger price.
Fast fashion is the definition of unsustainable. The fashion industry is responsible for 10% of annual global carbon emissions, more than all international flights and maritime shipping combined.
Fast fashion destroys ecosystems. Textile dyeing is the second largest polluter of clean water globally, after agriculture. The dumping of toxic waste from fast fashion factories results in the polluting of waterways. These waterways transport toxic dies into the food we eat, the water we drink, and evaporate into the air we breathe. We see the damage that fast fashion brings to our environment, but the toll it takes on its workers is even more disheartening.
Fast Fashions Abusive Working Conditions
Fast fashion garments are toxic and have an appalling effect on our bodies and the workers handling the chemicals and apparel. Many fast fashion fabrics have dangerous amounts of lead. Exposure to lead leads to an increase in one's risk of heart failure, infertility, cancer, and more. Wearing these fabrics gives consumers enough exposure, but the ones who face the actual cost are the workers, cities, and communities surrounding these fashion factories.
Fast fashion cuts corners by low wages, dangerous working conditions, child labor, and exhausting their factory workers seven days a week.
Forever 21, Zara, H&M, Nike, and Urban Outfitters are just a few brands that use sweatshops and abuse child labor in Asian developing countries such as Bangladesh, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, and The Philippines.
So what is the solution for fast fashion? How can we move from a toxic industry that abuses workers, the environment, and the consumer? How can we start moving into an ethical, sustainable, and accessible future?
What is Slow Fashion?
Slow fashion is the pushback and widespread resistance to fast fashion. Slow fashion is a movement towards conscious consumption that benefits the planet and the people creating the clothing.
Slow fashion is the movement of designing, creating, and buying garments for quality and longevity. It encourages slower production schedules, fair wages, lower carbon footprints, and (ideally) zero waste. — Study NY
Slow fashion is designed to craft clothes with quality, longevity, and positive social impact.
How can you tell which companies are actually sustainable and which ones are greenwashing?
Good On You offers company ratings and breakdowns of which brands are ethical, sustainable, and honest. Buying sustainable clothing should be transparent and straightforward.
Keeping brands accountable is also a great way to change corporate habits; at the end of the day, companies want to follow the consumer's demand. DM, email, or call companies to let them know sustainability matters to you and your money.
The best way to foresee a brighter future is to align our values with our dollar and which companies we choose to support. Awareness is the first step, and the more we become aware of our purchase power, the closer we get to a sustainable, accessible, and ethical tomorrow.