Fast Fashion — The Emergence, The Upsurge And The Implications

In 2023, the fast fashion industry was estimated to be worth $122.98 billion and is anticipated to reach $197.5 billion in 2028, a testament to the widespread popularity of fast fashion. Now the meaning of fast fashion is quite literally fast fashion. The rate of production is fast, and the delivery is even faster. All this is so that consumers can keep up with the ever-changing trends without breaking the bank. This convenience has significant drawbacks, raising important questions about fast fashion's overall implications. 

What makes a fast fashion brand isn’t the price or the product offering. It’s simply the way of manufacturing, marketing, and selling of the clothes that makes a brand a fast fashion brand. However, this business model has revolutionised the fashion industry, making runway styles accessible to the average consumer, which means its low cost also characterises it. 

What is Fast Fashion? 

Fast fashion refers to the production of clothes that mimic the popular styles of big-name brands, independent designers and fashion labels. These clothes are usually less expensive and of a lower quality compared to the "original”. Popular fast fashion brands such as Shein, Zara, and H&M make it easy for  consumers to purchase stylish items at affordable prices, promoting frequent shopping and quick turnover of fashion collections.

The rise of fast fashion began in the late 20th century due to global advancement and new technology. The concept was pioneered in the 1990s, with brands like Zara and H&M at the forefront. These brands implemented efficient production systems that drastically reduced the time from design to retail. This approach was unlike the traditional fashion cycles, which released new collections seasonally. It’s no wonder these two brands are the two major brands in fast fashion and have jostled for the market leader position. 

With social media amplifying trends at a faster rate, newer online brands like Shein and Temu are producing at an even faster rate, using sophisticated algorithms to get new trending styles into the market. 

Does Fast Fashion Have Positive Effects for the Fashion industry?

Picture this… A chic dress goes viral on TikTok, catching your eye, but when you visit the brand’s website, you find it is way out of your budget. This is where brands such as Shein and Zara come to the rescue. They offer you a similar dress at a fraction of the cost, enabling you to express your personal style without breaking the bank.

Some of the trends, such as  athleisure wear, have become quickly accessible through fast fashion retailers. Hence, fast fashion makes it easy for us to access key fashion items. Leading to a more inclusive and accessible fashion environment. 

The fast-paced nature of fast fashion drives innovation in supply chain management, production techniques, and marketing strategies. It makes it possible for brands to quickly respond to changing consumer preferences and often sets industry standards for efficiency and adaptability.

Is Fast Fashion Negatively Impacting the Fashion Industry? 

Fashion is an art form and not a commodity, which is why the constant churn of clothing devalues fashion. It essentially undermines the work of designers who focus on quality, originality, and sustainability. But that’s not all. 

Fast fashion items are produced quickly and cheaply, which means low-quality materials and craftsmanship. There are also issues of poor stitching, fabric pilling and losing shape.

 Also, the rapid production and disposal cycles of fast fashion brands contribute significantly to environmental degradation. The industry generates massive amounts of waste, from discarded garments to packaging materials. According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, the fashion industry produces over 92 million tons of textile waste annually.

The fast fashion industry has also caused environmental damage in certain high-production regions. For instance, the Aral Sea in Central Asia has shrunk dramatically due to cotton cultivation for the fashion industry, leading to ecological imbalance and the loss of livelihoods for local communities. Similarly, textile dyeing and finishing processes in countries like Bangladesh and China pollute waterways and soil, posing health risks to residents.

Fast fashion's quest for cheap labour often comes at the expense of ethical labour practices and workers’ rights. Reports often reveal widespread exploitation of workers in factories producing fast fashion garments, including low wages, unsafe working conditions, and a lack of labour rights protections.

For instance, investigations into factories in countries such as Bangladesh and Cambodia have uncovered instances of child labour, forced overtime, and insufficient safety measures. Despite efforts to improve working conditions, such as the Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety, many factories still fail to meet basic standards.

While fast fashion has undeniably democratised fashion, making it accessible to a broader market, this accessibility comes at a significant cost. The environmental, ethical, and economic impacts of fast fashion suggest that it is, in many ways, undermining the very foundations of the fashion industry.

The industry's future may lie in finding a balance between the accessibility and the economic benefits of fast fashion, as the need for sustainable and ethical practices increases.