Clothes shopping used to be a one-off event, happening a few times a year when the seasons changed or clothes got too small. But about 20 years ago something changed. Clothes became cheaper, trends lasted less and less and shopping became a way to pass the time.
It was all too good to be true. We started to wear clothes directly inspired by the catwalks at affordable prices. Everyone could dress like their favourite celebrity overnight "thanks" to fast fashion.
But in 2013 reality came crashing down on us like a bucket of cold water when the Rana Plaza textile manufacturing complex in Bangladesh collapsed. The collapse of the eight-storey building killed 1,100 workers and injured more than 2,000 others. The workers, who worked long hours in inhumane conditions for miserable pay, made clothes for brands such as Primark, El Corte Inglés and Benetton.
Today, the big fast fashion brands produces around 52 "micro-seasons" per year. According to Elizabeth Cline, author of the book "Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion", the pioneer brand to start such a high turnover of clothes in shops was Zara, which started offering new pieces every fortnight. Today, companies such as H&M receive new inventory every day, while Topshop adds some 400 new products to its website every week. The fast fashion industry is built to make you feel "out of trend" after a week.
What is Fast Fashion?
Fast fashion can be defined as current designs, inspired by Fashion Weeks or catwalks that can be found directly in fashion shops at affordable prices and at breakneck speed. Fast fashion makes it possible for everyone to wear trendy clothes at the best price.
How did Fast Fashion happen?
Before 1800, to make any piece of clothing you had to source your own materials such as wool or leather, prepare them, weave them and then make the clothes.The Industrial Revolution introduced the sewing machine, which made it easier, faster and cheaper to make clothes.
As fashion began to be democratised, the first garment workshops sprang up. It was not until the end of the Second World War that the consumption of mass-produced clothing increased.
It was around the time of the 1960s that people really started to play with fashion, create new trends and express themselves through them. Young people demanded cheaper clothes to follow the trends and to break away from traditional clothing. Soon, clothing brands had to find ways to offer more competitive prices, which led to the opening of massive textile factories in the third world. This allowed European and American brands to save millions of dollars by outsourcing production.
In the late 1990s and 2000s, fast fashion and online shopping took off, leading to the democratisation of fashion.
How to Spot a Fast Fashion Brand
When we talk about fast fashion, many brands come to mind. However, here are some tips on how to spot them!
- They always offer the latest trends.
- Every time you enter the shop there are different pieces of clothing, they have a high turnover!
- They prioritise quantity over quality. The material quickly spoils or wears out.
- They outsource their production to developing countries.
- They do not communicate transparently where they manufacture and are used to working with subcontractors.
Fast fashion has allowed more people to communicate through clothing, regardless of their social and economic backgrounds. While it is amazing to be able to buy a garment that has just hit the catwalks directly from your mobile phone at outrageous prices, there is a problem with the way we consume fashion. In an industry where the main focus has been on going fast, it's time to start moving slow.