6 Things You Didn’t Know About Fast Fashion.

Via Kristin Glenn
on Jan 28, 2014
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Photo Credit: linder6580 on Stock.XCHNG

In the 1980s and 1990s, a new production strategy appeared on the fashion scene.

It involved moving trends from the catwalk to the consumer at a rapid pace, with a cheap price point. The ultimate goal? More consumption. More sales. A bigger bottom line.

Enter ‘fast fashion,’ the term coined to describe this quick, cheap, disposable cycle.

Fast fashion brands like Zara, Forever21, and H&M can design a garment and have it in stores in as little as two weeks. (Most fashion brands require at least six months.) According to Elizabeth Cline’s book, “Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion,” Forever21 and H&M deliver new styles to their stores every single day.

The volume is almost incomprehensible, and production levels are staggering. Zara designs and produces over 10,000 styles per year. Consumers can now have an outfit for even the slightest change in weather, at an affordable price.

So what’s wrong with this model? Brands are increasing sales, and consumers are getting a low-cost product with broad variety. What’s not to love?

The non-glitzy truth is that fast fashion requires shortcuts. Really. Big. Shortcuts. How else can a $3.80 tank top exist in the world?

Much of the production process takes place in faraway countries with very little transparency.

Here are some of the big reasons fast fashion is bad, for people and planet:

1. Genetically modified cotton.

Since 1960, the world has doubled its production of cotton. Although synthetic fibers are a huge part of the textile industry, people simply love cotton. Monsanto provides farmers across the world with GM seeds (and the recommended pesticides), which affect the soil, animals, and waterways. And it’s prevalent; in 2010, 93% of the cotton grown in the US was genetically modified (“Bt cotton”).

2. Pesticides.

With twice as much cotton growing on the planet than fifty years ago, a grave amount of pesticides are needed to keep crops “safe” from pests. According to Lucy Seigle’s “To Die For: Is Fashion Wearing Out the World?” cotton soaks up 11-12% of the world’s pesticides. In countries like India, where yields are low and pesticide use is high, illness and even death as a result of uninformed (and unprotected) pesticide use is prevalent.

3. Modern-day slavery.

In the shortcut to fast fashion, slavery exists. Slaveryfootpring.org states that there are more slaves in the world today than at any other time in history. But what does it look like? Uzbekistan is one country notorious for its use of forced labor during the cotton harvest season. The Uzbek government drafts over one million citizens during harvest to pick cotton, unpaid.

Slavery in the sewing process is also prevalent, with factories contracting tasks (such as clipping threads or hand sewing detail) to sub-contractors, who then find, and exploit, desperate workers. Too often, debt bondage is the result, as laborers can’t keep up with the “required” pace of work.

4. Poor (and fatal) working conditions.

The two biggest costs associated with your t-shirt are fabric and labor. Cutting labor cost is key for fast fashion companies, and thus far, big brands have been chasing down the cheapest labor markets in the world to keep prices low.

The Rana Plaza collapse in April, 2013, which left 1,129 people—mostly garment workers—dead, is a tragic reminder of the true cost of fast fashion. Aside from low pay, workers often toil under poor and unsafe working conditions, for long hours with few breaks.

5. Dumping (and other environmental disasters).

The bright colors we love so much are a result of chemical dyes, containing heavy metals (known carcinogens). Often times, because environmental responsibility is an expensive endeavor, textile factories in the developing world will dump dye effluents into local waterways. Even developed China has been cited for this, outright, by Greenpeace.

6. A short lifecycle, and growing landfills.

Fast fashion is meant to be disposable. It’s not supposed to last—otherwise, how would brands keep selling? The average fast fashion garment goes from the store to the landfill within one year.

Because it takes so many resources to produce textiles and garments, each disposable style is an eco-disaster. In fact, the average American throws about 80 pounds of textiles out each year.

Fast fashion isn’t good, and the best thing each of us can do is refrain from purchasing clothes at fast fashion outlets.

Instead, shop local, thrift, swap with friends, and support transparent brands making a difference.

 

Relephant reads:

How Thoughtful Are These Threads?

Responsible Fashion & the US Economy: Nau’s Scape Jacket and Down Vest.

5 Things You Didn’t Know About Your Clothes.

 

Bonus! Waylon talks with the author, Kristin Glenn:

More! Eco Fashion vs. Fast Fashion: Waylon Lewis with Rachel Faller

Editor: Bryonie Wise

Photo: linder6580 on Stock.XCHNG

 


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About Kristin Glenn

Kristin Glenn is the founder of Seamly.co, a women's clothing company in Denver, CO. She is currently Kickstarting a fully biodegradable jacket that can be worn 4+ ways. You can follow her journey in sustainable fashion here.

Comments

22 Responses to “6 Things You Didn’t Know About Fast Fashion.”

  1. Madrid says:

    Great article, thanks for sharing this info.

  2. nunh says:

    Very interesting and make me take notice of the facts – facts that I have never considered – well done!

  3. asd says:

    wow great sources

  4. karen katz says:

    I am almost 58 and have seen so many fashion trends come and go- I think fashion itself is marketing targeted at our insecurities…..having the "newest" and the "best" will make our life "better". excuse my French, but that's bullshit. I fortunately still fit into some of my clothes from 20 years ago (thanks, yoga)…..I almost NEVER buy anything new.
    your article highlights so well also the real reasons not to buy into the fashion silliness-the human and environmental cost is just too high.

  5. Rhea Revolver says:

    I think this writer made many valid points re: "fast fashion." However, it would have helped her credibility if she had mentioned that she sells a brand of "eco-friendly" clothing somewhere in the article itself (and not just in her bio).

    There's also something to be said about the "demand" side of this equation. It seems to me that consumers in the West are demanding cheap-yet-fashion-forward garments because of the ideology of upper-class aspirationalism is still prevalent in our culture, and therefore it behooves the (supposedly) upwardly-mobile to "look the part." On the other hand, real wages are either stagnating or falling; therefore, it seems increasingly likely that fewer North Americans can afford to invest in "high fashion" (or eco-friendly alternatives to "fast fashion"). Both factors help to create a market for cheap fascimilies. It's likely that lack of awareness of the environmental and human-rights costs of cheap garments is also a factor driving the sales of "fast fashion"; however, there's as bigger (and to me, more interesting) socio-economic picture to consider when analyzing this trend.

  6. In the adjustment to fast fashion, bullwork exists. Slaveryfootpring.org states that there are added disciplinarian in the apple today than at any added time in history. But what does it attending like? Uzbekistan is one country belled for its use of affected activity during the affection autumn season. The Uzbek government drafts over one actor citizens during autumn to aces cotton, unpaid.

  7. Lucy says:

    Really interesting article, and I will definitely be checking out Seamly! Thanks.

  8. Joolo says:

    waao! horrifying facts. feel like not wearing anything and go back to stone age :)

  9. TeriVanGoGo says:

    And it was announced a few years back, that H&M grinds up/shreds their overstock. You'd think they would at least donate the unused clothing to shelters or countries where there is a great need. So terribly wasteful.

  10. Mandy says:

    TeriVanGoGo…you are absolutely right about the grinding/shredding. I knew a woman who lived in the building of an H&M in Chicago. What she discovered horrified her. 100's of gloves cut up during WINTER season (if they were missing it's mate) Including scarves! Clothes that were simply missing buttons were shred. There are so many homeless people that could of benefited from those items. She called the local news to report it and everything but nothing ever came of it. It absolutely disgusts me.

  11. AjS says:

    H&M has actually done a lot for the environment and fair working conditions in other countries. They're also the worlds biggest user of organic cotton.

  12. Echo says:

    You may need to update your information when it comes to H&M. Yes, it is a fast-fashion company. But H&M is a conscious and one of the world’s most ethical companies. They have an on-going program with dosomething.org. The extra items and donations collected from customers are donated to charity. Anything that is too torn to donate is yes, shredded, but to make new textiles to donate as well as insulation for homes in need.

    Your article does have good points when it comes to fast-fashion and the companies, but you may want to research specific brands (if you plan on putting them on blast) and know what they actually do instead of assuming they do everything you’ve stated just because it’s in a category (like fast-fashion).

  13. ECH says:

    You may need to update your information when it comes to H&M. Yes, it is a fast-fashion company. But H&M is a conscious and one of the world's most ethical companies. They have an on-going program with dosomething.org. The extra items and donations collected from customers are donated to charity. Anything that is too torn to donate is yes, shredded, but to make new textiles to donate as well as insulation for homes in need.

    Your article does have good points when it comes to fast-fashion and the companies, but you may want to research specific brands (if you plan on putting them on blast) and know what they actually do instead of assuming they do everything you've stated just because it's in a category (like fast-fashion).

  14. wendy says:

    More truth on the waste and how we as consumers are being duped is available in a book called” the throw away clothing industry” read it,share it, knowledge is power.

    We ban plastic bags yet we are wasting money and filling up landfills Wil despot able clothing. Wake up !

  15. @makeroomfor says:

    Wildly Co is making ethically manufactured kids clothes at a reasonable price point. wildlyco.com

  16. carlzachary12 says:

    TeriVanGoGo…you are absolutely right about the grinding/shredding. I knew a woman who lived in the building of an H&M in Chicago. What she discovered horrified her. 100's of gloves cut up during WINTER season (if they were missing it's mate) Including scarves! Clothes that were simply missing buttons were shred. There are so many homeless people that could of benefited from those items. She called the local news to report it and everything but nothing ever came of it. It absolutely disgusts me.

  17. Claudia says:

    shop in Salvation Army and Goodwill – and Thredup online

  18. Anarmaa says:

    Well, i agree with main points here, that our terrible unconscious consuming need is destroying our planet in general. However without a proper citation, this article lacks a credibility, thus seemed another cheap attempt to lure consumers into pricy "organic" product, geared towards wealthy, "environment conscious" upper class citizens. Well, its true that this article made me want to dig deeper. But it would have made a lot easier if author had disclosed its source.

  19. LAURA ALIOTO says:

    Considering I am a newly divorced mother of three, and cannot afford to shop in PC stores like "free people" and buy a $28.00 organic dye free tank top, it leaves me no choice but to shop at H&M… Nevermind, i cannot find a job, with a BA in Business… So I'm not really sure if I should feel guilty? humble? or just frustrated….
    Fine line-
    Good article, very informative, however consider the customer that cant afford to shop high end.
    Laura Alioto

  20. Tracy says:

    I recommend that everyone watch the documentary The True Cost. It touches on all of these points in depth and is now available on Netflix. Seeing enormous landfills full of unused, non biodegradable clothing is pretty shocking. Seeing bales and bales and bales of unused extra clothes from the US being shipped to Haiti ("Here, we don't want these, you can have them, this trash is your problem now") is shocking. I think you really need to SEE what this stuff looks like sometimes to get a grasp on the real consequences and to understand how many resources the fast fashion industry is wasting.
    I totally get why some people feel like this is another ploy to get consumers to buy 'overpriced' goods, but try not to get hung up on that. At the end of the day, I think the greatest take away from the film is to be more mindful with how you consume clothing. If you buy a t-shirt for $3, you are tempted to buy way more than you need simply because it was cheap, and you also feel like it is more disposable because it is cheap. It is important to buy fewer clothes that are of a higher quality that you really love and will serve you for a long time.

  21. Scarlett says:

    I think we often think that we can't afford sustainably manufactured clothing because we aren't letting go of the fixation with having a full closet filled with new styles. Once per year I buy 4-5 locally produced garments that are versitle and wear well. I maintain my clothing carefully and I often trade with friends. When I shop thrift stores I look for timeless pieces or items made from wool, silk, or linen. Sure I don't look like a magazine cover but I always look comfortable and stylish. If you are creative you can repurpose things endlessly. Some of my favorite clothes have been in my life for ten years. I'm sure my budget for clothing annually is below average and my closet is never crowded, so refreshing!

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