Fast Fashion: Why Is It So Bad? [Infographic]
Fast fashion is a complicated topic. In this article, we'll cover the most burning questions regarding fast fashion in simple words so that you understand the big picture, what fast fashion is, why it is bad and what can be done to contribute to the circular fashion.
What is Fast Fashion?
This article will cover the following questions:
- What is fast fashion and why is it bad
- How fast fashion works
- Fast fashion environmental impact
- Slow fashion vs fast fashion
- Non fast fashion brands
- Brand that are not fast fashion
- Alternatives to fast fashion
Fast Fashion Defined: History
The first step towards fast fashion and its wild expansion was perhaps made as early as 1856. At that time, all clothes was sewn by hand and textile dyes were made from such natural sources as plants and animal excretions.
A young chemist, William Henry Perkin, was spending a lot of time time in his lab attempting to create a medicine from malaria. Despite his efforts, what he managed to produce was only a dark brown sludge. However, his further experiments lead to the mysterious substance changing its color from brown to purple. And that's where things went wrong.
He invented the first synthetic dye and changed the history of fashion forever. Since his invention,
The term "fast fashion" was first used by the New York Times journalists at the beginning of the 1990s, when when Zara landed in New York. This definition was coined by an influential newspaper to describe Zara’s mission to take only 15 days for a garment to go from the design stage to being sold in stores.
The biggest players in the modern fast fashion world include Zara, UNIQLO, Forever 21 and H&M.
Why Fast Fashion is Bad
The idea of bringing a piece of clothing from the design stage to the store in the shortest time possible is not repulsive or counterproductive in its essence.
From the fashion clothing company's perspective, these 2-week agile 'sprints' is what helps them to instantly respond to trends, better serve the customer needs, and of course, raise their revenue. From the customer's perspective, you can have fashionable clothing in your closet in no time.
Unfortunately, it's the process is what undermines the world as we know it.
The two pillars of fast fashion are overconsumption and overproduction. As the pace of life accelerates, so is the fashion.
Read more on fast fashion stats and facts to better understand the trend, as in this article we'll mainly focus on the production process and fast fashion impact on environment.
Is Zara Fast Fashion?
Not only is Zara fast fashion, it's brand that we all have thank for for this term. It first appeared in the 1990 to describe Zara’s mission to take only 15 days for a garment to go from the design stage to being sold in stores.
How Fast Fashion Works
To understand how fast fashion works, we need to examine the big picture. Once we understand the particular challenges associated with each of the stages of apparel production, it'll be much easier to grasp what are the steps companies and each of us need to undertake to keep up with the current 2 degrees plan by 2030 and zero-emissions by 2050 plans. If you're not aware of what that plan is, let's time to review the main points.
There are 4 stages in apparel lifecycle:
Each of them can be broken down into smaller stages. The infographic demonstrates all stages of the process. Let's now think of what can be improved.
Environmental Impact of Fast Fashion: What Can Be Done?
If you wonder whether fast fashion companies can do anything to become more sustainable, there are a few key actions that they may use to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Maximize Material Efficiency
The main goal is to decrease the amount of excessive fiber and other hazardous materials sent to landfill and want in each stage of production. To do that, each party in the production process needs to possess a deep understanding of the process and its implications.
For instance, when an apparel designer is drafting a design, they rarely take into account the implications of manufacturing this specific design, such as scrapes, dying etc. Knowing the environmental impact of each design would prompt designers to explore alternatives and take this factor into the account while developing new collections.
Plus, the use of emerging technologies like 3-D sampling and computer-aided design tools can allow to produce at least some kind of apparel with less waste.
Develop and Scale Sustainable Materials
One of the most detrimental consequences of fast fashion is a dramatic increase of the landfill, due to the fact that the materials are not recycled. In addition, most of commonly used materials, such as cotton and polyester, are responsible for over 50% emissions during the production process.
A next-level fashion company needs to ensure that the materials used in apparel production are safe, healthy and environmentally friendly. This will also streamline recycling.
It makes a lot of sense to replace polyester and cotton with more sustainable alternatives that provide less emissions, such as
- mechanically recycled polyester
- chemically recycled polyester
- recycled nylon
- organic and recycled cotton
Accelerate the Development/Adoption of Innovative Materials
Another step towards 2050 zero-emission plan would be fostering the development of next-generation materials, including bio-based materials, and plant-based leather.
What's even more important here, companies should commit to stimulate the demand for such materials. It's crucial to stay on the same page and introduce local regulations that would allow companies to adjust their processes to the common benefit.
If innovative materials swiftly become a part of fast fashion, the use and negative effects of plastic microfiber release will be drastically reduced.
Optimize Energy Use
In order for the 2050 zero-emission plan to be feasible, companies need to expand energy efficiency efforts across manufacturing facilities.
There are two core measures fashion companies might undertake to reduce the impact of fast fashion.
- Eliminate coal in manufacturing
Coal is a commonly used fuel manufacturing facilities for thermal processes such as heating water for dyeing fabric and generating steam. Although it is very cheap compared to other energy sources, it's also a major source of CO2 emissions.
Local regulations are required to accelerate the switch to alternative energy sources. Replacing coal with sustainable energy sources, will result in reduced greenhouse gas emissions.
- Use the power of renewable energy
If companies replace traditional energy sources with renewable ones, it will target in 76% of all carbon emissions during production.
For this switch to become feasible, more renewable electricity resources should be built in the regions where apparel manufacturing plants are based.
At first, investing in efficiency will tend to have a lower return and longer payback compared with other investments, but long-term it's a win-win for every country on Earth.
What are some non-fast fashion brands?
As opposed to fast fashion, these brands are sustainable fashion brands:
- Eileen Fisher
- Stella McCartney
- Organic Basics
- Nudie Jeans
Read the full list in our list of Top 21 Sustainable Fashion Brands and learn the practices they've implemented to be sustainable.
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Infographic created by Ana Denis.