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All About the Fast Fashion Industry

Updated: Nov 15, 2023

By Autumn Schieferstein

Cheap clothes still come at a cost.

In the last several years as fast fashion has taken over, there’s been a consistent flow of new trends for consumers and businesses to follow. Companies are now relying on creating lower quality, high turnover clothing to keep up with these trends.

Fast fashion is essentially a model for mass producing cheaply made fad items sold at lower price points. It allows for companies to turn popular fashion into cheap options for the ‘everyday-person’ as quickly as trends come and go.

With fast fashion, consumers don’t have to wait for spring or fall collections to come around-they are able to get all the newest styles whenever they want.

This comes at a cost though, a study conducted by Louise R. Morgan from Glasgow Caledonian University showed fast fashion clothing items are typically constructed in a manner where the quality lasts for about 10 wears.

These fast fashion used clothing items are now headed to landfills at a rapid rate with nearly 15 million tons of clothing and textile waste produced in the U.S. each year.

About 85% of that textile waste goes to landfills, where it can take up to 80 years for the clothing to break down, or has to be incinerated, according to a 2019 New York Times article.

Excessive overproduction adds to the problem.

Since Instagram has accumulated over half a million posts under the #fastfashion, many retailers have been accused of using the term “sustainability” too loosely and jumping into the conversation as a marketing tool rather than with genuine intention.

The Norwegian Consumer Authority claimed H&M was misleading their consumers by lacking to provide proof of how their garments in their ‘Conscious Collection’ produced less waste than other garments.

“Unfortunately, not only do vague definitions allow everyone to perform the bare minimum and call it a day, this also encourages the belief among consumers that purchasing sustainable products are enough,” according to an article for by Ronna Chao, chair of Novetex Textiles Limited.

Retailers have multiple sale seasons where there tends to be a lot of overproduction in the fashion industry. There is an overwhelming excess of inventory, which makes it hard to deter waste.

“Both suppliers and retailers must recognize that studying supply and demand is inseparable from any strategy rooted in sustainability,” Chao said.

There needs to be a review of operations by textile companies and suppliers, in order to improve the efficiency of production.

If the manufacturing process was improved, “buffer production” waste could be minimized.

Buffer production is the way a company maintains enough supplies to keep manufacturing running smoothly, and if done incorrectly can result in consistent excess in material.

“Ideally, production output should be exactly the order quantity placed by the customer, not more,” Chao said.

The act of reducing waste on a grand level requires individuals to take responsibility as well as the effort of a group.

One event that focuses attention on reducing textile waste is The Sustainable Fashion Forum, a sustainable fashion conference held annually in Portland Oregon. They also keep the group effort going all year on their Instagram account where they connect with 103,000 followers to discuss issues and trends in sustainable fashion.

“This means the burden can’t rest entirely on the fashion industry and its suppliers, or even our governments,” Chao said.

The consumer’s role in fast fashion.

Daniel Fischer, assistant professor of sustainability education for the School of Sustainability, at Arizona State University said, “These production consumption systems create intense pressure on all phases of the product’s life cycle. From resource extraction to production to distribution to disposal.”

Fischer doesn’t think that fast fashion will disappear anytime soon, even though it takes a huge toll on the environment, due to the manner that the consumer society operates. “Products that have a short lifespan often adhere to linear life cycles,” said Fischer.

 Essentially this means if the consumer has something that looks similar to a popular item at a cheaper cost, they’re likely to be drawn to it despite the potential negative consequences.

For example the online store Zara, known for their fast fashion items, sold 3 billion items in the 2018-2019 year making their brand value more than 18.4 million dollars.

Always keeping up with the newest and trendiest clothing has become a way for companies to meet their monetary needs and consumers to meet their social needs. Fischer said this can include expressing consumer identity, creativity and even identifying with social groups.

Habits and consumer trends might not change overnight, but what can be done by those who wish to decrease their waste?

It’s important to look into donating old clothing, and giving it the possibility to be enjoyed by someone else.

Fischer recommended analyzing why you don’t want a piece of clothing anymore when you get rid of it. He said this allows you a moment to evaluate your shopping patterns and eventually find value in better, fewer items.

Erin Robertson is the marketing relations manager for Recycle 2 Support, whose mission is to educate the community in sustainability and landfill diversion.

They do their part by providing an eco-friendly way of disposing unwanted clothing and household items through one of their programs, whether it be recycle bins and trailers, donation centers and donation pick up.

Even with top brands like E. Tautz and Vinti Andrews taking on upcycling in their most recent collections at London Men’s Fashion Week 2020, Robertson still thinks upcycling needs more promotion in order to be effective.

Robertson said she doesn’t want the public to buy into the stereotype that clothing from thrift stores are dirty, because that’s not the case. “It’s beneficial to buy from thrift stores because sometimes it’s better quality than a store like H&M,” she said.

She said if someone wants to get rid of clothing items, it’s important to donate it so it can be repurposed into something else.

There are also cultural movements that value repurposing clothing items, which in turn reduces textile waste, such as the increase in popularity of clothing websites Poshmark and thredUp. These websites allow people to resell their gently used clothing easily through a smartphone app marketing themselves to the second hand apparel industry, which is projected to grow by 27 billion U.S. dollars by 2023.

Robertson also stressed the importance of upcycling your clothing. “Even though a garment might have rips and tears in it, it can still be used again,” she said.

Upcycling means that you aren’t breaking down the materials, instead you are refashioning it. Upcycled items are made of the same materials from the beginning, because of this these items tend to have the same quality or higher than the original.

For example, turning an old shirt into a rag or strips of yarn. “Clothing can be repurposed as rags for the automotive industry, the rubber on shoes can be used as playground material, and even the stuffing from old stuffed animals can be repurposed,” Robertson said.

Robertson explains how upcycling clothing is more than just a fad, and can be repurposed for multiple sectors of your life.

“About 45% of donations are usable in the second hand clothing market, 20 percent can be recycled and used for the automotive industry and upholstery, and 30 percent can be used as industry wiping rags,” Robertson said.


How have you been limiting your fast fashion consumption? Let us know on Instagram and Twitter!

Reach the writer on Instagram


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