What is fast fashion? A simple guide.

Congratulations for landing on this page! If you’re asking questions about fast fashion, that tells me that you are rethinking your fashion choices.

You take the blue pill, the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill, you stay in wonderland. And I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes – Morpheus, The Matrix

Am I the only Matrix fan here?

If you’ve bought clothes in the past decade, odds are that you’ve supported a fast fashion brand. Follow me down the rabbit hole and I’ll teach you how to avoid fast fashion brands from now on.

What is fast fashion?

Fast fashion is cheap, low quality clothes that are churned out rapidly to get the newest styles on the market as soon as possible.

It’s also called disposable fashion because the item degrades with only a few uses and the style goes out of fashion quickly. Because it was so cheap to buy, you’ll throw it away and buy a new piece of cheap clothing. Thus begins the vicious fast fashion cycle.

Why is fast fashion a problem?

On the surface, it sounds like an awesome deal. Who doesn’t like a sale? It’s amazing that we can buy ‘cheap’ clothes that closely resemble catwalk styles and luxury designer wear.

But wait. If it’s too good to be true, it probably is.

Once we removed that emotional investment from the equation, we cares less about our clothes. And so then we started treating them like fast food’ – Dana Thomas, author of Fashionopolis: The Prices of Fast Fashion and the Future of Clothes

Fast fashion is bad for the environment

The fashion industry is one of the largest polluters in the world. Fast fashion brands are the biggest culprits when it comes to cutting corners to ensure their costs remain low and production time is speedy.

Fast fashion is bad for workers

  • Textile workers are at higher risk of cancer, breathing problems and other diseases from prolonged exposure to the cheap toxic dyes and chemicals used to treat our clothes.
  • To keep costs low, workers are often made to work long hours on measly wages. We don’t think about them because they are so far removed from us but what if one of them was your family member? How would you feel then?
  • Numerous disasters connected with fast fashion manufacturers have cost lives. For example, the tragic collapse of the Rana Plaza factory in Bangladesh in 2013, killing over 1000 workers.

Fast fashion is bad for animals

  • When waterways are polluted and forests are cleared irresponsibly, animals suffer.
  • When animal products such as leather and fur are used, fast fashion brands often source from businesses who don’t prioritize animal welfare.

Fast fashion is bad for us

Fast fashion brands use poor quality synthetic material with toxic dyes that absorb into our skin. The Greenpeace Detox Campaign discovered 11 chemicals that are commonly present in clothes production that cause cancer and disrupt our hormones.

This vicious cycle of needing to sport the latest fashion and not being seen in the same clothes twice create a constant sense of need and dissatisfaction. We try to beat each other at the expense of our pockets, the planet and our self-confidence.

This is just a snapshot of how bad fast fashion is for everyone and everything. Something has to be done about it and rather than point the finger at someone else, let the change start with us.

Further reading: 5 most toxic fabrics to avoid and what to wear instead

Greenwashing by fast fashion

Greenwashing is the process of making people believe that a company is doing more to protect the environment than it really is – Cambridge Dictionary

As more of us call out these fast fashion brands for their irresponsibility and lack of care, companies have no choice but to introduce sustainable and ethical initiatives. Some do this better than others.

Some companies have recycling programs but offer a discount to entice you to buy more. Some vow to donate 1% of proceeds to a cause.

Fast fashion brands are definitely trying to give the impression that they are sustainable with ‘considered edit’ releases, recycling and donating to causes. But if they continue to produce large quantities of cheap, low quality clothing, nothing they do will be enough to counteract the negative impact of this. Their whole business model needs to change.

But I’m not here to get companies to change. I’m here to convince you to change.

Because the only way to start reducing the negative impact of the fashion industry is by making more sustainable choices.

What can we do to fight fast fashion

Buy less, choose well, make it last – Vivienne Westwood, British Designer

  • Vote with our pockets. Only buy from fashion brands that are making a a true effort to lessen their negative impact and give back to the world.
  • Buy fewer items, choose good quality items and take care of them so they last.
  • Be creative with clothes you already have in your wardrobe. Create new styles by matching them differently.
  • Buy pre-loved clothing instead of new ones.
  • Rent clothes that you’ll probably only wear once.
  • Swap clothes with friends instead of throwing them away and buying new ones when you’re bored.

For more actionable tips, read my simple guide on how to make the sustainable fashion choices.

How to spot a fast fashion brand

  • They have thousands of styles and come out with new ones every week
  • Lack of transparency with where their clothes are made, the state of their factories etc.
  • They have complex supply chains. Sometimes the brand itself can’t trace their supply chain fully.
  • They sell cheap, low quality, synthetic material. These clothes don’t last more than a few wears.

Well-known mainstream fast fashion brands include retailers like Zara, H&M, Topshop, Uniqlo, Misguided, Forever 21, Boohoo, Zaful and Fashion Nova.

Further reading: Organic cotton vs cotton: Why is organic cotton better?

To wrap up

We are starting to see changes in the fashion industry. People like you and me are waking up to the true cost of fast fashion. The next time you think you need to buy something, think again. And if you still need it, buy from one of the many sustainable brands blossoming around you. My current favorites are Tentree and Boody.

Whether you feel most strongly about veganism, buying local or biodegradable natural fiber clothing, there are countless ways to embrace sustainable fashion. Start with a small change, learn as you go along and we will all get there one day.

Sharon James
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3 thoughts on “What is fast fashion? A simple guide.”

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