The Truth About Fast Fashion

Within the past few years, the term ‘fast fashion’ has popped up across numerous publications and social channels. It’s even the name of our latest endeavor, the Fast Fashion Podcast Experience by WhatRUWearing but what really IS fast fashion and what’s the problem with it?

Essentially, retailers like H&M and Forever21 adapt trends from what is popular on runways and in magazines then sell them to consumers at accessible price points. As mentioned in a Forbes article, the idea is that young adults would much rather pay $20 for a cool item rather than $100 or more for a “unique” one. Both the retailers and this business model are making the market cheaper and move much faster leading to consumers buying things they don’t need without much thought. According to the CIT Group, fast fashion retailers have up to 28% higher profits than traditional retailers due to their adaption of trends that evolve to the tastes of customers.

The appeal of fast fashion is obvious. As fashion lovers ourselves, it’s hard not to settle for a $25 top that will last a few seasons as opposed to splurging on a triple digit blouse from say Equipment. There’s also the “new, better, faster” mentality. As trends come and go, it’s simple to buy into them at such reasonable price points. A 2006 Cambridge University study reported that women had four times as many clothing items in their wardrobe than they did in 1980. On top of that, women are getting rid of so many of these items.

Where the damage lies depends on whom you ask. Because of the demand for new items, brands are typically forced to get a product to market in three week cycles as opposed to the former six months. The whole supply chain is under pressure leading to more than poor factory conditions and often child labor. Besides this, there are environmental consequences too. The instant coverage of fashion weeks and street style mean trends are changing in a matter of weeks instead of months. As this happens, many people often toss their clothes as we mentioned earlier. It seems unbelievable but the average American tosses up to 82 pounds of textile waste in a single year. This adds up to 11 million tons of clothing trash from our country alone.

In addition to ethical issues, fast fashion has also brought along the aspect of creativity being killed due to the model moving too fast. Retailers like NastyGal often too closely emulate popular items of higher-end brands like Valentino’s studded strappy heels and Ray-Ban aviators. As reported in New York Mag, Zara has even hired influential fashion stylists as ‘consultants’ to rework and adapt reaction generating looks and items.

More recently, TheFashionLaw.com reported that NastyGal had copied a handbag design by Jeremy Scott for Moschino. Though many of these copies never become litigated, they demonstrate a trend of fast fashion retailers recreating widespread items they know will sell fast.

Despite this, data has shown that fast fashion is well and thriving. Popular British online retailer Boohoo.com announced that they had a 35% jump in revenue during the first half of 2015. It’s not just Boohoo.com that has had this success. As of 2012, nearly 40% of our clothing is bought directly from value-based retailers like those previously mentioned.

Here at WhatRUWearing, we don’t believe that fashion nor style is a disposable product. If you ever have items you no longer want, we strongly encourage you to donate them to friends or a place like Goodwill. Statistics imply that fast fashion doesn’t seem to be going away any time soon so consumers and retailers alike will need to acclimate to the industry’s new market. Nevertheless, the next few years will be extremely telling in whether fast fashion truly is here to stay or if it’s just another industry dud. While I personally can’t promise to never shop at some of my favorite fast fashion retailers ever again (at least until I have more money), I do pledge to only buy clothes I love and know will last. Here’s to becoming a more thoughtful and well-read consumer.

Written by: Meghan McAllister of Lincoln Park Minute