According to Good on You, fast fashion can be defined as “cheap, trendy clothing that samples ideas from the catwalk or celebrity culture and turns them into garments in high street stores at breakneck speed to meet consumer demand.”
The goal of fast fashion is to accelerate the design and production process to get new styles on the market as quickly as possible. While it used to take clothing brands three to six months to put out new products, some fast fashion brands like Zara can take a style from the initial sketch to the final product in just over two weeks.
As these fast fashion statistics will prove, our current fashion industry has created a toxic system based on consumption, overproduction, exploitation, and waste. The pressure to maximize profits causes fast fashion companies to use unethical and unsustainable business practices to serve up short-lived trends at affordable prices.
To meet customer demands for low prices, fast fashion companies take advantage of cheap labor in countries that lack adequate workers’ rights and safety regulations. The lack of environmental regulations in these countries also means that companies can cut costs by using dangerous chemicals and toxic dyes to create low-priced fabrics.
It can be difficult for the untrained eye to spot a fast fashion brand at first, especially if the brand is adept at greenwashing. But once you understand what makes a brand fast fashion, you’ll quickly see that most popular clothing brands could be considered part of the problem.
Here are a few common traits that most fast fashion brands have:
Offshore manufacturing that takes advantage of cheap labor in countries with few wage and safety regulations, often using complex global supply chains with little to no transparency
Inexpensive, low-quality materials designed to quickly degrade and be thrown away after a single season
Hundreds to thousands of different styles, most of which are focused on current fashion trends
Unfortunately, many of the biggest players in the fashion industry are fast fashion brands. Many boast humble beginnings in the 70s and 80s as small European shops, but thanks to globalization in the 90s, these family-owned shops quickly grew into multi-billion dollar international empires.
Zara, H&M, Mango, Forever 21, Uniqlo, Primark, Forever 21, Shein, and Fashion Nova are just a few of the fast fashion brands to avoid.
As we mentioned before, not all fast fashion brands are quite so obvious, though. You might be surprised to learn that Urban Outfitters, American Eagle, Free People, Anthropologie, and Topshop fall into the same category.
The overconsumption and excess waste caused by the fast fashion industry has a significant impact on the environment. The apparel and footwear industries currently account for over 8% of global climate impact, a greater contribution than all international airline flights combined.
Garments require a substantial amount of water at every production stage: growing raw material for cotton textiles, chemically producing manmade fibers, dyeing fabrics, and adding finishing treatments such as sandblasting. The water usage required for garment production makes up roughly 17-20% of all industrial water pollution and 10-20% of pesticide use.