Fast fashion is the newest phrase coined by Gen Z for inexpensive clothing produced rapidly
by mass-market retailers in response to the latest trends. With video sharing platforms, such
as TikTok, rising exponentially in popularity, the introduction of constantly changing micro-
trends has created an even faster, fast fashion market.
So, what is the big problem with fast fashion? In a word - speed. On the one hand, the boom
in fast fashion has fuelled economic growth globally. Within the clothing industry, fast
fashion is responsible for (on average) 4.78% of recent growth. However, this does not come
without its costs – economic, environmental, humanitarian, and psychological.
The rise of video-centred social media is increasing the speed of these impacts. As TikTok
has gained popularity, we’ve seen a shift towards micro-trends (an accelerated version of the
standard ‘trend’) further increasing the turnaround time of the already short-lived clothing.
Brands are using platforms, such as TikTok, to promote and sell their own clothing,
encouraging people to shop more, quicker. Fashion culture online has become not about what
clothes you have but how many, a trend aided by the ever-increasing number of new micro
influencers profiting off pushing fast fashion to the consumer. As we are encouraged to buy
more for less, this leads to a ‘race to the bottom’ as brands compete to offer the largest
quantities of clothes for the lowest possible prices – the perfect breeding ground for
With most social media platforms now having an embedded shopping section, it is now even easier to purchase the newest must-have clothing item. Together with online purchases becoming increasingly easy and user-specific; in the emergence of targeted advertising, alongside websites remembering user details, this has led to the prevalence of a new impulsive culture surrounding clothes shopping. The psychological impact this has had on consumers is profound, with individuals buying on impulsivity, their purchasing habits mirroring the sponsored content they are watching online.
This has led many economists to comment on the consumer as being potentially dangerously robbed of their own agency; sociologically pressured into increasingly rapid spending habits, parting with huge proportions of their income to buy clothes to be worn once and thrown away a month later. At what point does it become an addiction? And if we look at it in such a light, how many people are hooked?
The increasing demand for cheap, rapidly produced items, and trends that change by the
week, has also led to a deterioration in the quality of materials used for garment production. With suppliers such as SheIn, infamously using notoriously cheap, low-quality textiles. Additionally, brands and retailers seek to cut production costs by any means necessary, using underpaid labour, such as in the Leicester Dark Factories used by Boohoo and other fast fashion retailers in the UK.
Overconsumption is the real problem with fast fashion more than anything else. The
environmental consequences are astronomical, with fashion production accounting for 10% of total carbon emissions globally according to the Business Insider.
The Ellen Macarthur foundation (2017) stated that $500 billion are lost each year due to lack of reuse and recycling of clothing. This statistic is particularly pronounced when compared to the culture of previous eras, where clothes were costly, but made to last. Now, big brands make millions, mimicking this ‘hand crafted’ and ‘vintage’ clothing look of the past. As the world grows and GDP rises, there is going to be an even greater demand for clothing. So, how do we begin to address the problem? Companies would need to design and invest in business models that make sustainable and reused clothes. This includes the popularisation of clothing rental, enabling people to consume new fashions and trends without fuelling demand and thus overproduction. The obvious environmental and economic benefits of such a model pave the way for a long-term sustainable solution to the fast fashion crisis; that of a circular economy. The global fashion agenda report states that addressing the environmental and social problems which have been created by such industry, would provide a $192 billion overall benefit to the global economy by 2030.
Meanwhile, whilst we wait for the fashion revolution, as an individual consumer there are still steps you can take to re-empower yourself. Buying less for more, focusing on quality over quantity are good starting points for a wardrobe which will outlast this week’s microtrends. Hand making clothes or buying from sustainable sources means you won’t be contributing to the demand for cheaply made clothes mass produced in sweatshops. But it’s not just about buying the same amount more sustainably, it’s about investing in clothes more consciously.
If we can change our mindset towards fashion, fast fashion loses its hold over us.