The term ‘fast fashion’ is on everyone’s lips now, as the business model has often been questioned in recent years. Its principles are simple: high volume of clothes, low quality. Elizabeth Cline, author of the book Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost Of Cheap Fashion, explains it well by talking about the two aspects of fast fashion: the constant novelty and variety of new clothing pieces available in stores, and the low prices to allow you to buy new items as often as possible. Fast fashion’s supply chain is described by an acceleration, since the 2000s, of the cycle of the production, distribution, consumption and disposal of the products.
Fast fashion’s business model is to produce rapidly high volumes of garments, replication trends and what is seen on catwalks. If there used to be two to four seasons in fashion, things are now very different. Some companies go as far as renewing their collections every other week, or every week, with marketing strategies based on a constant churn of new inventory.
The clothing industry did not used to be that way. Clothes were more expensive, but you fixed them, cherished them, wore the hands-me-down and when you finally outgrown them, then you bought new ones. And then about 20 years ago, shopping for clothes in the United States and Europe stopped being an occasional event. Not only did clothes become cheaper but as they did, the trend cycles changed: fashion became fast fashion. Collections became “capsules” collections. Clothes are so cheap now, they have become a disposable commodity. But the dirty little secret is no secret at all: if it’s cheap for you, someone else has to pay the price.
Let’s stop here for a second: without even thinking about the ecological and ethical aspects of fast fashion, is it really better for our wallets in the long run? Your clothing is now designed to fall apart. Planned obsolescence does not exist only for washing machines.
And on a global level, the cost of fast fashion is unbelievably high.
Muditi Kamboj, founder of the sustainable brand Label Mayu, says one of her first professional experiences was in an export house in India, which was producing garments for fast fashion brands such as H&M or Zara.
“Working there, I could see what was wrong with the industry, and how things were really working,” she reflects.
She says the biggest issue was the way the workers were treated. “Employers didn’t care about the workers,” she tells me, adding there was not really any social protection or support. “Workplace harassment was also a big issue.” She says boundaries and privacy were not respected. “It was really disheartening to see how unethical the industry was.”
Kamboj stops before adding: “Everything on paper looks so good, so perfect, but the reality is very different.”
Kamboj explains that the fast fashion industry is the second most polluting industry in the world, and that one of the biggest problems is the waste it generates: in the fast fashion industry, 92 million tonnes of waste is produced per year.
“Waste is often dumped outside Europe and the US, generating a lot of pollution because it often has to be burned,” says Kamboj. “The high carbon footprint of fast fashion does not just come from the supply chain but also from these activities, happening on the other side of the world.”
Perhaps even more telling is the following figure: 1.2 billion tonnes of CO2 are released by the textile industry per year.
So there you have it: you cannot fight climate change without looking into your wardrobe.