The term ‘fast fashion’ is pivotal when discussing the environmental damage the garment industry causes, but how much do we really know about the details and impact? Read on as ELLISS takes a closer look into the phrase and why it’s something we all need to be aware of as fashion consumers.

What do we mean when we talk about fast fashion?

The fashion industry has changed drastically from a century ago, where it was seen as more of a necessity rather than a choice and people would source their own materials to make or mend their clothing. Fashion brands would tend to exist as individual boutiques or high-end ‘couture’, consisting of one-off, handmade luxury garments that catered for very wealthy women. Menswear versions of this were tailors who would custom-make suits for gentlemen. However, the emergence of ‘high street’ in the 1960s saw the fashion industry grow considerably. Mass produced clothing becoming increasingly popular and therefore, more accessible to a much wider audience. As a result of this, garments became cheaper to produce and to buy. The “on-trend” culture that followed saw a vast increase in consumerism and ‘fast fashion’ has been gathering momentum ever since.

The fashion industry works around numerous seasons to cater for different weathers, climates and situations – these are called ‘micro seasons’ and trends update in each one. This allows fashion brands to continually change what is fashionable, encouraging consumers to keep up with the increased number of trends and update their wardrobe more regularly. Exacerbated by celebrity and social media culture where influencers are gifted free clothing to encourage potential customers to buy, this marketing and advertising tool fuels the need to consume. The fast fashion industry is more environmentally detrimental than ever since the huge increase of online shopping thanks to the internet and social media becoming more and more ingrained in our everyday lives and the rise of vast online conglomerates that now dominate the fast fashion industry.

Unfortunately, fast fashion has negative effects for the consumer, the employees and the environment.

Compromised quality 

To keep up with the micro-seasons of the fast fashion industry, clothing is produced at a very fast pace. Employees are overworked, some sources have videoed workers stitching garments together in less than a minute! As one can imagine, these aren’t pieces that are going to last very long. However, this won’t affect fast fashion brands if the clothes come apart quickly, in fact, it can benefit them as it means customers have to replace them more regularly.

Since consumers want to purchase more, the production and retail cost of the garments are pushed further down as companies try to compete with one another on price. This means cheaper textiles, dyes, and manufacturing techniques are used to produce the final garment – again, valuing quality far over quantity.

A lot of fast fashion consumers believe they are saving money rather than investing in more high-quality pieces, but purchasing low-cost fast fashion can actually result in paying more in the long term as you have to buy a new garment every 3-4 months when one good quality piece could last for years.

Poor working conditions

As previously mentioned, it’s no secret that garment factory workers are overworked to keep up with the fast-changing trends. Take the 2013 building collapse of Rana Plaza in Bangladesh as an example – this resulted in over 1,100 workers losing their lives because the factory was made with sub-standard materials under faulty conditions. 

Fast fashion companies tend to be less transparent with their supply chains, not revealing the full picture of where their garments are manufactured or the working conditions of those who make them. 

Environmental impact

The environmental impact of fast fashion is unprecedented. The production of materials used in the industry has made the fashion industry the second largest polluter of clean water after agriculture. Not only does this negatively affect the environment, but it impacts animals and farmers that live near to the polluted water. 

Cheap textiles also play an integral role in global warming. A huge amount of the textiles and methods used to produce these garments at a rapid rate are powered by fossil fuels – one of the main causes of CO2 emissions. A lot of these textiles are cheap because they are made with plastics, polyester being a main example. This contains lots of ‘micro plastic’ fibres which lead to the pollution of our oceans. 

Due to consumers throwing away more and more clothing, landfills are filling quicker with garments that are not biodegradable. A shocking 10,000 items of clothing are thought to be thrown onto the landfill every five minutes

What can you do? 

We’ve covered the issues of fast fashion and what it means, but what can you do to help the problem?

  1. Shop more consciously. Think twice before you make a purchase and make sure it’s something that will add value to your wardrobe – not just something that you’ve bought to keep up with trends. 
  2. Choose your brands carefully. Do research into the clothing companies you’re buying from, the textiles they use, and their supply chain so you can decide whether you want to stick with them or try out some alternative brands where the clothing may be more expensive, but you know exactly what you’re buying into. 
  3. Recycle clothes. Instead of sending clothes straight to the landfill, try to selling online, giving to charity, or offer them to a friend. 

Read more about sustainable fashion here

Read about our manufacturing here

Read about how we print our ELLISS pieces here

Now you know the facts of fast fashion, we hope you can make more conscious fashion decisions with ELLISS.

What is fast fashion?

Fast fashion is the increased rate of production and consumption of clothing in recent years. Fast fashion companies are continuously changing their trends and collections while also offering cheaper clothing, encouraging consumers to buy and replace their clothes more often.

Why is fast fashion bad?

Fast fashion is detrimental because it markets low-quality garments for the consumer due to the fast production. It is also often associated with poor working conditions as fast fashion brands are known to overwork their employees to meet the demand of production. There are also many negative effects on the environment such as water pollution and an increase in clothes sent to landfills.

When did fast fashion start?

Fast fashion became very popular in the early 2000s. During these years, fashion brands were focused on shortening the time between a trend being on the runway to being available in stores.

How to avoid fast fashion

Consumers can avoid fast fashion by being more conscious when shopping. This can include researching into brands and looking into the fabrics they use or the factories they work with. Buy from brands that are transparent about their supply chain, use organic or recycled textiles and actively talk about their sustainable and ethical practices – see some of these in our ‘Sustainable Brands You Need to Know‘ blog post.

Why is fast fashion bad for the environment?

Fast fashion has negatively impacted the environment as these companies use cheap textiles and dyes which pollute waterways around their factories. It also encourages consumers to be more wasteful of their clothing, sending them to landfills which generate greenhouse gases over time.

What brands are not fast fashion?

There are lots of brands that are not fast fashion but you might have to look further than the high street. Many brands are more conscious about their carbon footprint and the effect that they have on the earth.

You can read our guides into sustainable brands in different sectors in the Life section of the website.