Fast fashion is a contemporary term used by fashion retailers to express that designs move from catwalk to retail quickly to capture current fashion trends (fashion marketing definition). Fast fashion was one of the driving forces of overconsumption in the U.S. in the 1980’s. Retailers working with this concept indirectly created the concept of disposable clothes. (Globalization: Global markets and global supplies) The Fashion Week in both the spring and autumn of every year is the source of inspiration of the enterprise for the next year’s collection and also inspires consumers. These trends are designed and manufactured quickly and inexpensively to allow the consumer to buy current clothing styles at a lower price. This new trend of quick manufacturing at an affordable price is mainly used by H&M, Zara, Primark and Topshop. In the middle of the 2000’s Vogue launched the “boho chic” trend which increased the fast fashion craze.
The slow fashion movement arrived in the 2010’s to oppose the fast fashion philosophy. They are criticizing the disposable clothes movement for its social and environmental effects. Large scale creation and delivery of clothes is causing large amounts of pollution. Products are often made of synthetic fabrics with poor quality dyes. Fast fashion is also contributing to poor working conditions in developing countries that employ children working in factories or 12 hours a day.
The History of textile overconsumption :
In the 1900’s Wold War II restricted raw material like fabric and thus benefitted the functional fashion rather than the unique fashion. This increased standardized fashion production. After the war, people had the habit to buy already-made clothes and lost the skills necessary to make their own. The war made this social transition happen faster and on a larger scale.
The 1960’s was the beginning of cheap clothes. Fashion brands were popping up to fill the demand for affordable clothes. In the 1990’s, the three brands Zara, H&M and TopShop were all over the European market and spread to the United States. American took this example and copied European retailers to create shops like Forever 21 which started in 1987 in Los Angeles.
Nowdays fast fashion is a way to show people who you are and what you want. Everybody is wearing it from Kate Middleton to a normal high school girl. Boys and men are also following the trends that these shops are launching. This cheap solution can be applicable for everybody regardless of your social and economic background.
Photo: Kheel Center
The business model of fast fashion is based on frequent consumers’ desire for new clothing to wear. (” Planned obsolescence“) This leads to the issue of overconsumption. Planned obsolescence with the creation of a new and different trend every season plays a key role in overconsumption. Fast fashion is a different kind of overconsumption because the consumers are purchasing new clothes even if the old ones are still wearable. The quick changing wardrobe of low price fashion pieces encourages consumers to visit the store and make purchases more frequently. This results in excessive stocks of untrendy clothes which ends up in landfills. Overconsumption leads to waste, pollution, energy, and natural resources exhaustion.
Consumers are getting addicted to this new way of consuming. They ask for more quality in shorter time and now the brands are creating new collections that move from sketches to the production stage in two weeks. In less than 20 years, the amount of clothing that Americans dispose off each year has doubled from 7 million to 14 million tons. The EPA estimates that « diverting all of those often-toxic trashed textiles into a recycling program would be the environmental equivalent of taking 7.3 million cars and their carbon dioxide emissions off the road. » Trashing the clothes costs a lot of money. United States pays $45 per ton of waste that is sent to a landfill. It costs New York City $20.6 million annually to ship textiles to landfills and incinerators.
Landfilling or incinerating these products is an ecological catastrophe. The wasted resources it took to create a fabric are too high compare to what the Earth can offer us. People over consume textiles and diminish Earth’s natural heritage. “When it ends up in the landfill, it’s a wasted material,” says Annie Gullingsrud of the Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute
Photo : Uriel Sinai
All the steps of textile production are polluting the aquatic, terrestrial, and atmospheric ecosystems. The first consequence is the release of greenhouse gases into the air. The big sewing machinery and the transportation of the goods are the most polluting steps in the production. Secondly I can speak about the problem of creating the fabric itself before evaluating it in clothes. Pesticides and bad quality dyes are necessary to produce clothes at low cost and in high numbers. These chemicals are released into the aquatic environment. (EcoWatch) Moreover, textiles present particular problems in landfill as synthetic products will not decompose, while woolen fabrics do decompose and produce methane, which contributes to global warming.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), 84% of unwanted clothes in the United States in 2012 went into either a landfill or an incinerator. When natural fibers (cotton, linen, silk) or semi-synthetic fibers (rayon, Tencel and modal) are buried in a landfill, they act like food waste, producing gas methane as they degrade. But unlike organic wastes clothes cannot be composted, even if they’re made from natural materials. Jason Kibbey, CEO of the Sustainable Apparel Coalition said : “They’ve been bleached, dyed, printed on, scoured in chemical baths.” Landfilling them is contaminating ground water and incinerating them will release all the chemical toxins into the air. Synthetic fibers (polyester, nylon and acrylic) are plastics so they will take hundreds of years to biodegrade.
Thirty percent of the clothing that comes into Trans-Americas are cut into wiping rags for industrial uses. Another 20 percent of the clothing (the ripped and stained items) will be cut into small pieces to be used in building insulation, carpet padding or floor mats for the auto industry. It is better to down-cycle clothes than landfilling them, but this is not a long-term solution because after a few more use with this second life they still will be landfilled at the end.
According to a 2014 report commissioned by the Sustainable Apparel there is closed-loop technology for pure material but not if the cotton is dyed, treated or blended with other materials. The process no longer works. H&M’s recycled 20% denim line at the 2015 summer and reached the limits of what is possible today. All other machines for other types of fabrics is not fully conclusive or testable.
The fast fashion sector of the fashion industry is polluting the planet at a continuous rate. (Environ Health Perspect) Big fast fashion brands are investing money to decrease the industry’s environmental footprint. While recycling is one short term solution to change the environment, new technologies in fashion have greater potential. These technologies offer new methods of using dyes, producing fibers, and reducing the use of natural resources. They are trying to use less for producing more. For example, Anke Domaske has produced “QMilch,” an eco-milk fiber from food waste. Many companies have created various ways to reduce the amount of dyes and the water consumption. For example, AirDye saves between 7 and 75 gallons of water per pound of textiles produced while digital printing reduces water usage by 95 percent. (Treehugger)
Brands like H&M educate its customers to turn in clothes they no longer want for recycling, but admits that just 0.1 percent of all clothing collected is turned into new textiles. They also launch a recent Conscious Collection using organic cotton which is using less water, pesticides and insecticides than traditional cotton. Levis educates its customers to stop the overconsuming water by over cleaning their clothes with the launch of their sustainable website and campaigns.
The most sustainable solution and also the best long term one is to only buy your clothes second hand. The Earth already gave the human and environmental resources for these clothes, the chemical dyes have already been used : reuse what Earth has already produced for us. In the U.S. a woman spends about $3,400 per year in fashion. Second hand clothes is not only cheaper but will potentially help change the way we view this over consumption problem. Some websites like Vinted to resell and buy secondhand clothes are already touching young generations with their modernity and clean aspect.
Some brands are upcycling wasted clothes in order to create a new brand product. Luxury brands like Hermès just opened their first Upcycling sewing studio in France. This shows again that brands are concerned about their sustainability and want to show a 100% good image.
More importantly we can see that people are awaking from the past decade’s mindset of overconsumption. The fashion minimalists blogs are more and more visited, and some guru minimalists even invented project 333. This project consists of having only 33 items (clothes, shoes, bags and accessories) for every 3 months (so every season). They are calling these “capsule wardrobes”. This obliges people to count and realize how much less we actually need to be well dressed and sustainable.
The bestselling book (2.4million books) from Konmari which is explains the method of being more happy with simply having less is also a good example. Millions of people are interested in why they overconsume and how we can stop doing it. We are in the transition of consumption habits. Soon enough with a little change in behavior and collaboration we will make overconsumption a has-been.
Tony, and M. Bruce. 2001. Fashion marketing
Disposable clothes : (2007) Globalization: Global markets and global supplies
‘We now buy 40% of all our clothes at value retailers, with just 17% of our clothing budget.’ TNS Worldpanel (2006) Fashion Focus issue 29
United Kingdom textile consumption increased of 37% from 2001 to 2005 : Black, Sandy (2013). The Sustainable Fashion Handbook. New York: Thames and Hudson.
More textile wasted : “Council for Textile Recycling”. www.weardonaterecycle.org. Retrieved 2015-11-08.
New York waste statistics : Cline, Elizabeth (July 18, 2014). “Where Does Discarded Clothing Go?”. The Atlantic. The Atlantic Monthly Group. Retrieved October 24, 2015.
“Fast Fashion Is the Second Dirtiest Industry in the World, Next to Big Oil » Page 2 of 3”. EcoWatch. Retrieved 2015-11-08.
“Planned obsolescence”. The Economist. ISSN 0013-0613. Retrieved 2015-11-08.
“Waste Couture: Environmental Impact of the Clothing Industry”. Environ Health Perspect. 115 (9): A449–A454. 2007. PMC 1964887
Breyer, Melissa (September 4, 2014). “10 awesome innovations changing the future of fashion”. Treehugger. Narrative Content Group. Retrieved October 24, 2015.