What is Fast Fashion? (And Why You Want to Avoid It)

Gone are the days of shopping just a few times a year, when the seasons changed or when you outgrew your favorite pair of jeans. For the last two decades, trend cycles have dramatically sped up, while the cost and quality of clothing have continued to go down. 

Shopping has become a mindless hobby for many, and yet, the impact of the fast fashion industry continues to weigh heavily on our planet. 

What is fast fashion?

Fast fashion is cheap, contemporary clothing inspired by celebrity culture and runway designs, but sold for a fraction of the price at large global retailers. The backbone of fast fashion is having the latest styles on the market as fast as possible, so shoppers can wear them at the height of the trend (and likely discard them after a few wears). 

The immense overproduction and consumption associated with fast fashion have made this industry one of the largest contributors to water pollution, plastic pollution, and greenhouse gas emissions worldwide. 

How fast fashion came to dominate the clothing industry 

Prior to the Industrial Revolution (that is, before the 1800s), it was customary for clothing to be locally-sourced and produced, with many households making their own wardrobes from whatever textiles were available. 

Materials like wool and leather were most common, and either stitched or woven to create handmade garments. Clothing was durable enough to be worn for several years, and was often handed down within the family, as well. 

But with the onset of the Industrial Revolution in the early 19th century, new technology and equipment -- including the sewing machine -- was made widely available. With this machine, clothing became quicker, easier, and less expensive to produce. Sadly, due to the elevated demands on dressmaking shops, sweatshops also emerged during this era, with very poor and often illegal working conditions. 

Fast forward 100 years to the 1960s and 70s, when clothing started being used as a form of self-expression. Young people were continually creating trends by experimenting with different styles, silhouettes, patterns, and color palettes. 

By the early 2000s, cheap fashion was in its heyday, with online shopping increasing significantly and global retailers churning out new lines all the time. Fast fashion brands were replicating the looks of top designers by producing low-quality, cheap garments consumers couldn’t wait to snatch up.

Today, the fast fashion industry is finally showing signs of waning. While there are a number reasons for the decline of major fast fashion retailers, they have definitely been impacted by the shift in consumer-thinking. With conscious consumption becoming more of a priority for people everywhere, it’s now sustainability and waste reduction that are on trend.

4 reasons to avoid fast fashion brands

Cheap, toxic textile dyes

To make cheap clothing, the raw materials for the final fabrics must also be cheap. These fabrics are made from non-renewable fossil fuels, called petrochemical textiles (think nylon, spandex, and so on). 

Not only does their production require an extreme amount of energy and resources, but many of the chemicals used to make synthetics are toxic, and some are even labeled as carcinogenic. Since our skin is incredibly porous, these toxins can easily seep in, with the potential to cause serious consequences to our health.

Huge carbon footprint

In addition to being harmful to our bodies, fast fashion has a tremendous impact on the environment, as well. The fashion industry is responsible for 10% of all carbon emissions on earth (1.2 billion tons of carbon dioxide annually), which is more than all international flights and maritime shipping combined. 

According to a 2017 report from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, if fashion manufacturers continue on this trajectory, their share of the ‘carbon budget’ could skyrocket to 25% by 2050.

Tons of textile waste

In those same findings from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, it was concluded that every second, the equivalent of one garbage truck of textiles either ends up in a landfill or is burned -- one truck every second! 

What’s more, an estimated $500 billion value is lost each year due to clothing that is barely worn or not recycled; synthetic textiles are often manufactured with fiber blends that are incompatible, so even if someone wanted to recycle, these materials make it less possible.

‘Throw away’ culture

At this point, there are essentially 52 seasons in fast fashion, with trends changing nearly every week. Clothes are being produced at an unimaginable rate, and it’s breeding an unhealthy ‘throw away’ culture among consumers. 

The industry plays into the idea that repeating an outfit is socially unacceptable, so to stay relevant, you have to continually update your closest and sport the latest looks as soon as they’re available. This mindset is definitely damaging to our mental health, and it’s clear fast fashion is wreaking havoc on our planet, as well.

How to spot a fast fashion brand

Thousands of styles

One of the trademarks of fast fashion brands is carrying thousands of styles at one time, regardless of season. If you visit a fast fashion retailer one day and go back a few weeks later, there’s a good chance the store will be completely rearranged and have all new inventory. 

Rotating styles and stocking new pieces is a way for fast fashion to keep bringing people in the door and keep encouraging them to spend money.

Offshore manufacturing with cheap labor

Moving operations to offshore manufacturing facilities is a standard business practice for fast fashion companies. This is where labor is cheapest, since workers earn incredibly low wages and lack adequate rights or concern for their safety. 

Despite the conditions for garment workers being highly dangerous, the fast fashion industry continues to exploit these individuals year in and year out.

Low-quality materials

The synthetic fabrics used to create fast fashion are generally very low-grade, which is obvious to the touch without even having to read the label. Because the focus of fast fashion is on quantity rather than quality, the clothes are known to fall apart after only a few wears. 

But because these materials are less expensive than natural fibers, they continue to be used in production and are tossed out later by the consumer.

Short turnaround between catwalk to retail stores

Ever see your favorite celebrity photographed wearing something, and then see that same outfit online or at the mall a few weeks later? This is actually a frequent occurrence, as fast fashion brands are known for their extremely short turnaround time for production. 

New trends are hitting shelves weekly, with eager shoppers snatching them up almost as fast.

Why SiteSee focuses on slow fashion and sustainability

Counter to the philosophies of fast fashion, SiteSee is dedicated to creating sustainable, functional pieces that are as beautiful as they are ethical. 

SiteSee recognizes that slow fashion and thoughtful consumerism are much better for our planet and its people, which is why we create low-impact clothing for women who are going places and who want to look good getting there.

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