You keep reading or hearing this term, but what does fast fashion mean in practice? And why are so many people and brands talking about it?
What is defined as fast fashion?
Fast fashion consists of business models based on trendy garments often inspired by the catwalk. They’re produced quickly and sold at extremely low prices so that consumers can buy different clothes every season.
Think £2 cotton t-shirts and €10 polyester dresses.
What three things define fast fashion?
Overall, fast fashion is defined by three factors:
- It’s trendy because it follows what’s currently ‘hot’ rather than becoming a timeless addition to your wardrobe
- It’s cheap, encouraging customers to buy without questioning how and by whom a garment was made
- It’s disposable, with clothes only being worn an average of seven times before being chucked away
What are some examples of fast fashion?
There are probably lots of examples of fast fashion in your own town centre or high street, but some of the most popular names are Primark, H&M, and Topshop.
You might have heard of some e-commerce giants like Boohoo and Shein, too.
Is fast fashion harmful?
Yes, unfortunately the very concept of fast fashion is extremely harmful, both from a sustainable and ethical standpoint.
There are many problems with fast fashion, so let’s start with a simple overview.
What is fast fashion’s problem when it comes to sustainability?
In order to keep their prices so ridiculously low, fast fashion brands save money by using cheaper materials and manufacturing practices without taking their impact on the environment into account.
For example, some of fast fashion’s sustainability problems are:
- It mainly relies on fabrics with a terrible environmental footprint such as traditionally grown cotton and polyester. The former requires huge amounts of water (e.g. 2,700 litres for one t-shirt!) and is mostly genetically modified as well as full of pesticides that also speed up soil degradation. The latter is derived from plastic, its production generates lots of CO2 (5.5 kg per t-shirt!), and it sheds microplastics that end up in the ocean
- Most of its wastewater (full of harmful chemicals like mercury, lead, or fertilisers) is discharged into the rivers of developing countries, endangering local fauna and humans alike
- One in three young women in Britain considers their clothes ‘old’ if they’ve worn them twice! Encouraging consumers to think of them as disposable leads to 92 million tonnes of waste a year
What is fast fashion’s ethical problem?
How can fast fashion garment workers be paid fair wages if a t-shirt is priced at £2?
These brands usually cut costs by outsourcing garment production to factories in developing countries.
Because they don’t visit them directly, they often hide sweatshops where workers are severely underpaid, exploited, mistreated, kept in unsafe or modern slavery conditions (remember the collapse of the Rana Plaza manufacturing complex in Bangladesh, which killed 1,134 garment workers in 2013?), and can even involve child labour.
Ouch. So, what is fast fashion’s alternative?
We know. That’s a lot to take in all at once, especially since these brands are so good at greenwashing or hiding the real cost behind their low price tags.
How can you move on from here as a consumer?
- Consider sharing this article to reach more unaware shoppers
- Now that you know what fast fashion is and why it’s so detrimental, check out and bookmark our easy tips on how to ditch it and switch to sustainable fashion instead
- To help you make your ethical journey even easier, we also share practical advice and inspiring fashion brands in our newsletter
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What’s the problem with fast fashion? What are ethical clothes? And where do I even START? Our beginner’s guide to sustainable fashion covers all that for you.
From child labour to toxic dyes, there’s a high hidden cost behind cheap labels. Check out the problems with fast fashion and discover a sustainable solution.