Fast fashion is an industry driven by mass production, relentless cost-cutting, and the unabashed imitation of runway styles for the rapid creation of on-trend clothing.
It's marked by a consistent prioritization of profit margins over ethical and sustainable practices, resulting in an alarming environmental toll and exploitation of labor.
It's a tireless chase for trendiness that encourages an unhealthy cycle of over-consumption, brief wear, and frequent disposal.
It’s the ripping-off of runway collections: the premeditated and mastered designer collections are counterfeited by fast fashion giants incapable of realizing an original design, instead resorting to cheap plagiarism.
Though fairly new, tracing back to the 60s and 70s, the fast-fashion industry has exponentially expanded, and its consequences are compounding day by day. Here’s a brief overview of how the industry has originated and evolved.
Post-World War II (1950s - 1960s):
The aftermath of World War II saw a rise in consumerism and economic growth, especially in Western countries. People had more disposable income and were looking for affordable and stylish clothing. Mass production techniques developed during the war were repurposed for civilian markets.
Mass Production and Retail Chains (1970s):
The 1970s saw the rise of large-scale retail chains that aimed to provide affordable clothing to the masses. Innovations in manufacturing, such as the use of synthetic fabrics and advancements in assembly line techniques, allowed for the mass production of clothing at lower costs.
Outsourcing and Globalization (1980s - 1990s):
Globalization and advancements in transportation and communication facilitated the outsourcing of garment manufacturing to countries with lower labor costs, particularly in Asia. This outsourcing enabled faster production and lower costs, laying the foundation for the fast fashion model.
Zara's Fast Fashion Model (1985):
Zara is often credited with pioneering the modern fast fashion model. Founded in 1985, Zara revolutionized the industry by streamlining the design-to-store process, reducing production time to just a few weeks. Zara's success encouraged other retailers to adopt a similar approach, emphasizing speed and efficiency.
“Fast Fashion” is Coined (1989)
The New York Times introduced the term “fast fashion” in the early 90’s when Zara and Express first arrived in New York City. In fact, you can read the 1989 NY Times article here, and witness first-hand the novelty of a brand being able to go from design to retail floor in 15 days and the surprise in discovering that Zara could rotate its entire inventory in three weeks.
Internet and E-commerce (late 1990s - 2000s):
The rise of the internet and e-commerce further accelerated the fast fashion phenomenon. Online platforms made it easier for retailers to reach a global audience and rapidly respond to changing fashion trends, reducing the time it takes to produce and distribute new styles.
Consumer Demand and Disposable Fashion (2000s - present):
A shift in consumer behavior towards disposable fashion, driven by a desire for constantly changing trends at low prices, contributed to the exponential growth of fast fashion. Consumers became accustomed to regularly updating their wardrobes with inexpensive, on-trend clothing.
A fifteen day turnaround time is no longer news. Today, top fast-fashion retailers release up to 10,000 of new garments per day and feature up to 52 collections per year.
Fast-fashion is cheap, fast, and ends up in the trash.
Photo: Martín Bernetti/AFP via Getty Images
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Schiro, Anne-Marie. (1989, December 31). Fashion; Two New Stores That Cruise Fashion's Fast Lane. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/1989.