What is fast fashion?
The fast fashion phenomenon has revolutionised the fashion industry by changing consumer attitudes towards consumption.1 It is characterised by low-cost production and brings low cost to stores.2 It is defined as cheap fashionable clothes that are sold for mass consumers.3
Clothing production has almost doubled in the last 15 years due to a growing middle-class population across the globe.4 It is predicted that a 400 percent increase in the global GDP will drive demand for clothing.5 However, as said by Ida Auken, a member of the Denmark parliament, “It is obvious that the current fashion system is failing both the environment and us.”6
Fast fashion’s objective is to get clothes to consumers “within the shortest time possible.”7 The historical fashion cycle generally consists of planning, design, and product development. Traditional apparel brands use planning to forecast consumer demands long before the time of consumption.8 This process took months, however, with the rise of fast fashion, companies like Zara are slashing the design-to-sale process to 15 days.9 Therefore, speed has become a crucial objective of fashion, along with lost cost.
Dealing with demand
Due to the cheap price, there is a high level of consumption. In order to deal with high demand and consumption, leaders of fast fashion have used “vertically-integrated supply chains and sales-oriented pricing” to minimise their fashion cycles.10 However, the cheapness of clothing items means that consumers are purchasing more, attaching less sentiment value to the clothing, and discarding clothing after wearing them as few as seven times.11 This had led to a magnitude of environmental consequences, especially since there is currently insufficient waste infrastructure to support such high rates of consumption.12
Additionally, demand for fashion furthers the inequalities between developing countries and developed countries. Fast fashion relies on a global-supply chain such that manufacturing firms are set in developing countries where labour is cheap and sold to consumers in developing countries.13 Workers in the supply chain are subjected to poor working conditions and often deal with hazardous chemicals. The Rana Plaza disaster is often seen as the consequence of developing trying to keep up with the demand for fashion pressure exerted by Western buyers.14 This leads to a dependent relationship being formed as the developing countries’ economies rely on “workers’’ wages and material needs, on the developed nations that they sell fast fashion to.”15 Consequently, efficiency is prioritised, and the government lacks the incentive to establish safe working conditions.
The desire for “more demand”
Fast fashion brands artificially inflate demand by communicating a sense of urgency to consumers and creating a sense of scarcity.16 Physical stores and online fashion websites strive for a sense of “tantalising exclusivity.”17 There are always new products, but these products are advertised to be available only in limited amounts and for a limited time. Limited stock in stores builds the mentality that if I do not buy it today, it will be gone tomorrow.18 Old clothing is discounted heavily to make room for new clothing, resulting in a short selling cycle that underpins the buy it now mentality.19
The role of social media in building demand
Additionally, the youth is driving the demand for clothing up.20 Clothes that are trendy and affordable are popularised by social media platforms such as YouTube, Instagram and TikTok.21 In 2021, a large number of people will have purchased clothing recommended by a social media influencer.22 Social media has a polarising effect in shaping demand due to social media’s ability to increase visibility resulting in clothing trends changing faster than ever.23
Further, social media has empowered consumers to dictate trends, instead of designers and retailers setting trends based on their newest releases. For example, Youtuber Emma Chamberlain’s Instagram post saw an overnight increase in demand for flared yoga pants and crewnecks.24 Since consumers are setting demands, retailers are racing to respond to the demand, causing wasted merchandise, as trends often die.
Additionally, fashion hauls have a harmful effect on buying habits. The rise of TikTok and Youtube has seen many influencers promoting brands like Shein, where influencers flaunt expensive purchases of a wide variety of clothing from one brand. Young impressionable viewers are encouraged to view quantity over quality and are unlikely to be aware of the working conditions or environmental consequences of such high consumption levels.25
Fast fashion has a linear economy in that once a material is used in clothing, it is unlikely to be used for anything else. Although more awareness of the negative consequences of fast fashion is known, retailers continue to support short design-to-sale cycles. The supply economy will never catch up to fast fashion growth if consumers continue to support such brands.
For example, Zara has committed to changing its fabrics to organic, sustainable, or recycled by 2025, yet it continues to appeal to a market that is always looking for the newest trends.26 It negates the issue of the waste created from trying to match consumer demand.
To truly circumvent the demand problems in the market, consumers should focus on the “resale, rental, and repair” of items that attempt to increase the longevity of material products.27 Through becoming aware and changing consumption habits, individuals can help change the economy for the better.
1 Ľubica Knošková, & Petra Garasová (2019). The Economic Impact of Consumer Purchases in Fast Fashion Stores. Studia Commercialia Bratislavensia, 12(41), 58–70. https://doi.org/10.2478/stcb-2019-0006
2 McNeill, Lisa, & Moore, Rebecca. (2015). Sustainable fashion consumption and the fast fashion conundrum: fashionable consumers and attitudes to sustainability in clothing choice. International Journal of Consumer Studies, 39(3), 212–222.
3 Rauturier, S. (2018). What is Fast Fashion. https://goodo-nyou.eco/what-is-fast-fashion/
4 Ellen MacArthur Foundation (2017) A New Textiles Economy: Redesigning fashion’s future. https://ellenmacarthurfoundation.org/a-new-textiles-economy
5 OECD (2018). GDP long-term forecast (indicator). [Data set]. Retrieved from 10 May 2022 from https://doi.org/10.1787/d927bc18-en
6 Assoune, A. How Does Fast Fashion Affect The Economy. Panaprium. https://www.panaprium.com/blogs/i/how-does-fast-fashion-affect-the-economy
7 Bruce, M., & Daly, L. (2006). Buyer behaviour for fast fashion. Journal of Fashion Marketing and Management: An International Journal , 10 (3), 329– 344.
8 Berg, A., Lobis, R., Rölkens, F., & Simon, P. (2018) Faster fashion: How to shorten the apparel calendar. Mckinsey & Company. https://www.mckinsey.com/industries/retail/our-insights/faster-fashionhow- to-shorten-the-apparel-calendar
9 Bansa, T., & Gransaull, G. (2021) Why Fast Fashion Has to Slow Down. MIT Sloan Management Review. https://sloanreview.mit.edu/article/why-fast-fashion-has-to-slow-down/
10 Starck, M. (2018). The Economics of Fast Fashion. Attire Media. https://www.attiremedia.com/popularbrands/economic-drivers-of-fast-fashion
11 Bansa, T., & Gransaull, G. (2021) Why Fast Fashion Has to Slow Down. MIT Sloan Management Review. https://sloanreview.mit.edu/article/why-fast-fashion-has-to-slow-down/
12 Le, N. (2020) The Impact of Fast Fashion On the Environment. PSCI Princeton. https://psci.princeton.edu/tips/2020/7/20/the-impact-of-fast-fashion-on-the-environment
13 Delahaye, N. (2021). “Fast Fashion” Production and the Global Economy. The Grassroots Journal. https://www.thegrassrootsjournal.org/post/fast-fashion-production-and-the-global-economy
14 Heuer, Mark, & Becker-Leifhold, Carolin. (2018). Eco-friendly and Fair (1st ed.). Routledge. https://doi.org/10.4324/9781351058353.
15 Delahaye, N. (2021). “Fast Fashion” Production and the Global Economy. The Grassroots Journal. https://www.thegrassrootsjournal.org/post/fast-fashion-production-and-the-global-economy
16 Barnes, L., & Lea-Greenwood, G. (2006). Fast fashioning the supply chain: Shaping the research agenda. Journal of Fashion Marketing and Management: An International Journal , 10 (3), 259– 271.
17 Heuer, Mark, & Becker-Leifhold, Carolin. (2018). Eco-friendly and Fair (1st ed.). Routledge. https://doi.org/10.4324/9781351058353.
18 Heuer, Mark, & Becker-Leifhold, Carolin. (2018). Eco-friendly and Fair (1st ed.). Routledge. https://doi.org/10.4324/9781351058353.
19 Zhang, Jingran, Onal, Sevilay, & Das, Sanchoy. (2017). Price differentiated channel switching in a fixed period fast fashion supply chain. International Journal of Production Economics, 193, 31–39.
20 Ľubica Knošková, & Petra Garasová (2019). The Economic Impact of Consumer Purchases in Fast Fashion Stores. Studia Commercialia Bratislavensia, 12(41), 58–70. https://doi.org/10.2478/stcb-2019-0006
21 Johnson, R. (2021) How Social Media Affects the Fast Fashion Industry. United Magazine. vhttp://untitled-magazine.com/how-social media-affects-the-fast-fashion-industry
22 Gutierrez, S. (2021). Momentive study: Gen Z social media and shopping habits. https://www.surveymonkey.com/curiosity/gen-z-social-media-and-shopping-habits/
23 Johnson, R. (2021) How Social Media Affects the Fast Fashion Industry. United Magazine. vhttp://untitled-magazine.com/how-social-media-affects-the-fast-fashion-industry
24 Johnson, R. (2021) How Social Media Affects the Fast Fashion Industry. United Magazine. vhttp://untitled-magazine.com/how-social-media-affects-the-fast-fashion-industry
25 Henry, M. (2020). Haul Culture and Youtube’s Sustainability Problem. London Rynaway. https://londonrunway.co.uk/2020/04/17/haul-culture-and-youtubes-sustainability-problem/
26 Bansa, T., & Gransaull, G. (2021) Why Fast Fashion Has to Slow Down. MIT Sloan Management Review. https://sloanreview.mit.edu/article/why-fast-fashion-has-to-slow-down/
27 Bansa, T., & Gransaull, G. (2021) Why Fast Fashion Has to Slow Down. MIT Sloan Management Review. https://sloanreview.mit.edu/article/why-fast-fashion-has-to-slow-down/