Is Fashion Moving Too Fast?
4 June 2021
What are the effects of an industry that leans toward overconsumption, cost-cutting materials and owning the next big thing? Studies reveal the reality of just how fast fashion is and what the implications are for the planet.
The word "fast" is probably more associated with automobiles and food franchises than with fashion, but in recent years the word has caused a buzz in the industry – a buzz that is too loud to be ignored. As a movement dedicated to bringing awareness to environmental issues in the fashion industry, #MakeItFeelRight sheds light on one of the most important topics in the sustainability world – fast fashion.
In the context of fashion, "fast" refers to the rapid production of inexpensive garments to cater to the demand for trendy styles. Rooted in bringing exclusive styles to the masses, some view this design manufacturing and marketing method as the "democratization" of an industry that was once out of reach. Access to what is en vogue without a financial burden sounds great in theory, but cheap materials, rapid production and reliance on short-lived desire are ultimately unsustainable and unpredictable.
Apparel companies make 53 million tons of clothes annually, and at its pace of exponential growth, production is expected to reach 160 million tons by 2050. As companies race to replicate styles in real-time to match lower price points, their value chains must, in turn, cost less and speed up to meet demand. These two components alone have significant implications on material choices, production quality and how people and resources are treated. Additionally, when trends change, as is the nature of popularity, companies are often left with mountains of unsold units that can cost the retail industry billions of dollars to store and disperse.
The most impacted party is also the most innocent party – the planet. Most of the time, non-biodegradable fibers from fossil fuels are the preferred fiber to keep up with the rapid demand and account for 69% of garment production. In other words, the majority of clothing materials are made from coal, crude oil and other resources that are responsible for over 700 million tons of carbon dioxide emission.
It is difficult to say what came first: overconsumption or overproduction. Are consumers responsible for driving companies to supply low-quality, short-lived styles or are companies responsible for normalizing immediate access to the latest trends? It isn't easy to say. What is known is that in this fast-paced, costly cycle, everyone pays the price – and it shows few signs of slowing down.
Change requires both companies and consumers to slow down, buy less, produce smaller quantities and choose materials that will not harm the Earth. While real reform takes time, changing the fashion industry starts with simple choices.