Fast Fashion vs Slow Fashion
image sources: Guardian UK / Not Just a Label
The fashion industry has diverse ways of marketing product and addressing trends, as well as various modes of production. On this blog we've written before about sustainable and ethical fashion issues and the impact that evolving modes of production have had on the industry. A current dilemma industry-wide from designers all the way down to consumers is weighing the choice between fast fashion and slow fashion. Let's briefly look at the benefits and drawbacks of each side.
image source: Made In America Movement
What is Fast Fashion?
The concept behind fast fashion is exactly as it sounds: speeding up the cycle of design and production to quickly address the latest trends and deliver them to the consumer. The breakneck speed doesn't stop there - product is also quickly and inexpensively moved through the retail stage as well to keep current with trends and keep the customers coming back for more. Some examples of popular fast fashion brands include Topshop, H&M, and Forever 21, which boasts new merchandise on the floor daily.
What's the benefit of fast fashion?
Fast fashion exists to make inexpensive pieces that will be trendy as soon as they hit the stores. It has mass appeal because even customers shopping on a budget can afford to look current and freshen their wardrobe with an updated piece or two. It wasn't very long ago that someone shopping on a budget would have to wait a while before the latest trends trickled down from high fashion runways, through expensive boutiques and high end department stores, and eventually landed as watered-down iterations on more budget conscious retailers' shelves. With the onset of the internet, runway shows and information on trends became more widely available to anyone who was interested, whereas before it was only accessible to industry insiders - the masses would have to wait for to fashion magazines to tell them what was fashionable more than half a year later. As people gained access to up-to-the-minute information on trends, they also wanted a means to access those trends even if they didn't have a high-fashion budget. Fast fashion has made fashion much more democratic - sounds great, doesn't it?
What's the harm?
In order for fast fashion retailers to achieve their goals, trendy product must be in store 8-10 weeks after the trend has gained traction. This is a far cry from the typical year or so turn around time that apparel companies were used to adhering to. This shift in how business is done and in consumer expectation has been nothing short of seismic for the industry as a whole. The fast fashion industry is huge and represents approximately $1.44 trillion dollars in business annually. Some of the largest downsides have been negative impacts on the environment and the treatment of industry workers in developing countries. Since the primary goals are quick turnaround and low cost, corners are cut on everything from how waste is dealt with to worker safety and the use of underage workers. In addition, the use of overwhelmingly synthetic materials also adds to an already large carbon footprint.
Not to be downplayed either are the erosion of manufacturing jobs in more developed countries having higher standards of living and better working conditions guaranteed to their citizens, as well as the shuttering of many wonderful companies and cottage industry brands that simply could not keep up with the demands of the challenging fast fashion development and production calendar.
Another overwhelming obstacle is the shift in consumer mindset. Consumers have been trained to pay insanely low prices that are not feasible to maintain for companies that are making sure workers are paid a living wage. In addition, the readily available cheap clothing is an easy impulse buy and typically these clothes are not cherished in any way by the end consumer; in fact most consumers now consider a garment 'old' after having it for only ONE YEAR. This is a notion that would have been unheard of a couple of generations ago. The fact is, after a year many of these poorly constructed clothes made of cheap materials are falling apart - quality is something the consumer doesn't demand of fast fashion because they don't expect to even want it in a year anyway. In the end, this is not a sustainable model on so many levels.
image source: Boutique Mexico
What is Slow Fashion?
Slow fashion is the process of making designs in a slower, more careful, and often more ethical manner. Slow fashion is made with the environment and workers' well-being in mind, and emphasis is placed on craftsmanship and quality. Brands like Thought, People Tree, and Alternative Apparel are all sources of slow fashion. You can find more brands that support sustainable fashion at Sustainable Fashion Directory, and if you are interested in sustainable activewear specifically, we wrote a nice little review of our top 5 brands earlier this year.