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What is “fast fashion” and why should we be paying more attention to it?

Of all the industries in the world, fashion has probably seen the biggest evolution over time. What started as a means of bodily protection from the elements and predators in prehistoric times gradually became a symbol of status and cultural identity throughout the ages, until its most recent development in the 1960s as a means of self-expression. As a result, fashion and trends are changing constantly, with current ones being snapped up like hotcakes before being almost instantly replaced by new ones. The rise of the internet has boosted this even further, due to its introduction to online shopping, increased exposure to new fashion trends online, and the opportunity for brands to research and replicate/reproduce popular looks and new technology allowing for faster, cheaper production. Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to the era of fast fashion – and with our own retail market research interests here, we couldn’t resist the opportunity to dig into it a bit further!

So, what is fast fashion?

Fast fashion is described by Google’s dictionary as “inexpensive clothing produced rapidly by mass-market retailers in response to the latest trends.” Essentially, it’s cheap, trendy clothing that jumps straight off the catwalk and into the shops – and very quickly out again to make way for the next ones. In fact, a lot of fashion retailers introduce new products multiple times a week just to stay on trend and keep up with the demand.

And why should we be paying attention to it?

For online fashion influencers, trend enthusiasts and shopaholics, this mass availability of cheap but fashionable clothing is a dream come true! But as it turns out, it’s also having a devastating effect on the world around us…

The impact of fast fashion on:

People:

The rise of fast fashion has seen an increase in sweatshops. These are factories and workshops where manual workers are employed at very low wages for long hours and under poor conditions in order to produce fast fashion. They are primarily used due to keep up with the demands of fast fashion, as well as the added benefit of making additional profit through paying such minimal wages to workers. Sweatshops tend to be found in the poorer parts of countries across the globe, including Bangladesh and China.  As well as supplying these poor working conditions, some clothing companies have also faced allegations of physical and sexual abuse against their garment workers, particularly women.    

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Unfortunately, sweatshop work is not just limited to adults. According to the International Labour Organisation, 170 million children below the minimum age limit around the world are making textiles and garments in detrimental conditions to satisfy the demand in Europe, the US, and beyond.

The planet:

The environment is also suffering at the hands of fast fashion. The multitude of highly toxic dyes used to colour clothing – over 800, in fact – alongside the production of different fabrics are polluting the world’s water supplies. Cotton production, for example, involves the heavy use of pesticides, and the microfibres from synthetic clothing are also commonly found in water supplies; the lower the fabric quality, the more microfibres that shed during washing. What’s more, alongside polluting water, fabric production consumes billions of cubic meters of it per year; approximately 80 billion in 2017, and a predicted 120 billion by 2030. When you think that the amount of water it takes to produce one cotton shirt could provide drinking water for one person for a whopping two and a half years, that’s pretty horrifying!

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Subsequently, animals and wildlife are also affected; and not just the animals that drink the water, but the marine life that lives in it. Not great for us humans either as fish eaters! Animal products such as leather, wool, fur and skin are also used in clothing production, and often these animals are subjected to poor conditions and mistreatment for these products to be created.

Because fast fashion-produced clothes are made so cheaply, they tend to be of poor quality. Consequently, they’re often unwearable after just a few uses, and disposed in landfills. In 2018, the UK based charity WRAP (The Waste and Resources Action Programme) estimated that £140 million worth of clothing goes to landfills each year. Not only that, but the nature of fast fashion means that retailers need to dispose of their “old” produce quickly to make way for new stock, much of which has been rumoured to be disposed of in environmentally damaging ways, such as incineration.

What can we do instead?

So, with all the evidence pointing to the detrimental impact of fast fashion, what can we be – and should we be – doing to reduce it?

Thankfully, there are a number of good habits we can get into:

1) Enjoy the clothes you already own!

As a lot of our own retail market research has found, there appears to be a trend of consumers worrying about being seen in the same outfit twice (another consequence of the fast fashion industry)! There are some great initiatives out there that encourage people to think more carefully about the clothes they buy, such as Livia Firth’s “Will I wear this a minimum of 30 times?” campaign. Also, in our increasingly environmentally aware society, surely, it’s way cooler to wear the same outfit more than once and tell people it’s to save the planet than to wear a different outfit every day!

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2) Clothes swaps and charity shops

If you’ve tried your best to love what you already own and simply can’t, clothes swaps and charity shops are your next port of call! Charity shops will take most items in good condition, and clothes swaps, such as the ones hosted by LUSH, mean you not only pass on the clothes you no longer want, but may find a gem unwanted by someone else!

3) When your clothes really are past their best, consider how you could possibly reuse them.

Old (cleaned!) underwear is considered one of the best dust cloth alternatives, and you should always save an old t-shirt or two and pair of jeans for decorating/messy work. Upcycling is also a fantastic alternative to throwing away – old pair of jeans? Get creative and turn them into a pair of shorts or a bag! The British Heart Foundation hold an exciting and fun competition called The Big Stitch to encourage upcycling of old garments and textiles every summer – but it’s something fun, creative and environmentally friendly to do all year around!

4) Recycle

If there really is nothing you can do with your old clothes, however, it’s time to get recycling! www.recyclenow.com has a great local recycling tool online so you can find your nearest textile recycling bank – a great way to avoid your clothes going to landfill!

5) If you really must buy…

Take a look around your local charity shops – it’s amazing what you can spot on the rails! And if you can’t find what you’re looking for, do a quick online check to see which brands are free of fast fashion – such as the ones in this list put together by Conscious Life & Style, plus these well-known high street brands

Fast fashion is just one of the issues consumers are raising with their favourite brands. The team here at Angelfish are just as hot on the topic too – we’re currently totally engrossed in the BBC series “Breaking Fashion,” and we’d definitely recommend you watch it, too! If you’d like your voice to be heard by the brands you love, and get paid for it, why not take a look at our latest retail market research opportunities that you can get involved in? If one of them takes your fancy, just register with us here – we’d love to hear from you!

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