What Is Fast Fashion?

Fast fashion is a process where clothes are designed and manufactured with a quick turn around.

These clothes are usually trend driven with low quality and pricing enabling people to buy large volumes.

The term fast fashion started being used about 30 years ago by the New York Times when Zara challenged themselves to get from design to store in 15 days. These days some retailers have new styles launching everyday.

What drives this trend for daily consumption of fashion? and what does low quality and low price really mean?

Why is Fashion important?

Fashion design started in the 18th century, however people were conscious of what they wore long before. You only have to look at the elaborate dresses of society’s elite over the years to see how your look is important. People want to look and feel good. It’s a sign of success and status. It can be a part of your identity and allows you to be creative and express yourself. But how did we get to the point where we need a new outfit each day to make us feel good?

Desire for newness

I remember being in my 20’s and wanting to get a new top or dress for a saturday night out. It makes you feel good. Money was probably the only reason I didn’t buy more. Now with prices so low people can buy more and they do.

Who benefits from this increase in consumption? Does the consumer feel good, or do they constantly feel left behind? The retailer profits are increasing, they want you to buy more and more and find increasing ways to seduce you into more purchases. But what’s the real cost?

Cost to the environment

According to Kate Raworth from Oxford University, the global fashion industry has a huge impact on the climate. It produces about 5% of  all greenhouse gas emissions. This is more than flights and shipping combined.

And the problem is getting worse.

We are buying about 60% more clothes globally than we did 20 years ago according to prof. John Barrett from the University of Leeds. With projections stating a further 60% increase over the next 10 years.


Garment production uses a lot of water. It can take 2700 litres to make one single cotton shirt. More water than a person could drink in 2 years.

Cotton farming is responsible for 24 percent of insecticides and 11 percent of pesticides. This is despite using about 3 percent of the world’s arable land.

Not only does garment production use a lot of water, it also pollutes. About 20% of water pollution comes from the manufacturing process.


Most fast fashion production takes place in the east, China, Bangladesh, Indonesia, or Vietnam. These countries tend to use much more fossil fuels. Barrett of Leeds University states that the carbon footprint of a garment produced in China is 40% higher than if manufactured in Europe. This is primarily due to the coal in their supply chain.

Human impact of fast fashion

Who makes the clothes and where? Are the conditions in China and Bangladesh humane?

There have been enough stories in the press for us to know that in order for us to buy a $10 shirt, the person making it is probably not getting paid a fair wage. Once you take into account the cost of material, running a factory, shipping, profit for both the retailer and the manufacturer and sales space. What is the worker really being paid? What conditions do they work in? What are their living conditions? What impact does this have on their lives?

What is slow fashion?

Slow fashion is a movement towards more responsible garment production. The manufacturing process considers its impact on its environment, people and animals. It focuses on better quality and with a view that the life cycle of a garment is longer.

Is slow fashion the answer? It’s part of the answer. Clothing manufacture does need to be more responsible and mindful of the damage that can be caused.

What’s the answer?

Consumer action. The consumer needs to also be aware of the damage that can be caused by the reckless production of millions of clothes. Much of which can end up in landfill. We can still look good without a new outfit each week. We can buy less. We can make what we have last longer. It’s down to us and what we choose to do.

To find out more about easy ways you can be more sustainable please click here.

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