What Is Fast Fashion And What Is Wrong With It?
In this article, we’ll dissect the concept of fast fashion; the origin of the word, its best definition, the main causes, problems, examples, and much more.
Finally, we’ll look at some of the biggest problems caused by fast fashion, such as modern slavery, pollution, waste, and what you can do to end them for good.
What Is Fast Fashion?
Fast Fashion Problems
Fast Fashion Examples
What Is Fast Fashion?
Fast fashion is an all-encapsulating term used to describe a business model based on copying and replicating high-end fashion designs and all resulting problems such as depletion of resources, reckless waste, and child and underpaid labor.
The business works by employing thousands of fast-fashion scouts to find and copy the latest designs worn by celebrities on social media or by models on the catwalk.
Once acquired, the latest and trendiest styles are sent to factories in developing countries to be mass-produced at low cost.
Unfortunately, the entire business model has a serious negative impact on the environment, workers, and local communities.
Here are some of the most popular definitions of fast fashion right now in 2022:
“Fast fashion is inexpensive clothing produced rapidly by mass-market retailers in response to the latest trends.”
“Fast fashion is an approach to the design, creation, and marketing of clothing that emphasizes making fashion trends quickly and cheaply available to consumers.”
“Fast fashion is the term used to describe clothing designs that move quickly from the catwalk to stores to take advantage of trends.”
“Fast fashion has three main components from the consumer’s perspective: it is cheap, trendy, and disposable.”
“Fast fashion can be defined as cheap, trendy clothing that samples ideas from the catwalk or celebrity culture and turns them into garments in high street stores at breakneck speed to meet consumer demand.”
Good On You
“Fast fashion is a design, manufacturing, and marketing method focused on rapidly producing high volumes of clothing. Garment production utilizes trend replication and low-quality materials in order to bring inexpensive styles to the public.”
The Good Trade
The financial success of the fast fashion model is attributed to its speedy process and consumers’ desire to associate with celebrities and wealthy ones.
For instance, a designer label requires, on average, approx. six months to design, manufacture, and launch a new collection.
On the contrary, a fast-fashion brand requires less than a week to find online, copy, and replicate the designer’s entire collection.
The fast-fashion business model is fairly new, empowered by the internet and especially by social media posts.
In the past, scouts of fast fashion brands had to attend (physically) catwalks to film and copy high-end designer brands.
Or recourse to posts on printed magazines to copy and replicate rare haute couture and limited edition designer creations.
Nowadays, fast fashion brands have armies of spies scouting celebrities on Instagram 24/7, ensuring that the copying process is almost instant.
As soon as a celebrity wears a unique designer piece on social media, fast fashion spies spot it and start the ‘stealing’ process.
Then, the pics with the celebrity wearing those designs are collected and sent for approval.
If the style is deemed financially sound, the copying-replicating process begins immediately.
In less than two weeks, millions of copycats are manufactured in China or Bangladesh and shipped worldwide to fast-fashion retailers like Boohoo.
Fast Fashion Problems
While not illegal, the fast fashion business model is highly unethical.
It is often built on child labor, and modern slavery, toxic dyes and unsustainable materials, mass manufacturing and thus, mountains of waste and pollution.
Fast fashion companies thrive on ‘low-cost-super-fast’ cycles of copying, manufacturing, transportation, and retailing.
The standard turnaround time of six months, from the catwalk to consumer, is compressed to a matter of mere weeks.
But, while very fast, the fashion business model comes with a world of problems, as detailed below:
Stealing & Copyright Issues
“Nowadays, anyone, anywhere, could spot a fresh style, copy and sell it, without consequences or having to follow the classic hierarchy of fashion,” – Rebecca Minkoff.
In some ways, social media has strengthened the fast fashion industry.
It allows fast fashion brands to steal everything that sells.
From high-end fashion designers to emerging ones, nobody’s safe.
Able to copy, manufacture, and ship in mass, fast fashion giants, are the first to market the latest designs, long before the original creator does.
Even worse, as often several fast fashion companies are targeting the same design, the original creator is lost in the process.
Reckless Pollution & Waste
Beyond the ripping off of others’ work, fast fashion creates severe ecological and ethical problems.
A recent report highlighted that over 87 percent of fast fashion brands are sourcing materials and labor from China, India, Pakistan, and Turkey, with serious environmental consequences.
Moreover, of all fast fashion giants investigated, only Zara and H&M have proper waste management and recycling policies in place.
Granted, not everybody can afford to dress like a celebrity, with the price tags straight off the catwalks of London Fashion Week.
But that’s not an excuse to let fast fashion companies deplete, pollute, and destroy the environment with millions of copies that almost always end up in landfills.
‘Purse-friendly’ fast fashion always comes at a cost, somewhere else…
The high speed of manufacturing required by fast fashion creates further issues relating to low wages and poor working conditions.
Low-cost manufacturing requires not only low-cost materials but also cheap labor.
According to a survey by ‘Fashion Checker’, 93% of fast fashion brands are not paying garment workers a living wage.
To keep manufacturing costs low, fast fashion brands have moved production to ‘developing’ countries where labor is unethical, and inhuman in what the media describes as cases of modern slavery in fast fashion.
According to a former Topshop brand director:
“Girls see a celebrity wearing something and want it immediately.”
For the fast fashion business model to thrive, the creation of trend-relevant products designed to trigger one’s impulsive buying behavior is key.
Moreover, for the cycle to continue, the fast fashion business model employs a planned obsolescence strategy, as described by Guiltinan (2009).
Limited functional life design and options for repair, aesthetics that lead to reduced satisfaction, design for transient fashion or enhancement that requires purchasing of new product features.
Fashion, more than any other industry in the world, embraces obsolescence as a primary goal; fast fashion raises the stakes.
However, as soon as the trend ends, these “low quality – low price” products are discarded by consumers in a process called the throwaway culture.
According to The Guardian, one in three young women, the biggest segment of fast-fashion consumers, consider garments worn once or twice to be old.
Fast Fashion Examples
Here are some of the most popular fast fashion conglomerates known to shamelessly steal and replicate designs:
Missguided peaked media attention when it got embroiled in a scandal with Kim Kardashian-West.
It started when Kim took to social media to condemn fast fashion brands for stealing designers’ work.
Kim posted on Instagram a pic wearing a dress made by Kanye, pleading:
Going through old fitting pics & found this gold look that Kanye made for me, for my Miami trip last summer.
I went w the neon vibes instead. P.S. fast fashion brands, can you please wait until I wear this in real life before you knock it off?
Almost immediately, the fast-fashion giant replied on its Instagram acc:
“Kim Kardashian you’ve only got a few days before this drops online!”
At first look, Missguided’s reply could be interpreted as a joke.
Yet, this was not the first time Missguided copied and replicated Kim’s style.
The fast-fashion brand had been reposting Kim’s Instagram snaps – with its own logo on – several times.
It also featured on its Instagram page many photos of Kim and Kanye West, like memes, aiming to make it look like the celebrities were endorsing the brand.
And, to top it up, the British fast-fashion giant created a ‘Crushin’ on Kim K‘ section on its online marketplace.
The section held looks worn by Kim Kardashian, paired with the brand’s cheaper alternatives.
The stealing got so bad that Kim had no alternative but to take the fast fashion brand to court.
Missguided has used Kardashian’s name and likeness in conjunction with its brand.
In the process, it has violated trademarks around her name, which has been used to advertise company’s own products.
Immediately, Missguided’s post – in which the company says it’ll have an identical dress in a few days – was removed from their Instagram account.
Then, the fast-fashion giant followed with a statement:
Any action based on online banter would be meritless.
Missguided shoppers know the score; we’re about the celeb looks, for people without their bucks.
For the record, as much as we love her style, we’re not working with Kim on anything.
Needless to say, Kim Kardashian won the case against Missguided.
Nevertheless, the stealing continued…
…but with different celebrities this time!
Old Navy by GAP
Another case that sparked media attention was Old Navy vs. Carrie Anne Roberts, a single mom British designer and creator of the clothing brand Mère Soeur.
One day, Roberts found out that Old Navy is selling a copy of her most popular T-shirt for half the original price.
The t-shirt has “Raising the Future” printed across the chest and is one of Roberts’s best-selling products.
On Old-Navy’s official website, the knock-off was identical.
Infuriated, Roberts posted the Old Navy dupes to Instagram, lamenting about being copied by such a huge brand.
“Big businesses see small businesses like mine as idea generators and nothing more.
But the idea behind this t-shirt has inspired my whole business.
It is my business.
Now, stripped of all its meaning, it feels violating,” said Roberts.
After over 800 comments of support, many from people who also left angry comments on Old Navy’s Instagram posts and negative reviews on Old Navy’s website, the fast fashion contacted Roberts.
In their email, Old Navy argued that Roberts didn’t trademark the phrases “Raising the Future” or “The Future.”
Therefore, she does not have a trademark for the font or the t-shirt’s graphic design and, accordingly, has zero legal rights.
However, the continuous social media backlash helped Roberts to fight the fast-fashion giant.
After days of being swatted with criticism, Old Navy removed the copy from its official website.
Moreover, in an email to Roberts, Old Navy stated that no additional orders – for the disputed t-shirt – would be placed.
Zara, a Spanish fast-fashion giant, has a laundry list.
In the past, the company was caught creating copies of Balenciaga sneakers and Kanye West’s coveted Yeezys.
Zara has also ripped off pins from illustrator Tuesday Bassen and replicated sandals by designer Aurora James of Brother Vellies.
Fashion Nova, Forever 21, …
Apart from Missguided, the ‘Gap-owned’ Old Navy, and ZARA, several other fast fashion companies are stealing and selling designs.
The biggest ones are Forever 21, Boohoo, Fashion Nova, Asos, Pretty Little Thing, and Nasty Gal.
Here’s a quick recap of how these fast fashion brands got caught stealing in the past:
- Forever 21 was caught imitating phone cases, popular feminist tees, Instagram-famous swimwear, and even coats from Fashion Fund finalists.
- Boohoo, a British fast-fashion conglomerate that’s facing modern slavery allegations, was caught several times stealing unique creations from independent designers.
- ASOS is known for copying styles from luxury brands, adding 4,000 new styles to its site weekly!
The fast-fashion business model is a global problem that impacts the environment, people, and animals.
Unfortunately, our insatiable appetite for fashion, the latest fashion trends, and the desire to copy celebs and successful ones won’t go away.
Therefore, new business models in fashion, such as circular or slow, must be adapted to match consumer needs while preserving resources and protecting the environment.
However, for these new business models to become the norm and replace fast fashion, change must start with us, with you and me, consciously pushing for a better world.
Now it’s your turn…
What is your take on the fast fashion business model?
Can fast fashion be sustainable?
Can you name another fast fashion brand I’ve missed in this article?
Where do you discard your fast fashion clothes?