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What is Fast Fashion, and Why is it Harmful?

Shopping for clothing has become a natural part of our lifestyle. The way we dress is a unique reflection of who we are. Unfortunately, the fast fashion industry can move quite quickly, and as consumers we sometimes follow fast fashion trends that don’t truly align with our values. Today, affordable and cheap clothes have become widely accessible and readily available. But how often do we ask ourselves if our shopping choices are sustainable?

Fast fashion quickly became the norm when fast fashion retailers like Zara, Forever 21, and H&M became popularized and favorable among shoppers. These retail companies base their designs on current fashion trends that depict celebrity culture and the movement of societal norms. To appeal to their audiences, fast fashion brands produce clothing at affordable prices to meet consumer demand.

The “cheapness” behind the reality of fast fashion has a long-lasting environmental impact on our planet, natural resources, and labor forces. It has created many heavy concerns requiring global action that can begin by simply changing the way we shop and consume goods.

What Exactly is Fast Fashion?

The fast fashion definition is described as the overall rapid manufacturing process of trendy clothing designs. After a runway or catwalk show, fast fashion stores begin releasing collections based on these new “hot” and “ready-to-wear” looks. By doing so, these brands allow mainstream consumers to shop for trendy clothes at incredibly affordable prices. Their goal is to present the latest styles to the common market as quickly as possible, so the general consumer can purchase new outfits during the peak of popularity. As a result, a majority of shoppers tend to go for “cheap clothes” due to the approachable prices and trending styles.

In our fast paced world, fashion trends develop and change within a simple blink of an eye. Consequently, these trends don’t last very long, and neither does the lifecycle of the clothing. There’s a growing pressure in today’s society to embody the latest “it” look, and the idea that we can’t wear the same thing twice plays a heavy role in the toxic system surrounding fast fashion.

The constant rise of new styles influences many of us to follow modern crazes as soon as they reach our awareness. And while it’s convenient to find stylish clothing at lower costs, we don’t often think twice about how or why this is possible. The unfortunate truth is that faster production usually entails lowering costs by unethical means. While this may seem favorable for the general consumer; fast fashion practices are known to harm the environment and create inhumane working conditions.

The History of Fast Fashion

To understand how the problems with fast fashion first came to be, we can look into the past. Prior to the 19th century, slow fashion was the norm. It was much more difficult to source materials and you had to prepare, weave and craft clothing on your own. As the Industrial Revolution took place, new technology, like the sewing machine, was introduced and clothing production became faster, simpler and cheaper.

With the arrival of the 1960’s and 70’s, the younger population started creating avant-garde designs and patterns that changed fashion forever. Individual expression was a new focus and by the early 2000’s, low-cost designs reached its height. Online shopping platforms were now possible with the help of the Internet, and brands like H&M and Top Shop quickly dominated the fashion world.

The Emergence of Fast Fashion

New and inexpensive clothing designs were accessible to all and this was an exciting change for consumers. High end fashion was being replicated so everyone could be invited to become a part of it. As a result, on-trend clothing was sweeping through the clothing industry and consumption was at an all-time high. Suddenly, fast fashion was everywhere, and demands for cheap and trendy looks created an enormous need that boosted production world wide.

Thanks to modern technology, garments were now able to be produced at an alarming rate. To cater to the needs of shoppers, fast fashion retailers turned to nefarious means to satisfy the growing speed of the market.

Why is Fast Fashion Bad?

There are numerous consequences to workers, animals, and the environment that have followed the rise of fast fashion. All of these ramifications are still affecting our world today, so it's important to be aware of the dangers that lurk behind the apparel and fashion industry.


Unethical Labor Practices

One of the most important concerns regarding fast fashion is the means of supply chains and labor regulations. Let’s begin this issue by considering the following questions:

· Who is making our clothing?

· Where are our products coming from?

· Are the workers receiving ethical treatment?

· Is the working environment protected?

In most cases, the answers to these questions are disheartening at best. Garment workers typically perform manual labor for long periods of time on end and are often paid low wages that barely meet legal requirements, and rarely satisfy fair living standards. According to fast fashion statistics, far too many factories violate human rights regulations and treat their workers with violence and harsh consequences.

It's estimated that about 16.7 million children between the ages of 5 to 17 work in such factories in the South of Asia. This is just a small fraction that does not account for other countries that also practice unethical labor practices.

One tragic event that occurred from the impact of fast fashion happened in the Dhaka District of Bangladesh. On April 24, 2013, the eight-story building known as Rana Plaza collapsed. This massive structure contained five garment factories that supplied well-established fashion labels. Just days before, a government inspector ordered an evacuation due to infrastructure failures, but factory managers manipulated their employees to continue to work. This terrible tragedy took the lives of more than 1,100 people and left another 2000 injured. This awful tradegy thankfully served as a wake-up call to many shoppers and fashion brands alike. Following this event, consumers started to finally address the blatant impact of fast fashion.


Fast Fashion and the Environment

Another negative fast fashion impact includes the use of toxic textile dyes and other harmful chemicals. The fashion industry is one of the largest polluters that is responsible for 20% of all industrial pollution. This affects the state of our environment as well as the animals inhabiting them. Ecosystems are being constantly destroyed due to the needs of manufacturing, not to mention the animals that are harmed in the process. Cheap textiles also require increasing levels of natural resources, resulting in mass deforestation and environmental depletion. The production methods utilized by fast fashion are also known to release fossil fuels and gases that contribute to climate change. Animals are also affected by the harms of fast fashion. Daily, we see the impacts of harmful chemicals being released into wildlife and waterways. Animal populations are depleting at a devastatingly alarming rate. Using leather, wool and fur goods is also a direct fashion demand that puts animals at high risk.


Impact on Consumerism

Lastly, fast fashion creates a heavy burden for consumers. It pressures us to believe that we need to continue shopping in order to become a part of current trends and lifestyles. To be stylish, we are taught to move quickly and wear the latest outfits. This encourages a "throw-away" centered culture because we are constantly replacing our wardrobes with temporary fixes and short-term styles. The dissatisfaction created by this cycle encourages shoppers to keep spending their money with unethical brands that are hurting the planet and its inhabitants on a massive scale. Overall, fast fashion waste accumulates in our households and landfills.

How to Recognize Fast Fashion Brands

Here are some important factors to be aware of in order to recognize a fast fashion brand. Releasing thousands of styles that address all the latest styles and fast-moving trends.

  • A runway or catwalk garment that is immediately found in common stores or cheaper retailers.
  • An offshore labor source that incorporates workers who aren't given a fair wage or adequate rights.
  • A lack of company transparency, meaning they aren’t honest or clear about their manufacturing processes.
  • The use of low quality and cheap materials that causes the clothing to have a short life cycle.
  • H&M, Urban Outfitters, Shein, Forever 21 and Zara are just a few fast fashion brands to avoid.

What Can We Do To Avoid Fast Fashion?

With better working conditions and a higher focus on sustainability, slow fashion has emerged to help consumers shop more responsibly. This brings us to our next question, what is slow fashion? Essentially, slow fashion is a new approach to fashion that allows consumers to consider the resources and processes required to make the clothing we wear. Slow fashion brands advocate for investing in higher-quality garments that are crafted to last longer. These brands encourage the awareness of how clothing is made and where it comes from. That way, shoppers can identify which materials to look for and what stores to avoid.

The best part about slow fashion is that it has a positive impact on our planet as well as its people. Clothing brands and fashion labels that practice sustainability focus on the welfare of the environment and fair working conditions. Generally, slow fashion brands opt for organic or recycled materials that are better for the planet. In doing so, slow fashion companies also reuse fabrics, practice sustainable farming, and partner with factories that uphold the best working practices.

But you may be wondering, is slow fashion affordable. The answer is yes! Luckily, there are many affordable slow fashion brands out there that provide quality clothing with reasonable prices.

Alternatives to Fast Fashion

Better fashion does exist, and we are here to help you find the best alternatives! Luckily, there are many slow fashion brands that are committed to combating the harmful impacts of fast fashion. Conscious companies are emerging more and more, as consumers become increasingly passionate about preserving the earth and ensuring the safety and wellbeing of all its inhabitants.

As mindful living paves its way to everyday lifestyles, it’s also influencing the future of fashion. We are starting to see a growth of retailers who incorporate ethical initiatives. These focuses include the prioritization of fair-labor practices, environmental accountability and giving back to local communities. We’ve gathered the best slow fashion brands out there into one space to help you find high quality clothing that is made to last. Take a look at our list to discover some amazing choices and non fast fashion brands.

5 Fashion Brands to Know

Asking ourselves what we can do to improve our consumption habits is a great place to begin. As conscious consumerism becomes more practical, it’s much easier to find brands that support better practices. To help inspire you, here are some of our favorite fashion brands. For even more eco-conscious fashion brands, take a look at our list of 30 brands making a difference.

amour vert - What is Fast Fashion, and Why is it Harmful

Amour Vert

Price: $23 (tee shirt) - $815 (leather jacket)
Values: Ethically Sourced, Non-Toxic, Organic, Vegan (varies by product)

Amour Vert is a fashion brand that makes classic staples with our environment in mind. For every product they sell, they offer comprehensive information on what the garment is made of and how it's produced. With every t-shirt purchased, they also plant a tree.

Shop Amour Vert

nu-in - What is Fast Fashion, and Why is it Harmful


Price: $23.99 (cami top) - 112.99 (teddy jacket)
Values: Ethically Sourced, Recycled, Vegan, Non-Toxic (varies by product)

Nu-In is a brand driven by social and environmental sustainability. With thoughtful designs, they clearly share every component of their pieces. They incorporate vegan, organic and recycled materials within their products along with full transparency for all their clothing.

Shop Nu-In

filippa k - What is Fast Fashion, and Why is it Harmful

Filippa K

Price: $70 (tee-shirt) - $2,500 (coat)
Values: Ethically Sourced, Recycled, Organic (varies by product)

Filippa K is a contemporary fashion label that embraces a mindful solution to modern fashion. Their pieces all include a list of their sustainability efforts as well as product origin so you know exactly where you’re investing your money in.

Shop Filippa K

made trade - What is Fast Fashion, and Why is it Harmful

Made Trade

Price: $46 (tee-shirt) - $489 (dress)
Values: Ethically Sourced, Organic, Non-Toxic, Vegan, Gives Back (varies by product)

Made Trade is all about beautifully designed, ethically made fashion that put people and our planet first. They carefully select affordable clothing that adhere to eco-friendly initiatives and fair trade environments.

Shop Made Trade

asket - What is Fast Fashion, and Why is it Harmful


Price: $20 (socks) - $415 (wool coat)
Values: Ethically Sourced, Non-Toxic, Organic, Recycled, Vegan (varies by product)

Asket makes ethical, timeless and durable garments for men and women. Their meaningful essentials are crafted to last and they strive for full transparency and provide product details to help you understand how every garment was made.

Shop Asket

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